Reaction to Sheraton revamp is mixed
The company's four Waikiki properties would morph into five hotels and a timeshare
Starwood Hotels and Resorts' move to undertake its first unified Waikiki hotel redevelopment could bring a further economic boost to an area that already is getting a luxury face-lift.
On the other hand, if the chain goes forward with its proposal to reposition its four Waikiki properties into five hotels and a timeshare, some hotel workers temporarily could be without jobs.
The large-scale project is generating a split reaction from the community. Unite Here Local 5, the hotel workers union, has not endorsed the project nor have those in the community who are against change and the noise and brouhaha that it generally attracts.
However, many see Sheraton's proposed reinvestment as the necessary finale to a run of Waikiki repositioning that began in 1998 and includes the upcoming reveal of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Walk project, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center refurbishment and the construction of Trump Tower.
Sheraton, which recently revealed refurbishment plans to its workers, has been in discussion about replacing the Diamond Wing of its Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel with a new 200- to 250-room hotel.
There also has been talk about demolishing a portion of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel to make way for a 240-unit two-bedroom timeshare tower. The hotel's Princess and Kaiulani wings and its pool and retail building fronting Kalakaua Avenue would be torn down. The remaining parts of the Kaiulani hotel, including the completely renovated guest rooms in the Ainahau Tower, would remain a free-standing Sheraton hotel.
Sheraton's redevelopment plan also includes continued renovation of rooms and retail space at the Sheraton Waikiki as well as upgrades to the historic wings of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Sheraton Moana Surfrider. Plans also include improving the ambiance of the Royal Hawaiian's Surf Room and its pool/beachfront area as well as upgrading the property's Monarch Room.
Sheraton has not made a final decision on its redevelopment plan for Waikiki, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president for Starwood in Hawaii and French Polynesia.
"We are still under discussion about where we are going," Vieira said. "It's about six months too early to release any definitive plans. The project is still in the what-if stages."
Vieira declined to reveal a timetable or speculate on project costs. He did say that Sheraton is considering bringing more hotel brands into the mix.
"Starwood is discussing a lot of exciting plans for Waikiki" Vieira said. "This would be our first master-scale redevelopment."
Local 5 members, who have been in contract negotiations with Sheraton for months now, said their communication with the company has resulted in more questions than answers.
"The big concern of our members is where they fit into all of these plans," said Cade Watanabe, a spokesman for Local 5. "The corporation has talked about how positive these plans are for Waikiki, but our members are concerned about job security and layoffs if these renovations go forward."
Watanabe said the union asked "straight-up questions," but did not get "clear answers" from Sheraton.
"We need Sheraton to give us a timetable and to provide our members with answers to their concerns about the plan for displaced workers," he said.
Sheraton has told workers that it intends to minimize the impact of the renovation on them; although the rebuilding of the Princess Kaiulani will result in the temporary layoff of some associates.
When it comes to support for Sheraton's project, it's all a matter of perspective.
Overall reinvestment in Waikiki has brought the benefits of increased property values and a greater tax base. However, some Waikiki residents have seen their quality of life drop temporarily because of the construction.
"This is the busiest that Waikiki has been in the last decade. It's been really good for Waikiki; of course, some people in the intermediate area are unhappy," said Bob Finley, chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.
Anne Murata, marketing director for the Festival Cos., which runs the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, said she and other retailers are eagerly awaiting Sheraton's redevelopment.
"It's a wonderful addition to what we are already doing at the center -- together we will form one park-like setting," Murata said. "Those hotels in particular are important to us because they make our renovation appear that much more resort-like for consumers."
Sheraton's upgrades will help convince Hawaii's high percentage of repeat visitors that what's old has become new again. Property improvements are good for Waikiki because upgraded hotels tend to attract a higher-spending visitor as well as spur repeat visitors to come back, said Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors LLC, a hotel consulting firm.
"The marketplace will respond favorably to these changes," "Toy said. "There's very little supply side in Waikiki and not much room for new development."
Consumer support for Waikiki redevelopment has boosted the region's average daily room rates and revenue-per-available room sharply, Toy said.
"Hawaii as a destination is just behind New York in room rates, but we are leading the country in occupancy," he said.