FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The 81-year-old Royal Hawaiian hotel will close down today to undergo a seven-month renovation project. The only other time the hotel closed to the public was during World War II, when it served as housing for the Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Royal Hawaiian closing for 7 months
Medical benefits will continue for workers during renovations
Today the iconic, pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel closes for the second time in its history as the 81-year-old structure undergoes a seven-month facelift.
Several of the 420 employees already have transferred to other hotels operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. Some have opted to take the time off, said Starwood spokeswoman Candice Kraughto.
Medical benefits will continue for the employees, who both the union and company believes will return once the hotel holds a "soft" reopening in December.
"We're not afraid that they're not going to come back, because we know they love the Royal," said Kraughto. "And we don't want to lose them."
Because of the closure, the local tourism industry will be out 528 rooms until the hotel reopens to the public in January.
The closure comes at a time when hotels are bracing for a drop in occupancy due to a weakened national economy, airfares prices spiking after the closures of Aloha and ATA airlines, and rising fuel surcharges.
"It's really amazing how it worked out," Kraughto said. "This is really an opportune time for the Royal Hawaiian to close to renew itself, with the way the industry is right now."
Kraughto said the company hopes the upgraded hotel will bring about renewed interest in visiting Waikiki.
"When the Royal reopens later this year, Waikiki will once again be among the world's most coveted destinations for travelers seeking romance, luxury and enriching experiences," Kraughto said.
The $110 million renovation is part of a larger $750 million redevelopment plan of Sheraton's four Waikiki hotels by its Japan-based owner Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts LP.
The Abhasa Waikiki Spa will remain open until October, Kraughto said.
The United Here! Local 5 union was successful in negotiating continued medical benefits, which was the employees' biggest concern, said union spokesman Cade Watanabe.
It will make the next several months for Janal Kaina less stressful. Kaina, a hostess at the hotel's restaurant, has been an employee for more than 20 years, but has not yet been able to transfer to another hotel.
"It's troubling, but my philosophy is that there's not a whole lot I can do at this point," Kaina said. "I'm just thankful that we have a union that's managed to work to ensure we have benefits."
Kaina said she understands the need to upgrade the 81-year-old hotel, but the closure is still bittersweet for her.
"I love this hotel and the guests," she said. "Some of these guests have been coming for so long, they're like family. ... And this has been like a second home to me."
The renovations are headed by WCIT Architecture and Philpotts & Associates. Renovations will include koa furnishings, Moroccan-inspired stone patterns and new lighting fixtures.
The last time the hotel closed to the public was during World War II, when it served as housing for the Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed.