Hot summer deals


POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Package rates to Hawaii this spring were so good that Jackie Marinos and five other family members were able to spend a week on Oahu for $3,800, including airfare, hotel rooms and a rental van.

“;We got a phenomenal deal,”; Marinos said Tuesday while frolicking in Hilton Hawaiian Village's pool with her children. “;If the rates stay this low, we'll probably come again this summer.”;

The Marinos had considered other destinations for her family's spring vacation, but it was hard to beat Pleasant Holidays' deal, which worked out to roughly $90 per person per day. Even in the down market, average per-person per-day costs for West Coasters are $140.80, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“;I looked at other destinations on Expedia and Travelocity, but Hawaii was a lot less expensive,”; Marinos said. “;My father-in-law couldn't believe the rates. He visits Hawaii every year and said last year costs were double.”;

While it used to be impossible for summer travelers to find deals during Hawaii's prime family vacation period, which runs from the second week of June to the third week of August, in this economy they are as ubiquitous as palm trees swaying in Hawaii's breeze.

The outlook varies from property to property, but at best it's going to be a flat summer for occupancy at Hawaii's hotels, and at worst some will sustain steep double-digit declines, said Ed Hubennette, Marriott International's vice president of North Asia, Hawaii and the South Pacific.

More worrisome for Hawaii's hotel industry is the damage done when the dip in arrivals is combined with deep discounting, Hubennette said.

“;I anticipate that revenue per available room (RevPAR) will decline by about 15 percent,”; he said. “;It will take years to make up the difference.”;

It took five to seven years for Hawaii's hotel industry to recover from discounting in the 1990s, said Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors LLC.

“;The last thing that hotels want to do is discount their rooms, but you can only add value to your product for so long, and if the fall in demand is still there, reality has to set in,”; Toy said.

The harsh realities faced by Hawaii's visitor industry have resulted in the hottest summer specials imaginable. The deals, which are open to barter, include deeply discounted or free nightly rates, reduced or free parking, complimentary meals, resorts credits and activity discounts. And, while it still pays to be a kamaaina, the spread between general rates and those reserved for the local market is narrowing.

“;When you have rooms at the Outrigger Reef for $159 a night or $125 for kamaaina, it makes everyone off beach look expensive,”; said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group.

As a result of deep discounting in Hawaii's market, off-beach and boutique properties like those at Aqua Hotels & Resorts have had to offer even more value, said Elizabeth Churchill, vice president of sales and marketing for Aqua.

“;We have kamaaina rooms starting at $49 per night, so we can't discount the prices much further,”; Churchill said. “;We've had to add value propositions like free breakfasts.”;

Danni Wylde and her boyfriend Nick MacDonald of New Castle, England, vacationed on the mainland before coming to Hawaii, which the visitor industry is trying to sell as a destination with value.

Evidently, the discounting is working because the couple found Hawaii's pricing competitive.

“;The prices are here are a lot like in Vegas,”; Wylde said. “;We found San Francisco quite expensive.”;

Even Hawaii's wholesalers have stepped up the discounts, said Jack E. Richards, president and chief executive of Hawaii's largest wholesaler, Pleasant Holidays LLC.

“;Travelers who postponed the traditional family summer vacation to Hawaii last year due to higher prices should plan and buy their trip today,”; Richards said. “;Prices have come down between 40 and 55 percent due to reduced airfares and exceptional hotel values that are available now.”;

While a “;summer special”; used to be unheard of in Hawaii's peak family travel season, this year there's a seemingly endless supply, Wallace said.

And, as the lag continues, they keep getting better, said Bob Froio, vice president of Hawaii wholesaler Condominium Connection.

“;We began by offering room and property upgrades and values like breakfast, but eventually it comes down to price,”; Froio said. “;Now we are seeing all of that in conjunction with reduced rates. The savings are incredible. I've never seen it this aggressive in my 24 years in the business.”;

It all boils down to survival, Wallace said.

“;We need to keep our employees working,”; he said.