Hotels see
green Christmas

Bookings are up for December,
though Waikiki struggles
behind neighbor island resorts

By Tim Ruel

Several Hawaii hotels are looking forward to a more normal holiday season this month, with rooms either full or nearly full, though Waikiki is not faring as well as neighbor island resort areas, and tourists are cutting their trips short.

Rooms at some Waikiki hotels are still open for reservations in a season that was traditionally booked, hotel managers said.

Around the state, people are taking shorter trips this year, staying for just a handful of days and leaving right after New Year's. It's a far cry from the two-week holidays of yesteryear. In addition, travelers are complaining there is a lack of convenient flights to the islands, according to hotel executives.

High-end properties are faring the best. Luxury resorts in places such as Wailea, Maui, and the Big Island's Kohala Coast reported in October that they were already sold out and turning away business. "There's always a long waiting list," said Johnny So, vice president and general manager of the 780-room Grand Wailea Resort, which has room rates ranging from $410 to $10,000 a night. The resort, which asks for complete payment in advance as a deposit, was sold out for Christmas 2002 before summertime, and was full during Christmas 2001, despite the events of Sept. 11, So said.

At less expensive hotels on Oahu, it's a different story. "In Waikiki, we still have a lot of availability," said Perry Sorenson, chief operating officer for Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, which manages 32 properties in Hawaii. People are booking vacations at the last minute, Sorenson said. He also cited the weakness of the Japanese market. Oahu's arrivals from Japan have fallen 11.6 percent this year through October compared with last year. "It's a very different environment," Sorenson said.


Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which manages two dozen properties in the state, expects occupancy will be between 90 percent and 100 percent from Christmas to New Year's, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president and operations director. Starwood has eased reservation requirements such as minimum lengths of stay and early deposits, Vieira said.

For Aston Hotels & Resorts, bookings are about on par with 2000, the banner year for Hawaii tourism when a record 6.95 million visitors came to the isles, and sell-outs are expected.

"The holiday booking pace is very encouraging at this point and is looking quite strong, certainly relative to last year," said Kelvin Bloom, Aston president. He expects 10 percent to 20 percent more rooms to be booked in late December than last year. Aston and an affiliated firm manage some 50 hotels and resort condominiums in the state.

The improvement is surprising and, it is hoped, marks a turnabout, Bloom said. Hawaii revenues for Aston and its sister firm fell slightly to $39.8 million in the first nine months of the year from $40.7 million last year. Operating profits were down by a one-quarter to $5.9 million, according to a financial statement from Aston's Tennessee parent company, ResortQuest International Inc.

Marriott International Inc., which manages seven hotels in Hawaii, expects occupancy at neighbor island properties to be at least 95 percent, while Waikiki is between 80 percent and 90 percent occupied and rising. That's about 5 percent to 10 percent better than 2001, but not as good as 2000. "We still have a ways to go to be on parity with the year 2000," said Stan Brown, Pacific Islands vice president for Marriott.

One big negative factor for hotels this year, executives said, is a lack of convenient flights. At least four or five Starwood guests have said that, Vieira said. Bloom, who has been flying to the mainland every other week, said there's no question good flights are hard to find. "I don't see that improving anytime soon," Bloom said.

The total number of airline seats available to bring passengers to Hawaii fell more than 9 percent last year, and is projected to be down slightly more this year, according to research by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Oahu's total visitor arrivals through October are down 4.4 percent from last year. Big Island arrivals were up 2.1 percent, while Maui was basically unchanged from last year. Arrivals on Kauai were down 3 percent.

Interisland flight capacity for Aloha Airlines may be down slightly from holiday periods in the past, said spokesman Stu Glauberman. Flights are full and phone reservation lines are jammed. Aloha plans to add extra flights and sections of seats at the most heavily traveled times in the morning and evenings. At the same time, the airline is urging people to book travel ahead and to do so using the Internet. "The situation is certainly extreme right now," Glauberman said.

This year's holiday hotel bookings have given hope to some hoteliers, while others were more sedate.

"I think, hopefully, it forecasts well for 2003," said Aston's Bloom.

Brown, of Marriott, said while December is looking strong, November was disappointing. "It's kind of a mixed bag, I would say, at this point."

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