The Brancatelli File



August 2, 1985 -- For a town with no shortage of hotel rooms—38,000 at last count—Honolulu can be a surprisingly difficult place for travel-weary business flyers to find appropriate accommodations.

For starters, Honolulu’s compact downtown business district doesn’t have a single hotel room. Honolulu International is the eleventh busiest airport in the nation, but it, too, lacks hotel accommodations. And while Honolulu county encompasses the whole island of Oahu, all but fourteen of its 142 guest houses are crammed into Waikiki, the 450-acre playground that is first and foremost a raucous, nonstop tourist mecca.

Business travelers find Waikiki a decidedly mixed blessing. Rush-hour commutes between a downtown address and a Waikiki hotel can be maddening. The city’s overwhelmed street and highway system turns the seven-mile trip into a 45-minute marathon during much of the business day. And Waikiki’s hotels—even those run by well-known business-hotel chains—aren’t always attuned to the needs of businesspeople. And even in the perennially hospitable Hawaiian climate, tourists and business travelers just don’t seem to coexist comfortably.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking Honolulu is devoid of quality business hotels. Honolulu does okay. It even has two gems that rank near the top of the list of the world’s finest business-traveler’s hotels.

When it was built twenty years ago by Hilton International, the Kahala Hilton immediately was proclaimed the best hotel in Honolulu. Twenty years later, the Kahala remains the best address on Oahu and has gained a justifiable reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful and genteel hotels. The hotel’s physical plant is a marvel: there are three crystal chandeliers in the huge lobby, an 800-foot-long beach with its own island, an Oceanside pool, a manmade lagoon and a most un-Hawaiian menagerie of dolphins, penguins and sea turtles.

For business travelers, the Kahala’s biggest advantage is location: it’s in a swanky residential neighborhood about thirty minutes from downtown and fifteen minutes from Waikiki.

The Kahala has also undergone substantial renovation in recent years. All 370 guestrooms have been redecorated and the function rooms and restaurants are now being revamped. A new, four-acre health facility is also nearing completion. It features six tennis courts, saunas, Nautilus equipment and a Jacuzzi.

After two decades of preeminence, the Kahala’s hard-won reputation as hotel-of-choice among business travelers is now being challenged by the glittering new Halekulani Hotel. Smack in the middle of the nonstop Waikiki beach scene, the Halekulani has nevertheless managed to establish itself as a remarkable oasis of tranquility thanks to ingenious architectural designs and faultless personal service.

The list of the Halekulani’s special services for business travelers is unmatched by any hotel in Honolulu. There are desks in every room, same-day laundry/dry cleaning service, beauty parlor and barber services, 24-hour room service, cable television, a raft of out-of-town newspapers in the sundry shop, remote telephones and six excellent dining facilities. The flourishes at the Halekulani are mind-boggling: shoes picked up for shining are returned in fifteen minutes; room-service orders come with toasters so breads can be toasted at leisure; telephone messages are delivered neatly typed; room bars are stocked with complimentary mineral water, and the maids who turn down the beds don’t leave chocolates. Each night they leave an exquisite polished sea shell packed in a gift box.

Built by Mitsui, a Japanese conglomerate, the 456-room hotel cost $125 million, but is already being upgraded only two yeas after it opened. A Jacuzzi and exercise room will be built next year and all the rooms, which average more than 550 square feet, will be getting new minibar facilities.

Business travelers who prefer more activity gravitate to the 1,200-room Hyatt Regency Waikiki at Hemmeter Center. Located on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s main drag, the Hyatt also faces the busiest part of Waikiki Beach. And Hemmeter Center, a bustling, open-air shopping mall, hums with activity.

“I don’t pretend I’ve got this quiet, sleepy hotel on the edge of paradise,” says Hyatt regional vice president Gordon N. Hentschel. “We’ve gone the other way. We want to be right in the middle of the action. We want to be the social, entertainment and eating facility hub of Waikiki.”

If nothing else, the ten-year-old Hyatt is that. The hotel’s atrium has three waterfalls, six bars, five restaurants and seventy shops. But the Hyatt has also protected the business traveler from much of the hurly-burly. The Regency Club, the Hyatt chain’s executive floor program, has been adopted with gusto at the Honolulu outlet. There is separate check-in for Regency Club members, the 115 executive rooms are all on floors accessible only with a special elevator key, and there is a large array of services available only to Club members. The Hyatt, which is spending $2.5 million to upgrade the hotel, also has the most extensive health club and spa facilities in Honolulu.

Several other Waikiki hotels also grab a respectable share of the business traveler traffic. The Hawaiian Regent, owned by The Tokyu Group of Japan, is a favorite of Japanese executives. The Regent is also home of The Third Floor, an outstanding continental restaurant. Its consistently excellent cuisine and stunning atmosphere make it the restaurant of choice among Honolulu’s business elite.

The Colony Surf is Honolulu’s favorite “small” hotel. Near Diamond Head, the Colony Surf is far from Waikiki’s maddening crowd, and has a high percentage of repeat guests. It’s also got Michel’s, a formal dining room that sits, quite literally, on the beach. Locals claim Michel’s is the spot for a power breakfast in Honolulu.

The Colony Surf’s neighbor, The New Otani, is another of Honolulu’s better small hotels. The suites have just been renovated and the hotel’s restaurant is famed for its shabu-shabu, tempura and other Japanese specialties.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1983-2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.