Kaanapali Beach Hotel readies for spring renovation

The Kaanapali Beach Hotel, one of the first handful of properties built in the Maui resort area, is undergoing a $65 million renovation, its most significant upgrade in at least a decade.

The property first built in 1964 has fashioned a reputation for offering family-friendly accommodations with a focus on service and authentic Hawaiian cultural programming. After 9/11, the hotel started a tradition of giving every departing guest a kukui nut lei. Each time the guest returns to the hotel with their lei, one of the brown nuts is replaced with a white one. Today, there are guests that have all white leis and are starting on their second one.

The work will begin in April and includes an update of one wing of the property, a new signature restaurant and other enhancements. The project has been dubbed “Kealaula,” which refers to the rosy-tinted light seen at both dawn and dusk.

“It reflects the cyclical nature. Some things end, others begin, and some things change,” said Alika Guerrero, Kaanapali’s director of Pookela responsible for cultural programming and initiatives.

The Kauai Wing, representing roughly 40% of the hotels’ 432 rooms, will be fully revamped with design and technological upgrades.  
“What guests will see is a lighter, brighter room with a more modern take on incorporating Hawaiian culture,” said John White, director of sales and marketing. “It is a much more welcoming experience, and not as dark when you enter the rooms. And we’ve made updates for today’s travelers, like more power outlets.”

At the hotel many of the roughly 280 staff members have been with the property for a decade or more, and Guerrero worked to involve them with the redesign.

“We have put a lot of time and energy into our art programs, and we want the guest’s exploration of Hawaiian culture to start as they enter the room. Each room is filled with what we’re calling Makamae, precious things. They are cultural replicas made with traditional materials and styles. They were made by employees, and it’s one of the subtle ways we’ve integrated Hawaiian culture. The headboards also have traditional motifs and designs.”

The Makamae shadow boxes include items like fishhooks, octopus lures, different styles of lei and traditional Hawaiian weapons.
“The changes are really driven by the guests, and the feedback we’ve gathered from them,” White said. “We took that information, like requests for a better food and beverage product, and incorporated that into designs and plans. We have a lot of repeat guests who are very excited to tell us their thoughts about their hotel. And we do like to say that it’s their hotel, we just work here.”

The new restaurant, HuiHui, will replace the Tiki Terrace as the property’s signature eatery, and offer open-air, oceanfront dining. It is themed around Hawaiian wayfinding and will feature pieces from the hotel’s collection of paddling and sailing canoes.

“There are epic views of Molokai and Lanai, and you’ll be able to watch the whales with your coffee in the morning,” White said. “The menu will be rolling out in a couple of months, but it will play on the theme of Hawaiian fusion from the cultural perspective, playing into navigation and wayfinding theme.”

The 5,000-square-foot venue will serve as a gathering place, as well as an extension of the properties’ canoeing programs with the eventual addition of a sailing academy to go along with its menu of classes such as lei making and ukulele lessons.

“We’ve adjusted our program to highlight the strengths of our staff, and we seek out the best cultural practitioners in our community,” Guerrero said. “Two staff members are members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and were crew members on the Hokulea. They sailed across the ocean. When we have staff changes, the class changes with them to highlight their areas of expertise and knowledge.”

While the property is continually upgrading services and facilities, White said this is the most substantial renovation at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel since 2008.

“We need to stay true to our brand and at the same time keep evolving and moving forward,” White said. “We have a high rate of repeat guests who love visiting and want more. Alika has developed more in depth classes, and people have enjoyed what we’ve been offering. It’s a continual renewal process.”

In addition to the restaurant and Kauai Wing, the hotel’s parking structure is being renovated. All three elements of the project are expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2020. The hotel will stay fully staffed during the renovations, with no layoffs or time reductions, White said. The Lanai, Maui and Molokai wings will remain available for guests during construction as well as dining outlets Tiki Terrace, Tiki Bar & Grill and the Grab N Go.

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