The Lure of Hawaii

Waterfall garden at Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island

The Hawaiian Islands are such a strong pull that they consistently rank among the most popular vacations spots—the beauty and wide range of activities found within their confines add flair to the delightful playground.

This is an Eden made up of six lush islands perfumed by flowers and surrounded by waters where the natural beauty stuns the senses. There are activities for every taste and there is more than a grain of truth to the old adage that “there is no place like Hawaii.”

According to Jay Talwar, senior v.p. of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), “One of Hawaii’s biggest selling points is that each of our six islands offers a diversity of unique destination experiences that fulfill travelers’ desires. And travel agents and tour operators will be pleased to know that surveys taken of U.S. visitors reveal that their satisfaction with a Hawaii vacation has produced outstanding results.

“In 2011, 98 percent of visitors rated their most recent trip to Hawaii as either excellent or above average,” he says. Talwar adds that more than 4.6 million U.S. visitors arrived in Hawaii, staying an average of 10 days that year alone.

Unless you arrive on a cruise ship (and the choices here are legion) the only other way to reach Hawaii is by air—and proof that the Aloha State is the most visited destination in the Pacific is evinced by the large number of airlines that fly there not only from North America, but from multiple foreign cities primarily in Asia and offer inter-island service as well.

Hawaiian Airlines is the state’s flag carrier, but American Airlines, Delta, Alaska Airlines, United, U.S. Air and Allegiant are well represented (recent fares from Los Angeles start at about $614 roundtrip).

Talwar credits Hawaii’s popularity in large part to the HVCB’s “longtime support of travel trade professionals and [our] keeping them informed about the diversity of [Hawaii’s] offerings and how they can best match their clients’ interests with the island [of their choice].”

And while sometimes it seems that accommodations on the islands are as plentiful as palm trees along the shore, culling the perfect spot to complement the perfect island vacation can be daunting.

It need not be. Follow us as we go island-hopping, showcasing the singular activities available on each island destination as well as the perfect resort to complement your client’s stay.

the big island

Known as the “Big Island,” about an hour flight from Honolulu, Hawaii long has beckoned visitors with its unparalleled beauty, glittering waters and warm trade winds. Also known as “Orchid Island,” Hawaii just might have been nature’s prototype for tropical isles.

“Orchid,” “Big,” whatever handle one puts on the island doesn’t give it justice. This is where one comes to find the Hawaii of awesome natural beauty, waterfalls, volcanoes spewing lava into the ocean and quaint old whaling villages all providing a multitude of activities for visitors.

Kona, for instance, is a lively Hawaiian town full of restaurants and attractions, and about two hours away lies Hilo, one of the Pacific’s most storied and historic ports. One of the island’s better-known sites is the great volcano center at Kilauea, where visitors can glimpse the world’s most active volcano spewing lava and gases into the air.

One of the best bets for a stay on the Big Island is the Hilton Waikoloa Village, which lies about 18 miles from Kona International Airport and sits on two bluffs that jut into the warm waters of Kohala Coast. It is a huge, sprawling complex considered one of Hawaii’s premier resorts. There are enough waterfalls, hiking trails, ziplining trips and whale-watching excursions available through the Hilton Waikoloa Village to satisfy most guests.

Visiting Hilton Waikoloa Village is like entering a room of contradictory surprises, for it not only stuns with its beauty, but also baffles with its magnitude.

Its size—three low-rise towers purposefully built not to exceed the height of the ubiquitous palms—at first astonishes, then perplexes, but finally the laid-back spirit infusing the 50th state eventually prevails, coercing guests to sit back and relish its beauty and stress-free disposition.

There’s a train that looks like it was filched from the Seattle monorail’s rail yard bisecting the property plus a motor boat that makes regular runs on a canal cutting across the resort. These are imperative conveniences, because it takes about a half-hour’s brisk walk to traverse the same route along perplexing open-air corridors (“The Museum Walk”) that shift decor from faux Italianesque to Edwardian England, and from Polynesian to Chinese every few yards.

There are gardens throughout, and at night, well-choreographed performers break out in song and dance, drumming and chanting ancient Hawaiian lilts that reverberate throughout the property. In daytime, pretty girls walk around with poles holding dyspeptic macaws that squawk and perform tricks.

On one side, there’s a lagoon full of paddleboats and standup boards for guests. Abutting the lagoon are three pools operated by Dolphin Quest, a separate entity within the resort dedicated to the preservation and study of marine mammals. Dolphin Quest is billed as the only attraction of its kind in Hawaii. It allows guests to touch, feed and sometimes even romp in the water with the creatures.

There are nine lounges and eight restaurants serving Japanese, American and Pacific Rim cuisine. A lavish Pacific luau buffet is dished in the resort’s Kamehameha Court where guests dine and drink while enjoying Hawaiian dances and songs.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village also has workout facilities, an impressive spa, three swimming pools, a protected lagoon, an adjacent salt-and-pepper beach, children’s programs, golf courses and tennis courts. There’s a wedding chapel and a Zen garden conducive for meditation. If that isn’t enough, hula and ukulele classes are held at a visually astounding promontory called “Buddha’s Point.” At the resort, one will also find nightly musical performances, walks along a shoreline trail, and guided hikes to ancient Hawaiian petroglyph sites.

Leanne Pletcher, director of marketing and communications, says that Hilton Waikoloa Village’s “success is proof that the resort is a successful family resort—and we have the awards to prove it,” she adds, citing a number of honors it has received.

More than $500 million in renovations that began seven years ago have put Hilton Waikoloa Village at the forefront of a cluster of properties lining the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, the northwest section of the island characterized by jet-black lava rock fields—the result of eruptions that are taking place even today in this volcanic-volatile Pacific spot.

The renovation has paid off. According to Teresa Cosgrove, leisure sales manager, the property’s high occupancy rate (about 65 percent in the low months of May, September and October, climbing to approximately 100 percent during the winter months) reflects its popularity.

As one of the premier destinations on the Big Island, Hilton Waikoloa Village has close ties and works with all the major wholesale operators that sell Hawaii. Cosgrove cites this relationship as one of the reasons for its success. In addition, the resort has regular promotions that are “available through our travel partners.”

According to Cosgrove, travel agents are essential to the resort’s operation. “Our first challenge is make travel agents aware of the attractions in the resort,” she says. “We rely on them to make their clients aware of what’s in store for visitors. That can be anything from lying on a hammock and watching the sea, to participating in the many activities we feature. We also have the largest convention center in Hawaii and, as a result, group sales constitute a large part of our guests. About 70 percent of our guests are part of small groups.”

With 1,240 guestrooms, including 58 one- and 2-bedroom suites, the property has the advantage of being situated on one of the most appealing islands in the world.

Says Pletcher, “Hilton Waikoloa Village room accommodations rates range from Garden View (starting at $199, double occupancy), to Ocean Front room (highest are $679) and suites (from $449 to $2,499).”