A guestroom at the Hotel Renew // © 2013 Aston Hotels & Resorts
The year 1948 saw several significant moments in Hawaii history. President Harry Truman visited Honolulu on his way to Asia. The luxury liner Matsonia cruised away from the islands for the final time. Northwest Airlines started flying a DC-4 between the Pacific Northwest and Honolulu.
And, that same year, the Royal Grove Hotel opened in Waikiki, marking the beginning of one of Hawaii’s best-known hospitality companies: Aston Hotels & Resorts.
Fast forward to the present, and Aston stands at the forefront of hotel and condominium resort management, having pioneered many firsts in the tourism industry.
The company has long considered travel agents as a key to its storied success. With that in mind, it’s celebrating its 65th anniversary with three big initiatives for their partners in travel: a new agent website, a cash-back bonus offer and a hot-off-the-press agent sweepstakes.
Aston Through the Ages
Aston’s impressive chronology began when a French sailor named Joseph “Tati” Tatibouet shipwrecked in Hawaii, married a local woman and, in 1948, opened the 14-room, two-story Royal Grove Hotel, where the average rate was less than $5 per night.
In the coming decades, the business broadened its portfolio to the neighbor islands and made numerous breakthroughs.
In 1969, for instance, it became the first company in Hawaii to manage a condominium as a hotel. Blending hotel services and generous living space, the 100-room Kuhiolani Hotel served as a model that has since spread throughout the islands.
More headlines followed for Aston. In 1980, it expanded to Maui with the opening of Aston Kaanapali Shores. During the 1990s, it made strides with the introduction of 24-hour toll-free reservation service. In 2008, it came up with a creative travel agent campaign called the eduVacation, inviting industry professionals to stay at any Aston property for up to three nights at low rates, go on a site inspection, meet the staff and get acquainted with the destination, all while on vacation.
Aston fanned out to the U.S. mainland with the 2009 addition of Lakeland Village, a 19-acre Lake Tahoe condominium resort. In 2010, MonteLago Village Resort came onboard providing full-service condominium suites on the south shore of Lake Las Vegas. In August of this year, the Mediterranean-style Tuscana Resort Orlando joined the Aston fold with two- and three-bedroom condos close to many central Florida attractions.
In yet another discerning departure, Aston recently took over operations of the 72-room Hotel Renew in the heart of Waikiki, the first boutique hotel in its offerings.
Every step of the way, the Aston name gained more credibility. Although it merged in 1998 with a number of other companies to form Resort Quest International — one of the largest vacation rental firms in North America — it revived its original, iconic brand of Aston Hotels & Resorts in 2009 as part of Interval Leisure Group.
“The Aston brand is well defined and widely recognized by consumers and travel professionals around the world,” said Shari Chang, Aston’s senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management. “Returning to the Aston name in 2009 signaled a desire to build on a legacy of more than 60 years of experience delivering on a brand promise, strengthening long-lasting relationships and creating memories for millions.”
A Step Ahead and Apart
Throughout Aston’s notable history, its unique programs have helped it maintain a strong presence in the Hawaii market.
In 1990, it introduced the budget-friendly Aston Fun Book — now known as the Aston Aloha Book — with $2,500 worth of discounts at top attractions, shopping, golf and dining experiences. One edition of the book covers Oahu and another focuses on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island.
“Unlike other promotional books, the Aloha Book is an invitation to guests to explore each island versus simply promoting on-property activities,” Chang explained.
The Aloha Book has scored high marks not only from travelers but from participating vendors.
“We consider the Aloha Book to be one of our best performers in the visitor market,” said Anne Murata, marketing director of Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. “It’s a great service to help promote our products to Aston guests.”
Two of Aston’s programs are popular with clients of different ages. With its Kids Stay, Play and Eat Free initiative, guests 17 and under stay free when using existing bedding, and kids 12 and younger who are accompanied by a paying adult get complementary meals, admissions and gifts at select locations.
Simultaneously, its Hawaii 5-0/50+ program reduces nightly rates by up to 5 percent for visitors 50 years and up, compared to other companies that define a senior traveler as at least age 65.
“These visitors are active, and they have been instrumental in the rise of multigenerational travel,” said Chang.
Further distinguishing Aston are its weekly and long-stay plans, giving discounts to clients who stay seven nights or more at a single participating property, with larger breaks for longer stays.
Then there’s Club Renew, a brand-new innovation starting on Oct. 1. It treats guests of Hotel Renew by Aston to a variety of value-added amenities such as the use of a mobile concierge that customizes their stay; chilled towels and beverages upon arrival; room scents selected by guests; DVDs and games; a pre-loaded eReader; access to two resort pools, a nearby spa and a fitness facility; use of beach gear; daily morning coffee and tea service; in-room coffee-maker; and a weekly cocktail mixer.
Such points of distinction have earned Aston a loyal following.
“We’re seeing clients return to Aston annually based on its excellent value, choice of accommodations and superb Hawaiian hospitality,” said Pleasant Holidays president Jack Richards. “They appreciate its long operating history in Hawaii and its breadth of product.”
New Incentives and Tools for Agents
From its inception, Aston Hotels has thanked travel agents for their support.“We have always believed in the importance of the travel agent’s role,” Chang said. “We have a strong team of regional sales managers who call on retail agents every day, and our property and corporate sales teams conduct nationwide retail blitzes twice a year to update agents on all of our properties, specials and packages.”
Aston underscores its dedication to agents by presenting them with what Chang referred to as “real-world tools” that keep them in the loop on Aston and its destinations and help them sell and reach their goals.
A prime example is STARs Online, designed to meet all the needs of the travel agent. Completely web-based, STARs Online lets agents submit bookings directly online, track their STARs points and incentives and redeem points for their choice of free stays or gift cards. Agents get a 10 percent commission on all bookings, and they can receive extra cash incentives by logging bookings with the web program.
Now, Aston is unveiling its all-new STARs Online website with a thoroughly upgraded look and feel. Scheduled to go live this month, the revamped site allows agents to view their STARs account summary on a dashboard so they can easily monitor recent bookings and redemptions.
“Agents can search rewards based on their available points, so it is easier to book a free Aston stay or order a gift card,” said Chang. “We’ve provided new marketing tools which are easy to download, customize and share.”
In response to travel agent feedback, the improved STARs Online website offers enhanced features and functionality while expanding on resources such as sales support and materials, Chang added.
Timed with the anniversary and website launch is a new cash-back promotion giving agents 65 days to earn $65 cash-back bonuses on stays of five nights or more at select Aston properties.
Also, Aston is rolling out a sweepstakes for agents enrolled in STARs Online, where a lucky agent will win a 65-inch flat-screen television. The contest runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 30.
As Chang mulled the future of Aston Hotels and Resorts, she predicted that it will continue shifting toward technological advancements that keep up with client and travel agent trends.
“Our guests are more tech-savvy today. They want to keep in touch and have their needs met,” she said. “Our Mobile Concierge concept at Hotel Renew is something very exciting to offer guests. We hope to expand it to more of our properties.”
As increasing numbers of consumers do their own research before contacting a travel agent, Aston’s most significant change in reaching clients has been through the use of online advertising and mobile sites, Chang noted.
“Social media has played an integral role in keeping the communication lines open,” Chang said. “Anyone who likes Aston Hotels & Resorts on Facebook or follows us on Twitter or Instagram gets to see all of the photos that our guests share of the Aston experience. Our followers also receive access to special offers and promotions that they may not have heard about otherwise. For agents, it’s a fun way to learn about our latest property news and information.”
Although Aston has blossomed from 14 rooms to 4,300, one thing hasn’t changed at the company: its criteria for each of its properties, which must adhere to a rigorous set of benchmarks. To that end, it renovates its hotels and condominiums on an ongoing basis. In 2013, several properties have been going through improvements including Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, Aston at Papakea Resort, Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas, Aston Kaanapali Shores and Aston Islander on the Beach.
“We are already planning enhancements at our newest Hawaii property, Hotel Renew by Aston,” said Chang. “We believe our high standards demonstrate a commitment to our guests that an Aston-managed hotel or resort will provide an experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.”
So, in that same spirit of longstanding hospitality, the 65-year-old trailblazer is heading forward with a tag line that clearly sums up its steadfast promise to travelers and travel agents alike: Leaving Lasting Impressions.