Aqua's Little Team That Could

The hotel management firm keeps lean and creative as its portfolio grows By: Marty Wentzel
Aqua Hotels & Resorts’ marketing team // © 2011 Aqua Hotels & Resorts
Aqua Hotels & Resorts’ marketing team // © 2011 Aqua Hotels & Resorts

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Aqua Hotels & Resorts
In November 2010, when the media released a recording of a man warning an airport security agent, "Don't touch my junk," Aqua Hotels & Resorts' marketing staff didn't waste a second. They liked how it resonated with the overall traveling public and, within just a few days, they had released their Don't Touch My Package package, providing Aqua's guests with spa treatments to relieve the stress of travel.

That sort of quick turnaround of trends into clever promotions is a hallmark of Aqua's marketing staff, which is lean and flexible enough to make big things happen quickly. The same can be said of Aqua's overall operations. Aqua's portfolio has grown steadily from five renovated Waikiki boutique hotels five years ago to today's list of 16 properties on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai. Most recently, it added the Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki and the Pagoda Hotel in Honolulu.

"By running things in-house, we're able to turn around a concept on a dime," said Aqua's vice president of sales and marketing Elizabeth Churchill. "As a small privately held, employee-owned company, we don't have to go through layers of red tape."

Churchill's five-person marketing team closely watches what's going on in the news while tracking consumer behavior in order to determine what might ring true with clients.

"I hired people with great creative talent," said Churchill. "We all work together as a tight team to come up with promotions that capture attention while offering the all-important price points. People are savvy about packages these days. They want to make sure the package components are cheaper than if they booked a la carte. At the same time, the name of a package can certainly intrigue people. It's very effective as a public relations tool."

A case in point was Aqua's Nifty to Be Fifty package, successfully timed with Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood. It offered rooms for $50 for the first night and best available rates for the next two nights. Aqua's new Everywhere Internet initiative at Park Shore Waikiki provides guests with a personal 4G hot-spot router that provides them with Internet access throughout Oahu for $8.95 per day.

Aqua's quick and thoughtful approach to marketing is mirrored in its outreach to different types of travelers, said Churchill.

"We are constantly asking ourselves about new markets that we can seek out that will allow us to be a progressive leader," she said.

A good example is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travel segment. In 2008, Aqua became the first hotel chain to be TAG-certified as a gay-friendly hotel, blazing a trail that many Hawaii hotels have since followed.

Aqua took the creative process a step further as it named the categories of the properties it manages. Its Aqua Lite line appeals to people on a budget looking for clean and comfortable Waikiki accommodations and who book a hotel based primarily on rate. The mid-priced Aqua Boutique hotels attract couples looking for a high level of customer service and value on Oahu. Its Boutique Resort Collection -- consisting of four neighbor island properties -- draws travelers looking for more of a destination resort experience.

The Queen Kapiolani falls into Aqua's Boutique category. The hotel, which is wrapping up a $5 million top-to-bottom renovation, allows Aqua to reach out to business travelers thanks to its meeting space and ballroom.

"For this hotel, we're developing packages that will attract a diversified group of consumers -- families, groups and golfers, to name a few," said Churchill.

The Pagoda Hotel is joining Aqua's Lite line. A longtime favorite with locals and business travelers, its location near the Hawaii Convention Center and Ala Moana shopping center caters to clients looking to stay outside of Waikiki. Both newly added properties feature full-service food-and-beverage operations, a first for Aqua's Oahu addresses.

Agents can expect to hear a lot more from Aqua's savvy marketing team this year. For starters, the company is launching its Beach Boutique concept, which gives guests of its Boutique category hotels free use of beach towels, chairs and sunscreen during their stay. Created in response to client feedback, the initiative aims to make travel as easy as possible for visitors.

"What we're trying to say is that we're not a city boutique hotel like a W or a Kimpton," said Churchill. "We're a relaxed chain, and it's okay if you have sand on your feet in the lobby."
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