Big Time for the Big Island

Get to know Hawaii's Orchid Isle at this annual festival

By: Marty Wentzel

KOHALA COAST, Big Island Officials with the Big Island Festival are fine-tuning this year’s event so that it provides more appeal to clients, translating into greater selling power for travel agents.

The event, slated for Nov. 5-9, focuses on the diversity of the destination through spa, fitness and healing workshops, farm tours, culinary seminars and demonstrations, a golf tournament and gala dinners. “While the 2002 festival was wonderful in terms of showcasing the best of the Big Island, several important changes this year will make it more visitor-friendly,” said Big Island Festival director Kristin McGrath. “By simplifying and focusing our programs, we are striving to make the event easier to understand and participate in.”

For 2003, McGrath envisions a flawlessly run participant-friendly schedule. “I want to showcase as many faces of the Big Island as possible,” she said, “while significantly increasing attendance and creating a solid core event that will expand to include other areas of the Big Island in 2004.”

Last year’s festival drew 2,000 people. McGrath hopes to increase that number to 2,500 this year.

A key difference between last year’s inaugural Big Island Festival and the 2003 program lies in the logistics. More events, especially daytime activities, are now centered at the festival pavilion at Mauna Lani Resort. “This lets guests go to more events, rather than traveling between resorts for programs at different venues, like last year,” said McGrath.

A new offering called New Waves takes place at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, an aquaculture facility producing upscale seafood like lobster, Dungeness crab, abalone and oysters. On Nov. 7, daytime tours teach clients about growing, harvesting, preparing and cooking aquacultural seafood. Later, a sunset reception on the beach showcases top chefs and Big Island agricultural products.

McGrath said the Big Island Festival can provide travel agents with effective tools for selling their clients on the destination. “Part of the Big Island’s appeal is its relative lack of commercialized tourist attractions,” she said. “Here, visitors must seek out and explore. The festival offers visitors the chance to learn about aspects of our island that would not ordinarily be as accessible, whether it’s talking to growers of rare tropical fruits and flowers, or exploring Hawaiian healing methods.”

The festival is geared toward upscale visitors interested in gourmet foods and wines, people who want to learn about the Big Island while being pampered in Hawaii’s most luxurious resorts, she said.

A Platinum Pass, which covers the main events, costs $325 per person. It includes daily admission to the festival pavilion and tastings, culinary seminars, the Nov. 5 opening reception at Kona Village, the Nov. 8 Taste of Mauna Lani function and the Nov. 9 Big Island Cook-Off. A $25 day pass admits clients to the pavilion, seminars and tastings Nov. 6-8. A la carte events range from $25 for the cook-off to $105 for the opening reception.

Other Big Island Festival activities include winemaker dinners at various Kohala Coast resorts; and the Chef’s Table, a back-of-the-house culinary tour at Hilton Waikoloa Village followed by a gourmet luncheon prepared by Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2003.

Hotels are designing room-and-event packages in conjunction with the event. The festival schedule is subject to change, so agents should call or check the Web site for the latest info.