Group Gathering

The Big Island offers clients versatile venues

By: Marty Wentzel

A high-profile group listed very specific requirements for its upcoming meeting. Its members did not want to be enclosed in a ballroom. Instead, they sought an outdoor facility that was more upscale, in a setting incorporating the spirit of Hawaii. They found just what they needed at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows’ Hale Hoaloha (House of Friends), a pavilion incorporating the area’s natural attributes into its design.

In a destination with so many possibilities for picture-perfect functions, Big Island resorts have remained competitive by creating versatile group venues with decidedly Hawaiian overtones. The 10,800-square-foot Hale Hoaloha, for example, accommodates up to 600 guests for day or evening events. The $3.5 million function area is unique on the Kohala Coast, according to Mauna Lani general manager Kurt Matsumoto.

“No one else has such a flexible-use facility of this size that can be either enclosed or left open to enjoy our setting, a natural blend of lava and tropical foliage,” said Matsumoto. “Hale Hoaloha perpetuates the spirit of place that is central to the allure of this resort.”

Since it introduced Hale Hoaloha last year, Mauna Lani has increased group room night bookings by 50 percent, and the hotel’s pace for future bookings has spiked considerably.

“In addition, we can now service multiple groups concurrently,” Matsumoto said. “Travel agents, who get 10 percent commission on rooms booked, can definitely find the group market profitable, especially when working with luxury customers looking for upscale resort destinations like the Big Island and Mauna Lani.”

Another property where group space makes the most of its surroundings is Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Its Hoku Amphitheatre offers 5,500 square feet for receptions and banquets. With five terraced lawns descending toward a permanent stage set against dramatic lava-rock walls, the facility feels truly at home in its Hawaiian surroundings.

According to Four Seasons Hualalai director of sales Brian Soma, the Hoku Amphitheatre has exceeded expectations.

“Groups constantly request that particular venue because of its setting and flexibility for customized events,” Soma said. “Thanks to its unique layout, aside from the usual breakfast/brunch/lunch options, we have held gala dinners, awards receptions, dinner parties surrounded by tiki torches, luaus, cooking classes with the chefs and concerts under the stars.”

While commission is not available for events booked at the amphitheatre, agents can qualify for commission on group accommodations at the resort.

At Hilton Waikoloa Village, groups account for 40 percent of the hotel’s overall business. Small wonder that the 62-acre resort lays claim to eight outdoor function areas the most in Hawaii. Of those, the Lagoon Lanai is a favorite, chosen by nearly all of the hotel’s groups, small or large.

“It’s close to the ballrooms and indoor meeting facilities,” said Hilton Waikoloa Village marketing coordinator Meredith Wertz. “Groups can have their meeting inside, then take lunch or breaks just steps away in the warm sunshine, reminding them that they are indeed in Hawaii.”

Accented by waterfalls, colorful foliage and exotic wildlife, the Lagoon Lanai overlooks a four-acre, ocean-fed saltwater lagoon where clients can see tropical fish and sea turtles.

“For groups who book the space, we’ve been able to line up such extras as trapeze artists, skydivers, fireworks and flower drops,” said Wertz.

Agents who book groups not only get their commission on rooms, but on activities, she added.

While some groups like to try new facilities, others prefer returning to places with a longstanding track record, like the North Pointe Luau Grounds at Mauna Kea Resort. In the 1960s the site hosted its first function, supposedly a one-night-only luau.

“The chef pooled talents with local staff and teamed up performers from the community,” said Mauna Kea Resort spokeswoman Cathey Tarleton. “It was such a hit that the hotel immediately started planning for permanent luau grounds.”

North Pointe is hugely popular for food and beverage events but also flexible enough to meet unusual needs. Once, it hosted a glassblowing demonstration by artist Dale Chihuly.

“He appeared at a fundraising dinner-auction, and he gave a demonstration including some hands-on art,” said Tarleton. “We cleared away the tables and chairs to make room for the glass kiln, served cold beverages and watched the fun unfold in a classic Hawaiian setting.”


Hale Hoaloha
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows

Hoku Amphitheatre
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
Lagoon Lanai
Hilton Waikoloa Village

North Pointe Luau Grounds
Mauna Kea Resort
888-977-4623 n