In With the New, On With the Old

Royal Lahaina goes back to the glory days

By: Marty Wentzel

Decades-old photos of Kaanapali line the executive office walls of Royal Lahaina Resort. Tom Bell, the hotel’s managing director, showed me the oldest of the images, an expanse of grass, beach and palms with barely any development.

“We opened our first accommodations in 1962, one year before Sheraton Maui,” Bell said. “Old-timers say that Royal Lahaina was the place to go back then.”

As the photos got younger, I saw more hotels popping up and golf courses etching their way across the West Maui destination. What’s clear from those pictures is that Royal Lahaina picked Kaanapali Resort’s best spot, far north and physically separated from its neighbors by a lava outcropping called Black Rock.

“We have 27 acres of oceanfront and 1,600 linear feet of ocean footage,” said Bell. “Given its prime location, the hotel can offer so much more than it has in recent years. We want to return it to its glory days.”

Royal Lahaina enjoys such a sense of privacy that I had to look twice when I arrived. The mature landscaping of its grounds gives it a park-like appearance, and its open, low-density design sets it apart from the more traditional resort layout of a tall horseshoe-shaped building surrounding a central pool.

In November, Royal Lahaina introduced a new room product symbolizing the property’s transformation at the hands of Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts (HH&R), owned by Ed and Lynn Hogan.

“We used to go to Royal Lahaina as a family for years, even before we bought it in 1982,” said Gary Hogan, the company’s president and owners’ son. “Recently, we negotiated for 18 months with a very large hotel chain that wanted to buy it and build seven 12-story towers and 1,100 timeshare units. The property is zoned for that much development, but we just didn’t feel good about that prospect.”

Instead HH&R decided to keep the resort and redevelop it as a low-density project.

Since last March, Royal Lahaina’s single high-rise the 330-room Lahaina Kai Tower has gone through a $30 million renovation. Each room has been stripped down to its frame and rebuilt to the tune of $90,000. By the end of February, all 12 floors will be completed and reopened.

During a site inspection, I got a firsthand look at the scope of the changes in the tower. Each room features a 32-inch flat-screen television, high-speed Internet, a generously sized custom-made writing desk of mahogany and teak, a canoe paddle on the wall, coffee-table books about the destination and singular black-and-white Hawaiian photographs. The bed is no longer just a bed, but an “experience,” according to Bell, with its 330-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens and feather-top mattresses. The bathroom faucet resembles silver bamboo, with water running through it like a natural stream, and clients can dry off with oversized bath sheets. Lanai railings have been modernized, and the view through floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors made me feel like I was on top of the beach.

The hotel’s service levels are going through an equally dramatic transformation, said Bell. Each guestroom provides an iPod port on its bedside clock, and clients will be able to borrow fully loaded iPods to enjoy around the property. Valet parking was introduced on Jan. 20, and arriving clients will enjoy what Bell called “seamless check-in,” where guests are greeted at the entrance and whisked to their room, key pocket in hand.

Royal Lahaina’s room rates didn’t increase during the 2006 renovation, and prices will rise only moderately in 2007.

“We want people to become familiar with the property,” said Bell. “We would like our longtime guests to see what we’re doing, and we’ll always want to provide value.”

Through 2010, Royal Lahaina will go through an additional $300 million in improvements, adding 125 villas, a freestanding spa, large swimming pool, children’s center and new restaurant. As the resort evolves, so will its demographics.

“For decades we have been a value hotel doing a very high volume year-round, drawing a lot of couples and newlyweds,” said Bell. “We’re transitioning into more of a family-oriented destination resort, where clients enjoy longer stays. We’re transforming a two- to three-star hotel into a four- or five-star experience, and of course, five stars is our goal.”


Royal Lahaina Resort
2780 Kekaa Dr.
Lahaina, HI 96761

Agents who pass a short online quiz get a certificate for two free nights at Royal Lahaina or its sister property Royal Kona, on the Big Island.

Royal Lahaina’s 2007 room rates fluctuate seasonally, starting at $200 per night. Seasonal packages start at $226 (room and car), $233 (room and breakfast) and $240 (room, breakfast and car).

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