Kohala Cool

The Kohala Coast looks to become a household name

By: Marty Wentzel

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Thatched hale (hut) at Kona Village Resort
The Kohala Coast has been promoting itself as a visitor mecca since 1965, yet for many travelers from the mainland, the Big Island destination doesn’t hold the same cachet as other longtime Hawaii getaways. Chalk it up to a need for greater awareness, said Kohala Coast Resort Association (KCRA) officials, who are working hard to help agents better sell the 20-mile stretch of beaches, golf courses, spas, shops, restaurants and luxury accommodations.

KCRA members have been blitzing the mainland, meeting with hundreds of travel agents and wholesalers. The group recently held invitation-only events in Texas and Arizona, and it will tour the Pacific Northwest in June. Additionally, when the Big Island Visitors Bureau travels the mainland, it spreads the KCRA message as well.

As KCRA shares insider information about the Kohala Coast with agents, it tries to inject the destination with the kind of name recognition enjoyed by Waikiki on Oahu or Maui’s Kaanapali.

“While our individual hotels are some of Hawaii’s most desirable, they are not always identified with the Kohala Coast,” said KCRA administrative director Sharon Sakai. “We haven’t had the same level of exposure as other Hawaii destinations with larger marketing budgets.” As agents learn about the Kohala Coast’s unique aspects, Sakai suggests that they think about each of its resorts as an oasis.

“The length of the coast and vastness of the Big Island has allowed the resorts ample breathing space,” she said. “As clients filter off Queen Kaahumanu Highway into one of the resorts, they find each hotel to be its own special refuge, fairly secluded and not visible to its neighbors. This feeling of privacy is very important to certain types of clients. Nowhere else in Hawaii will they find the concentration and consistency of luxury resorts as they do here.”

Another key to selling the Kohala Coast is recognizing ideal clientele. Along with the higher-end traveler, the Kohala Coast calls to history buffs with its ancient sites and strong ties to its host culture. It’s also a destination created for relaxation, said Sakai.

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Great beaches like this one at the Waikoloa
Beach Resort are part of the Kohala
Coast’s brand message.
“Clients won’t find all-night bars and dance clubs here,” she said. “Instead, the Kohala Coast appeals to visitors who enjoy the peacefulness of a star-studded sky and the sound of the waves. Early morning is the best time for snorkeling, diving, hiking, golfing and other outdoor activities.”

Spending time with KCRA’s Web site and the sites of its individual hotels can help agents who want to boost their bookings to the Kohala Coast. However, firsthand visits are every bit as important, said Sakai.

“When you consider that the coast offers everything from a resort with 125 grass-thatched bungalows [Kona Village] to a 1,240-room resort complete with a tram and dolphin encounter program [Hilton Waikoloa], it’s evident that agents must understand the attractions of each property,” she said.

Agents should remember that the Kohala Coast is just one destination on a vast and diverse island.

“Don’t underestimate the amount of time required to explore the Big Island,” Sakai said. “As agents determine a recommended vacation length, they should balance the active component with resort relaxation time.”

Recent increases in domestic airlift have made it easier for agents to sell the Kohala Coast. Direct flights to Kona International Airport are now available from Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange County, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. KCRA and its visitor industry partners are vying for additional airlift to the island, while BIVB has contracted with Sabre Air Solutions to explore ways to increase lift to Kona.

In order to spread awareness of the Kohala Coast, agents need to tell their clients about the one-of-a-kind touches that make the destination worth visiting. They should talk about what it’s like to land at Kona in the middle of a centuries-old lava field and step off the plane onto the tarmac, feeling the sunshine, smelling the plumeria and buoyed by the ocean breezes. They should let clients know that each hotel offers an airport greeter to assist with directions and luggage, and that the two-lane highway that leads to their accommodations is lined with white rock graffiti and views of the ocean and mountains.

“If agents take the time to learn intimately about the coast,” said Sakai, “and if they can make accurate recommendations for their clients, it’s likely the clients will thoroughly enjoy their vacation, becoming clients for life and guests of the Kohala Coast forever.”


Kohala Coast Resort Association

Hotels along the Kohala Coast include the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, Kona Village Resort and Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (closed until December 2008).