Maui’s Makena Resort Stands its Ground

The Makena Beach and Golf Resort takes over for the Maui Prince

By: By Marty Wentzel

The Details

Makena Beach and Golf Resort

Rack rates through 2009: From $199 per night.
Commission: 10 percent


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When the former Maui Prince Hotel announced that it would close on Sept. 16, it looked like the longtime Hawaii accommodation had come to the end of the road. Sensing an opportunity, however, Benchmark Hospitality International assumed management of the property, renaming it the Makena Beach and Golf Resort and preserving it as a value-added alternative to the luxury hotels of nearby Wailea Resort.

The Makena features an open-air courtyard with ponds. // (C) 2009 Benchmark Hospitality International

The Makena features an open-air courtyard with ponds. // (C) 2009 Benchmark Hospitality International

Prince Resorts Hawaii had owned and operated the southwest Maui hotel since its opening in 1986 until Benchmark stepped in on Sept. 17. Spearheading the transition was Bob Boyle, Benchmark’s regional director of operations and general manager of another Benchmark property, Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

“We were attracted to Makena because it’s similar to Turtle Bay in size, feel and location,” said Boyle. “Both properties are secluded and heavily landscaped. In each case, you can’t see any other hotels around it, and they both offer a relaxed, Hawaiian experience.

“We’ve been fortunate at Turtle Bay to achieve average occupancy rates of 84 percent year-to-date, even during this down market,” Boyle added. “We believe we can translate those successes to Makena.”

He noted that the two hotels differ in one key way: Turtle Bay’s surroundings are completely rural, while a three-minute shuttle ride from Makena leads to the shops and restaurants of Wailea.

Also, Makena’s rack rates currently start at $199, compared to an average of more than $400 at Wailea hotels.

“We’re a three-star hotel, and we’re not trying to be anything other than that,” said Boyle. “Our guests aren’t the types who go to high-end resorts. Instead, we’ll probably lure some clients away from Kaanapali.”

Since the hotel has been a longtime favorite with Hawaii residents, Benchmark has aimed its initial marketing efforts locally, followed by pitches to California, Arizona, Canada and Texas.

“Despite the recent downturn in travel, Maui is still very popular,” said Boyle. “For the next six months, we’re changing some pricing at the hotel and offering some attractive rates and packages, making this a great time to visit. In addition, we’re running campaigns with some online travel agencies and IATA to drive occupancy. We hope our efforts will help us build name recognition.”

Boyle sees Makena as ideal for couples and families. Located 30 minutes from Maui’s Kahului Airport, it has 310 guestrooms with private lanais. For groups, Makena lays claim to 8,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 5,200-square-foot ballroom and six outdoor gathering spots.

Hugging the hotel is a white-sand beach with appeal to sunbathers and beachcombers. The resort draws watersports lovers with its stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking and boogie boarding, while its Kai Kanani catamaran runs excursions to nearby Molokini island. On land, the property’s Peter Burwash Tennis Center has six Plexipave championship courts, two lit for night play. The hotel also offers a fitness center with massage and spa services. Adjacent to the resort is the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Preserve, a marine life conservation district that’s popular for snorkeling.

Golfers have long given high marks to the Makena Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. 18-hole championship course that opened in 1981. Running along the coastline next to the hotel, the course provides ocean views from nearly every hole, and ancient Hawaiian rock walls, natural gullies and stream beds add a distinctive sense of place to the design. Golfers can further hone their skills at the property’s golf academy, which provides instruction for all levels of play.

Meanwhile, Benchmark is tweaking the hotel’s food and beverage operations. By December, its specialty restaurant, called Hakone, will serve fusion Pacific Rim cuisine. The Molokini Bar and Grille has introduced new breakfast and dinner menus, and the hotel has revived its popular Sunday champagne brunch, which was voted best on the island by readers of the Maui News. The Makena Clubhouse, located by the golf course, currently serves lunch and afternoon drinks and snacks, but Boyle said he hopes to open it for dinner as well.

Just two years ago, Prince renovated the hotel’s rooms, resulting in new beds and linens and a refreshed Hawaii-inspired decor. Its oceanfront suites have flat-screen televisions, and all rooms come with high-speed Internet access.

“We’re pleased with our product and even more pleased with our people,” said Boyle. “We have rehired most of the Maui Prince’s former employees and hope to bring back the rest. I consider that as a big advantage. You walk into the lobby and you see returning clients hugging staff members who remember them by name. It’s a very personal touch, and we’ll maximize on that.”

As for the hotel building itself, the infrastructure is all up-to-date, said Boyle.

“The only thing that we really need to do in terms of upgrades is a little paint,” he said. “I think we’ve picked up a real jewel.”


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