Try a bite of chocolate haupia (coconut) cream pie from folksy Ted’s Bakery on Oahu’s North Shore. Now, dip your spoon into a goat-cheese mousse from Honolulu’s elegant Chef Mavro restaurant. You’ll be hard-pressed to pick which experience is more satisfying.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a popular attraction outside the city. // © 2009 Polynesian Cultural Center
Luckily, on Oahu, your clients don’t have to make that sort of tough choice. Unlike many destinations that present visitors with either rural or urban pastimes, Oahu is one of those rare islands that gives visitors easy access to both options during a single visit.
The Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB) likes to refer to this harmonious dichotomy as “town and country,” a phrase that has become a viable sales pitch for the island. Town refers to Honolulu and Waikiki, while the country concept sums up the rest of the island’s charms.
“With a few exceptions, such as Singapore, which is very urban, most tropical islands tend to fall into the country category,” said OVB senior director of sales and marketing Noelani Schilling-Wheeler. “Oahu stands out because it has an exotic side, which is expected of a tropical island escape, yet it also has the conveniences of home.”
This particular marketing message is not altogether new for OVB, said Schilling-Wheeler.
“We’ve positioned Oahu as the best of both worlds in the past,” she said, “but the phrase ‘town and country’ seems to click better with travel agents and consumers. Its simplicity defines what Oahu offers visitors.”
Like yin and yang, Oahu’s town and country attributes achieve a delicate balance, complementing each other and working together to create a more interesting whole. Take, for instance, the island’s accommodations. On the one hand, jetsetters and elite travelers might want to stay in the refined Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, sipping tropical cocktails and savoring delectable regional cuisine. In the country, Turtle Bay Resort awaits — a tranquil oceanfront headquarters for horseback riding, long walks on the beach and other laid-back diversions.
Sun lovers find an embarrassment of riches in city and country alike. Waikiki Beach’s two-mile stretch has all the expected amenities and services, from fast-food takeout to outrigger canoe rides, all a stone’s throw away from your client’s hotel. Laid-back Lanikai Beach, its Windward Coast counterpart, is a local favorite thanks to its sugary sand, swaying palms and aquamarine water that is so clear it’s hard to believe it’s real.
For families, the town and country concept is an easy sell. One day, they can visit the Waikiki Aquarium, home to more than 3,000 sea creatures; the next day, in the center of the island, they can learn about pineapples at Dole Plantation, with its narrated tours and the world’s largest maze. They can learn about Honolulu’s past at Pearl Harbor, then further their education at the rural Polynesian Cultural Center.
For duffers, the duality of Oahu is apparent at the Ala Wai Golf Club, an 18-hole city course hugging Waikiki; and Ko Olina, a Ted Robinson-designed resort course on the widespread west side. Shoppers can hit Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center — a massive complex with 290 retailers, including major brands — and pop into the simple, one-of-a-kind boutiques of Haleiwa, a surfer town. Meanwhile, health-and-wellness buffs unwind equally well in the 17,000-square-foot Moana Lani Spa, the only oceanfront spa in Waikiki, and the Sullivan Estate and Spa Retreat, featuring relaxation services in a private North Shore setting.
Business travelers benefit from the town and country mix in the exhibition halls of Honolulu’s Hawaii Convention Center, as well as the intimate meeting rooms of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa on the west coast. Come evening, clients can bask in the bright lights of city hot spots like Pearl Ultralounge; when they’re in a different mood, they can assemble in an oceanside grove for some family-style fun at Paradise Cove Luau.
OVB will continue to make the town and country pitch throughout 2010, said Schilling-Wheeler, who pointed out its similarity to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s brand message of “So Much More Hawaii.”
“By emphasizing all that there is to see and do on Oahu, we hope to help travel agents sell a wider range of experiences to their clients, all on one island,” she said. “Agents specializing in niche markets can use this to their advantage just as effectively as agents who don’t specialize. With the town and country concept, we’re giving agents more flexibility to customize itineraries precisely to their client’s interests, making it easier for them to close the sale.”