The Evolution of Aqua

Renovations and upgrades are the talk of Waikiki

By: Marty Wentzel

Have you heard the latest about Aqua Hotels and Resorts?” That’s the big question in Hawaii travel industry circles these days, and it’s the savvy travel agent who can answer yes. While high-profile Waikiki renovations and upgrades are taking turns in the headlines, insiders are buzzing about Aqua, whose growing presence in South Oahu can’t be overlooked.

A maverick among Hawaii hotel chains, Aqua has been steadily adding properties to its Honolulu inventory.

“Our focus is completely on Waikiki, which is undergoing a rebirth right now,” said Aqua Hotels and Resorts marketing and guest services vice president Elizabeth Churchill, in an exclusive interview.

In part, Aqua’s name keeps circulating because of the people affiliated with it. Owner and CEO Mike Paulin, the hotelier who made Marc Hotels and Resorts a success, came up with the idea of Aqua and launched it in 2001. In September of this year, Aqua welcomed the Hawaii Polo Inn, owned by Hawaii Polo Club president Mike Dailey. In October 2006, the chain designated its flagship property as Aqua Wave Waikiki Hotel, owned by Aston Hotels and Resorts founder Andre Tatibouet.

Clever marketing has injected additional pizzazz to the chain’s profile. It has divided its inventory into two brands: Aqua Boutique Hotels, a group of properties targeting Generation-X clients and younger baby boomers; and Aqua Lite, representing the company’s value accommodations.

“We have young talent on staff, creative ideas, an environment where all team members are empowered and a visionary leader in Mike Paulin, who knows all about redefining a product,” Churchill said. “We would definitely like to be considered a rising star.”

But as Aqua grows, its officials are making a big point of maintaining its personal service, as exemplified by Paulin’s trademark round-the-clock availability to guests.

“Our Aqua Ten team meets twice each month to understand what is going on in the minds of our guests, so we can constantly upgrade our services,” Churchill said. “The Aqua Ten initiatives allow all team members to fulfill client requests.”

Aqua further distinguishes itself with a concept called the Seven Pillars of the Aqua Brand, which Churchill dubbed, “the foundation of our commitment to excellence, by offering distinct services and amenities unlike other Hawaii hotel operators.”

In other words, the chain promises that every guest gets accommodations that have been either renovated or refurbished; access to spa facilities, either on-site or nearby; fitness facilities; in-room mini-refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker; free high-speed Internet access or Wi-Fi; daily continental breakfast; and the Paulin hotline.

According to Churchill, Aqua is taking cues from successful boutique chains on the mainland.

“We are the new kid on the Waikiki block, and our accommodations have a look and feel appealing to today’s savvy and adventurous travelers,” Churchill said. “Aqua understands consumers are looking for experiential-based travel, and we are here to fill that need.”

A work in progress, Aqua is renovating several Lite properties, then repositioning them to Boutique status. Aqua Hawaii Polo Inn will become Hotel Equus on Dec. 20 after a $2 million upgrade, and Aqua Continental will be renamed Aqua Essence on Sept. 1. So, agents should stay on top of rate changes for 2007, said Aqua vice president of sales and revenue management Cara Okawa.

“The Lite properties will average a 5-10 percent rate increase next year, and the Boutique rates are rising an average of 25 percent, but the repositioned properties will see 80-90 percent rate increases,” she said.

As part of its outreach to travel agents, Aqua has initiated its Get the Point agent rewards program and a travel specialists section on its Web site. Aqua Waikiki Wave Hotel is offering agents a Get Acquainted rate of $79 per night through 2006. “We encourage all travel agents to visit our properties, and we offer them 50 percent off rack rates with upgrades when available,” said Churchill.

Other travel-trade efforts include news releases, advertising, e-mail newsletters, GDS visibility and direct sales calls.

Which clients are best suited for an Aqua booking? The ideal candidates, said Churchill, are those looking for a distinctive Waikiki experience without the luxury price tag.

“We appeal to clients who want choice, control and flexibility at a great rate,” she said. “Basically, that means clients who want to feel unique, empowered and


Aqua Hotels and Resorts
1860 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96815
Commission: 10 percent

Aqua Boutique 2007 rates:
Aqua Waikiki Wave, 2299 Kuhio Ave., from $200 per night
Aqua Aloha Surf, 444 Kanekapolei St., from $187
Aqua Bamboo & Spa, 2425 Kuhio Ave., from $195
Aqua Palms & Spa, 1850 Ala Moana Blvd., from $220

Aqua Lite 2007 rates:
*Aqua Continental, 2426 Kuhio Ave., from $115 through Aug. 31
*Aqua Hawaii Polo Inn (Hotel Equus as of Dec. 20), 1696 Ala Moana Blvd., from $187
Aqua Island Colony, 445 Seaside Ave., from $195
Aqua Kuhio Village, 2463 Kuhio Ave., from $127 (Aqua management ends Dec. 31)
Aqua Marina, 1700 Ala Moana Blvd., from $187
*Ocean Tower Hotel at Waikiki Beach, 129 Paokalani Ave., from $160 through May 31

*Once renovations are completed, these hotels will transition to Aqua Boutique status.