Welcome Back 7-9-2003

Big Island hotels look to win over return visitors

By: Marty Wentzel

Last year, 63.9 percent of the Big Island’s hotel business came from repeat guests, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and not surprisingly hotels are pampering those guests with outreach programs to keep them coming back.

Case in point is Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, where repeat visitors composed 70 percent of overall occupancies in 2002.

Keith Groves, Mauna Kea Resort yield management director, credits the numbers to the reliability of the resort’s experience. For instance, 21 staff members have been with the hotel since it opened in 1965.

“These are not the best times globally to reach out and explore new horizons,” said Groves. “Coming back to Mauna Kea year after year, you know where everything is, and the staff greets you with a warm smile and hug.”

To encourage their return, the resort gives repeat guests a departure present that can range from Tiffany glassware to logo aloha attire.

Before 2001 repeat guests accounted for roughly 50 percent of Kona Village Resort’s business. This year, it’s averaging 67 percent, spiking to 81 percent some weeks.

“Past guests are telling us that in today’s world, the peace, quiet and security of the village is more important than ever,” said the Kona Village sales and marketing director, Laurence Mountcastle. “With the economy, they prefer to spend their money on a vacation they know they will be happy with.”

Three times a year, the resort mails 24,000 newsletters to past guests. It e-mails 7,000 past guests each month.

“A majority of our past guests have been here 12 to 15 times,” said Mountcastle. “They get to know the staff, and the staff sees families grow up. It’s a great relationship that only small properties with high repeat-guest percentages can enjoy.”

All repeat guests get a flower arrangement, beach tote bags, and welcome cookies and macadamia nuts.

An intimate property size has helped the 243-room Four Seasons Resort Hualalai grow its annual return guest rate to 40 percent.

“We attribute this to our unique layout and design, and to our personalized service delivered with a focus on Hawaiian culture and values,” said Danny Breatchel, the marketing director at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. “Many of our employees make special efforts to share unique aspects of their island home, which are considered invaluable by our guests.”

Returning clients get a note from the general manager and an arrival amenity.

“We maintain a detailed guest information database highlighting their special preferences or experiences at the resort,” said Breatchel.

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows also keeps detailed guest profiles to tailor repeat visits, according to Mauna Lani Resort vice president Kurt Matsumoto.

“We pre-block their room in their favorite part of the hotel, upgrading by one category when possible,” said Matsumoto. “We communicate with them periodically via mail, e-mail, seasonal greetings and personal phone calls.”

A Waikoloa Beach Marriott spokeswoman, Noelani Whittington, said many guests return because they have established long-term relationships with other repeat guests.

“They often book their return visit one year or more in advance, prior to hotel checkout,” she said.

The hotel takes pains to pamper them, providing the requested room and an amenity from the general manager.