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For the past two decades, tourism officials have been encouraging travelers to explore all of Oahu, not just the well-known tourist hub of Waikiki. Thanks to their efforts, one of the regions that has stepped into the spotlight is the leeward side, located on the island’s west coast.
These days, leeward Oahu has increasingly been capturing the attention of travelers. For agents, it represents the opportunity to sell a new Oahu experience, and for clients, it serves as an intriguing alternative to Waikiki.
According to Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, senior director of sales and marketing for the Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB), the less populated leeward side feels like a private oasis.
“Gorgeous beaches, world-class cuisine, relaxing spas and top-notch golf make leeward Oahu the perfect place for the visitor who wants to get away from it all,” Schilling-Wheeler said.
Accommodations on the RiseThe newest leeward hotel is Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, which opened in May. The result of a $500 million makeover of the former JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa, the property appeals to high-end clients with its 371 deluxe rooms, gourmet dining options, multiple pools, a 35,000-square-foot spa, “adventure curators” and more.
The new Four Seasons makes its home at Ko Olina Resort, a 650-acre master-planned community. Also based at Ko Olina are Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa and Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, both of which cater to multigenerational travelers.
This fall, a 175-room Hampton Inn and Suites will open as part of a new regional mall in the leeward city of Kapolei, a short drive from Ko Olina. Meanwhile, Embassy Suites by Hilton Kapolei is set to debut in 2017 with 180 suites.
According to several sources, Atlantis Resorts plans to build a luxurious ocean-themed property at Ko Olina, as well. The project was first publicized in 2005 and then put on the back burner. Although no further announcement has been made, recent reports state that the deal is close to fruition. Insiders have described the new Atlantis as a $2 billion resort featuring hotel, condominium and time-share units, as well as an interactive aquarium.
Leeward Adventures by Land, Air and SeaGolf is one of the most popular activities on the leeward side, thanks to Ko Olina’s top-notch golf course, clubhouse and academy. Sea sports are a hit as well, with Ko Olina’s four white-sand ocean lagoons luring clients to their calm waters. The resort’s deep-draft marina is the starting point for snorkeling, sportfishing and sunset cruises.
Outside of Ko Olina, new leeward pastimes are popping up quickly. In July, for instance, Paradise Helicopters made headlines as the first company to launch helicopter tours out of Kalaeloa Airport, which is a 10-minute drive from Ko Olina. The 90-minute excursion takes guests on a full circle over Oahu in an upscale helicopter with limousine-style seating.
Early October will mark the opening of the leeward side’s Coral Crater Adventure Park, billed as Hawaii’s only full-service outdoor activity playground for residents and visitors. The 35-acre attraction will boast zipline courses, dune buggies, electric mountain bikes, a freefall experience, a climbing and rappelling wall, a 50-foot-high tandem giant swing and laser tag. The upper level of the park will feature a 6,000-square-foot picnic area and observation deck.
Existing leeward activities are still attracting plenty of visitors, too. At the 25-acre Wet ’n’ Wild Hawaii, 25 splashy rides range from mellow tube floating to racing slides and simulated surfing. And the established Wild Side Specialty Tours still satisfies eco-minded clients with sailing trips that include opportunities to swim with wild dolphins and reef snorkel with sea turtles.
To keep travel agents up to speed on leeward Oahu, OVB is incorporating the destination into all of its education-oriented efforts, including webinars, e-newsletters, e-blasts, sales shows, fam trips and the Oahu Master Specialist program.
“Leeward Oahu gives agents the opportunity to provide clients with a full range of experiences,” Schilling-Wheeler said. “For repeat visitors looking for a calm yet energized vacation, it’s a perfect choice.”