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Like the company’s DoubleTree properties around the world, Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo - a DoubleTree by Hilton welcomes guests with warm chocolate chip cookies. But as soon as clients enter the new, open-air lobby with its views straight out to Hilo Bay, they know exactly where they stand. Fresh from a $30 million renovation, the 320-room Grand Naniloa makes a strong statement about its singularity and its setting on the east coast of Hawaii Island.
Formerly known as Hilo Naniloa Hotel, the 70-acre seaside landmark first opened in 1939, and by the 1950s and ’60s, it had evolved into Hilo’s most popular accommodation. Seasoned travelers were smitten with its location on Banyan Drive, a boulevard lined by banyan trees planted by baseball star Babe Ruth, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other celebrities. In subsequent decades, the hotel fell into disrepair and financial hardship until its purchase by Tower Development, which launched a three-year-long renovation.
The restored property, managed by Aqua-Aston Hospitality, debuted in November 2016 as Hawaii Island’s first DoubleTree by Hilton.
Today, Grand Naniloa’s dedication to local heritage takes center stage. The hotel has long been associated with Hilo’s annual Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s premier celebration of Hawaiian dance. Fittingly, its redesigned public spaces and guestrooms display a $4 million collection of art by famed hula photographer Kim Taylor Reece. Hula videos play on a big screen near the check-in desk, and cultural activities are offered regularly; for instance, each Monday from 4 to 6 p.m., guests can watch a local hula troupe practice moves on the lanai off the lobby.
Clients interested in island legends, history and traditions are drawn to Grand Naniloa, which sales and marketing director Peggy Sue Harrell calls “a learning hotel.”
“As a Hawaii Island destination, Hilo is unique,” she said. “It’s not as touristy as the resort areas along the Kona and Kohala Coast. Hilo is a community. It feels like the real Hawaii.”
Grand Naniloa also benefits from its proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 45 minutes away. And, the property is just 2 miles from Hilo International Airport.
Active travelers comprise a good portion of the hotel’s clientele, Harrell says, so it’s only natural that eco-tour company KapohoKine Adventures has its headquarters there. Along with sales of outdoor gear and merchandise, its lobby-level shop offers rental kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel equipment for use in the calm waters fronting the property. Throughout 2017, KapohoKine is partnering with the hotel on value-added room-and-adventure packages.
Since Grand Naniloa’s accommodations were gutted and rebuilt, rooms now feature either floor-to-ceiling windows or lanais, and 90 percent boast ocean views. Guests enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi access, in-room microwaves and refrigerators, a 24-hour fitness center, free self-parking and free daily rounds on Hilo’s nine-hole golf course. Soon, clients will be able to sip and sup at Grand Naniloa’s bay-view bar and poolside restaurant, opening in August.
As it restores its status as Hilo’s hub, the hotel is promoting Willie K’s Crown Room, its revamped showroom named for the beloved Hawaiian performer. Promising a compelling line-up of entertainment events and concerts, the music venue represents one of the many impressive ways Grand Naniloa is keeping culture alive by Hilo Bay.