Outrigger Paddles On
It’s 70 years and counting for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, the prosperous hospitality giant whose vacation properties can be found both here in Hawai‘i and throughout the Pacific.
Grab a paddle. We’re about to navigate the high seas of the hospitality industry. We’ll dip deep into the waters of history and tradition to learn how Outrigger Hotels and Resorts is sailing into a new era of ownership and growth.
As the company observes its 70th anniversary, it’s timely to reflect on the people and principles that propelled it to become Hawai‘i’s largest homegrown hotel brand.
After all, there’s a new steersman at the helm today.
Outrigger Hotels & Resorts was owned and operated by the Kelley family for 69 years. In November 2016, KSL Capital Partners LLC, a Denver-based private equity firm, bought Outrigger and its portfolio of 37 hotels, condominiums and vacation resort properties in Hawai‘i and the Pacific.
KSL’s holdings read like a who’s-who of top resorts. They include Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and Vail Mountain Lodge in Colorado, and KSL previously operated La Costa Resort & Spa, Arizona Biltmore, La Quinta Resort, and Grand Wailea Hotel in Maui.
What effect will this crew change have in navigating the waves to prominence and prosperity? Will the shift in the winds of leadership dramatically change Outrigger’s course and take it to new destinations?
Time will tell, of course.
Magic of Waikiki
For now, there’s excitement and wild anticipation splashing around its Waikīkī properties. That’s as it should be because Waikīkī is where founders Roy and Estelle Kelley first launched Outrigger and pioneered the concept of family-style hotels.
The Kelleys brought the dream of a vacation in paradise within reach of the average, middle-class traveler. In so doing, they created what became the largest hotel chain in Hawai‘i and forever changed the face of our visitor industry.
Starting in 1947 with the 50-room Islander Hotel on Seaside Avenue, architect Kelley went on to build the Edgewater Hotel in 1951, the beachfront Reef Hotel in 1955, and the Reef Towers Hotel in 1959.
The Outrigger Waikīkī Hotel was built on the site of the old Outrigger Canoe Club in 1967 and was an immediate success. It was the first of the company’s hotels to carry the Outrigger name, thereby establishing the hotel chain’s identity.
The Outrigger banner grew in awareness and stature over the years as more properties, management contracts and marketing reach ensued. It held its own against mega hotel brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and others.
But Outrigger knows its place in the sun and distinguishes itself for operating beachfront resorts with a tropical flair. Today, that reach extends to Fiji, Guam, Thailand, Maldives and Mauritius.
The Outrigger Way
Wherever the Hawai‘i-inspired Outrigger brand and business model ventures, a secret sauce to success follows. It is called “Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a” (The Outrigger Way), a values-based process that connects three core elements of the hospitality industry: employees, guests and the destination.
The family (‘ohana) values system, rooted in Hawaiian culture, is deeply embedded in every Outrigger property, yet customized to embrace the local traditions and cultures of a place.
“The concept for The Outrigger Way is universal,” explains Kaipo Ho, director of cultural experiences for the company. “We use it as a guide and let our employees interpret it in their own way. Over the years, we have reached thousands of employees through our training program, as well as millions of guests who have come through Outrigger’s doors.”
Luana Maitland, director of cultural programs for Outrigger Reef and Outrigger Waikīkī, says, “Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a is an approach to the art of hosting visitors that takes the guest experience to another level. It maximizes the visitor encounter for both the host and the hosted based on Hawaiian visionary George Kanahele’s training model.”
As Outrigger’s ambassador of aloha, Maitland is regarded by peers as “the rock star who keeps us grounded.”
Authenticity is something every travel destination strives to deliver to earn its rightful place in tourism. Integrity cannot be contrived or manufactured.
No one knows this better than the management and 4,000 hosts (employees), who are on the frontline of welcoming and serving guests every day.
In the canoe analogy, that places Kelly Hoen, area general manager of Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach and Outrigger Waikīkī Beach Resort; Revell Newton, general manager of Outrigger Waikīkī; and Maitland in key paddling positions.
Hoen brings more than two decades of luxury hotel leadership to Outrigger Resorts. She previously served as general manager for The Modern Honolulu, The Royal Hawaiian, and Princeville Resort. The locally born and educated hotelier is known for successfully repositioning hotels and resorts in Hawai‘i.
“This company is the fabric of Hawai‘i,” she says.
Newton, a 22-year hospitality veteran, was previously hotel manager at Sheraton Kona Resort, following a stint as director of sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa, and Kapalua Bay Hotel.
Newton oversees the 524-room Outrigger Waikīkī that started out as prime property owned by Queen Emma Estate and occupied by Outrigger Canoe Club in the early 1960s.
Famous for being the birthplace of surfing, Outrigger Waikīkī is home to Duke’s Waikīkī bar and restaurant, where the legacy of Olympian Duke Kahanamoku is remembered. It also is home to popular entertainer Henry Kapono’s Duke’s on Sunday beach party tradition.
Both the Reef and Waikīkī hotels are refreshing facilities to better serve guests, especially in food and beverage, meetings-banquets, and club-level upgrades.
At the 625-room Reef, the former Shorebird restaurant has been replaced by the Reef Bar & Market Grill, offering “farm-to-beach” cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The beachfront spot retains its popular grill-your-own-steaks concept with cuts of meats, seafood and vegan items.
The Ocean House space has been converted to the Hawai‘iloa Room, where banquets and meetings for 120 persons are ideal.
At Outrigger Waikīkī, the former Chuck’s Steakhouse space is being refurbished to become the Voyager 47 premier club lounge, where continental breakfast and sunset cocktails and appetizers will be served. During the day, it will be available as an inviting wedding and event space.
Work also is being done on the hotel’s 14th, 15th and 16th floors to offer exclusive club-level accommodations and amenities.
So in short order, KSL is putting welcomed investment and resources into taking Outrigger to the next level.
Across the way from Outrigger Waikīkī, the 496-room Waikīkī Beachcomber by Outrigger is undergoing a $25 million upgrade, due for completion by the end of the year.
According to Mike Shaff, Outrigger vice president of hotel operations, renovations will transition the property, next to International Market Place, upward in the market.
“We will transition to more of an upscale, urban oasis-type of offering,” he says.
Refreshed accommodations reflect a contemporary Hawaiian theme that features works by Hawaiian artists and photographers.
Already adding new imagery to the hotel are Maui Brewing Co.’s restaurant and Hawaiian Aroma Café, both locally owned and operated businesses.
“It is important that each resort’s story is distinctive,” Hoen observes. “Outrigger is the core brand, but we position properties in a way that is true to our community. Outrigger Reef is connected to ocean voyaging. Outrigger Waikīkī is home to surfing.
“We can deliver on those promises in authentic and experiential ways,” she says.
Embellished by KSL’s resources in revenue management, technology and sales-marketing initiatives, the journey should be exhilarating.
“Fun, too,” injects Newton. Outrigger Waikīkī’s GM points to a room and board special that pairs a hotel stay with surfing.
“We initiated a surf valet service that takes one’s board, stores it, and carries it to the beach, complete with surf-board wax,” he says.
But that’s what a mindful modern business should do. It’s all about a connection with customers that anticipates their needs and responds with human warmth that captivates a moment.
When you’ve got genial hosts such as doorman John Thompson (26 years of service) and guest services
manager Kiana MacDonald (five years) at the Outrigger Reef, as well as executive housekeeper Ivy Kwock (44 years) and bellman Troy Hiura (18 years) at the Outrigger Waikīkī, it’s certain that service traditions will continue.
As Outrigger Hotels & Resorts embarks on another voyage in its evolution, cresting on 70 years of history, we wish it fair winds and smooth sailing.
Time for a Waikīkī staycation? Enjoy these guest activities at Outrigger Waikīkī and Outrigger Reef:
• Hawaiian vow renewal ceremony
• ‘Ukulele lessons
• Wood carving
• Stand-up paddling lessons and yoga
• Lei making
• Nightly live music at Kani Ka Pila Grille, The Reef Bar & Market Grill, Duke’s Waikīkī, Blue Note Hawai‘i and Hula Grill.
• Spectacular sunrises over Diamond Head and sunsets on the ocean (with green flash) daily.