The Outrigger Way
Not even a pandemic can blow Outrigger’s Jeff Wagoner off course as he skillfully leads the world’s premier beach resort brand into the future.
Since taking the helm of Outrigger Hospitality Group in April 2018, Jeff Wagoner has proven to be up to any challenge. As president and CEO, he’s been deftly navigating the world’s premier beach resort brand around obstacles while also extending the company’s global reach and ensuring that its foundation remains strong.
Consider that when COVID struck earlier this year and put Hawai‘i’s tourism and hotel industries on hold, Wagoner did not panic. Instead, he immediately tapped into his three decades’ worth of knowledge in the hospitality and industry sectors and paddled in a different direction, choosing to retain some employees and have them work through the pandemic when jobs and hours were scarce.
“We took this as an opportunity to improve many of our assets,” shares Wagoner, who honed his leadership skills at previous stops such as Marriott and Wyndham. “We fortunately were able to make strategic moves that put us on really strong footing.”
Those moves, which include renovation work at properties around the world, have been nothing short of impressive.
At Outrigger Mauritius Resort and Spa, for example, the beachfront hotel was completely shut down for most of the year but kept staffers of the island nation employed by asking them to assist with improvements around the property. The same thing happened at Outrigger’s Castaway Island in Fiji
after a typhoon came through and destroyed a lot of the hotel’s real estate. A team of workers came in to do the heavy lifting, and employees turned a negative into a positive by completely restoring the property.
Closer to home, renovations are continuing at Waikīkī Malia by Outrigger, while locals and visitors can already step into a newly modernized Waikīkī Beachcomber By Outrigger.
“We love curating each property and creating experiences for guests that are going to be different and unique,” says Wagoner, “and I think customers like our brand because they get to experience something that is a little different.”
The Beachcomber’s $35 million renovations started before the pandemic and the final touches were completed in time for a Nov. 13 reopening. Now, guests may look forward to musical samplings curated specifically for the property by guitarist and singer Makana, and take in the beautiful artwork at each elevator landing — dubbed “floors of flora” — by Erin Ibarra. Underwater photographer Zak Noyle, meanwhile, has his pieces featured in massive murals behind the headboard of every guest room.
“Opening that hotel brings workers back, and it allows other businesses to open, as well, and that’s the recovery we need in this industry,” continues Wagoner.
“Maui Brewing Co., their restaurant is in that hotel, and they opened up over that weekend, and Hawaiian Aroma Caffe, too,” he continues. “I’m sitting here getting chicken skin because people are getting to come back to work.”
Meanwhile, Outrigger Reef started its complete $85 million renovation during the pandemic, finishing all of the guest rooms and starting on the lobby. Expect a grand reopening in 2021 that’ll also feature a new restaurant and wedding chapel.
“We’re really excited about the Reef,” Wagoner says. “It shows that during this time, rather than retreat, we chose to continue to move forward with things (like renovations) to ensure we have the right product available for our guests when we opened back up.
“What we’re doing here is truly a transformation,” he adds. “Before, when you came into the property, there were a lot of obstacles to be able to get to or view the ocean. We’re attempting to open that up so you can see all the way out to the ocean from the front. That’s what the vintage resorts really have all had.”
Today, about 30 of the company’s 36 properties are open to guests, but one in particular has been a standout in 2020. Outrigger Waikīkī donated about $500,000 worth of rooms to nurses and first responders during COVID-19 as one of the Hotels for Heroes.
Growth, sustainability and the ability to lend a hand whenever it’s needed are only possible with a great team behind the effort, and Wagoner is thankful for the people who serve alongside him.
“I love to be able to say that we’re all paddling in the same direction,” Wagoner says with a laugh.
Wagoner and the rest of Outrigger are more than excited about forthcoming growth in terms of the properties, but there’s another arm of the Outrigger family that’s been working overtime. Back in April, #OutriggerCARES was born as a way to give back wherever needed, and, according to Wagoner, the global platform shows no signs of slowing down even after COVID is a thing of the past.
“This is new for us,” he says of the effort. “We just created it during this period of time, and we’ve been able to do numerous things for our guests through #OutriggerCARES.
“It’ll never go away now,” he adds. “It’s foundational for us.”
Around the world, #OutriggerCARES saw its Thailand property provide PPE equipment to hospitals, providing education and doing a blood drive in Mauritius, among other initiatives. Part of that endeavor also included the donation of hotel rooms for Hawai‘i’s first responders, as well as hosting food drives. It’s a good reminder that in good times and bad, Outrigger will always do its best for the communities it serves. Hopefully, according to Wagoner, the hotel chain can get back to doing what it does best in Hawai‘i: welcoming guests to the aloha state.
“It’s so nice to have the economy starting back up,” he says. “Bookings are starting to come in now, nowhere near the levels before COVID, but it’s nice to see activity. We’re excited about getting Hawai‘i back open in a safe and healthy way.”
A Clean Commitment
Back in April, Outrigger launched its clean commitment that puts the well-being of guests and employees at the forefront.
“We want to make sure we’re doing right by them,” shares Jeff Wagoner, president and CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group.
The robust process includes integrating CDC guidelines into all cleaning protocols for visitor safety. Rooms are also sanitized using Ecolab technology and PPEs are provided to make sure employees are protected.
Learn more online at outrigger.com/clean-commitment.
That’s My Jam
The music of the islands can be heard around the world, thanks to the Kani Ka Pila Music Jam live stream. What started as a pilot program back in March has grown to a much-loved nightly event that features a rotation of award-winning local artists who take the stage at Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach Resort. (Check facebook.com/outriggerresorts for the lineup.)
The music event serves a dual purpose of entertaining fans around the world and offering a melodic platform to Hawaiian musicians during the pandemic. While free to watch and listen on Outrigger Resorts’ Facebook page, there’s a virtual tip jar within the comments section to raise funds for each performer.
“During this pandemic … I have been getting responses from around the world during my live stream,” shares artist Kawika Kahiapo (pictured above). “Responses such as: ‘I am missing the islands,’ ‘I can feel the spirit of aloha through the music and slack key,’ ‘I can’t wait to return to the islands.’ While I’m performing live, quotes like these constantly stream on my screen from countries including Australia, Japan, Paris, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Brazil and, of course, America. As an ambassador of Hawaiian music, it brings me pure joy to deliver aloha to these long-distance lovers of Hawaiian music.”