KAILUA-KONA — The Mauna Lani reopened Wednesday following a 14-month, $200 million renovation of the South Kohala resort property.
Now featuring 295 rooms, 38 suites and five private bungalows on 32 acres at Kalahuipua‘a, Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, will define “a new era of experiential luxury on the Island of Hawaii.”
“It’s a big transformation,” Sanjiv Hulugalle, Mauna Lani vice president and general manager, said Wednesday afternoon after welcoming guests back to the property.
The Mauna Lani, which opened in 1983 and was last renovated in 2013 at a cost of $30 million, closed in October 2018 for the “resortwide re-imagination and renovation.”
The closure triggered the temporary layoff of about 400 employees, however, some 300 returned post renovation supplemented by more than a hundred people hired during a job fair last fall. The hotel expects to hire more employees in the coming months bringing its staff close to 550 persons, according to Hulugalle.
“Mauna Lani has been one of Hawaii’s best loved resorts for over three decades. It is an unsurpassed destination,” Hulugalle said. “On behalf of our team, we are honored and delighted to reintroduce this iconic property that celebrates the people of Hawaii, sparks curiosity and discovery, and remains anchored by the special atmosphere of Kalahuipua‘a.”
Designed by New York-based Meyer Davis, a contemporary-yet-organic sensibility defines the resort’s interior design. The guest rooms and suites are brighter and feature more refined rich hardwoods, natural fabrics and textures while the resort’s iconic bungalows comprise 4,000 square feet with indoor and outdoor living space.
The newly renovated resort also features a refreshed spa and fitness facility and expanded pool offerings with the addition of a family pool and an adult infinity-edge pool to its original resort pool. There are also new shops, and more food and beverage offerings with five restaurant/lounge choices instead of two.
“The CanoeHouse is an iconic restaurant, we kept it, but we reinvented it and really brought it back to life again,” Hulugalle said. “It’s the most beautiful space overlooking the ocean, right on the beach side.”
In addition, the resort is unveiling its Kainalu Sports recreation and activities program and retaining its Holoholo Kids Crew and Hale ‘I‘ike Cultural Center programs.
Kahu Danny Akaka Jr. remains a mainstay as the resort’s “kahu hanai,” or knowledge keeper. Akaka and his team lead dynamic, educational tours of the resort’s ancient fishponds and petroglyphs, and during each full moon they host Twilight at Kalahuipua‘a for hotel guests and residents alike to gather for music and storytelling.
“We’ve preserved the cultural, the core values of Mauna Lani, the cultural elements — what truly Mauna Lani is,” Hulugalle said.
Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch said Wednesday that the resort is coming back online with a “whole brand new product” at just the right time.
“Any hotel inventory we can get back online is definitely needed,” he said.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 77.8% of rooms on the Kohala Coast were occupied in November, the most recent month for which statistics were available as of press time Wednesday. Occupancy for the 11 months ending Nov. 30 hovered at 77.6%, higher than 2018 and 2017 when occupancy averaged 70% and 73.4%, respectively.
“We saw the occupancy toward the end of last year — and now starting with this year — climb back up again,” Birch said.
Regulations on vacation rentals on the Big Island will also fuel occupancy as demand for hotel rooms is expected to increase with fewer short-term rentals available, he added. Kayak.com also recently revealed Hawaii Island was the most searched destination last year.
“2020 is really turning out to be a really good-looking year as we look forward,” Birch said, “so having those additional rooms is really going to help out making sure we can accommodate our visitation.”
Birch also sees the resort attracting a new customer to the island as it will target high-end clientele, which could have a positive effect on visitor spending. Through November 2019, visitor spending declined 2.8% to $2.06 billion compared to 2018, Hawaii Tourism Authority data shows.
“Our spend has been stagnant for the last couple of years, but we’re looking at this hotel now to kind of us get us up a little higher and see our spend numbers go up,” he said.
Stephanie Donoho, administrative director of the Kohala Coast Resort Association, said the association is “thrilled” for the resort’s reopening as it opens up coveted meeting space, which she termed as the “bread and butter” for resorts.
“It has been a long undertaking to get the Mauna Lani reopened and we can’t wait for them to be fully operational and just running full steam ahead,” said Donoho.
The Mauna Lani is the first Auberge Resorts Collection property in the Hawaiian Islands. Auberge’s portfolio includes 19 hotels and resorts across three continents.
Auberge was to manage the resort after DiamondHead Land, a joint venture between San Francisco-based ProspectHill Group and Hawaii-based hotel executive Pat Fitzgerald, and another major institutional investor, purchased the oceanfront property in August 2017 for $225 million.
The property was developed by a subsidiary of Tokyu Corp. Noboru Gotoh, former chairman of Tokyu Corp., opened Mauna Lani Bay Hotel &Bungalows in 1983 at a cost of $71 million.