Unlike hotels, which often see guests check in and check out in less than 24 hours, resorts are tasked with creating a positive guest experience that lasts several days. During that time, the property needs to offer up more than just a swim-up bar and a wine-and-cheese happy hour. So top resorts have begun to elevate the guest experience by tapping into the local culture, promoting their destination’s unique features, and providing their visitors with a one-stop-shop for activities and enjoyment.
And it isn’t just resorts that benefit from this approach; more and more destination hotels are turning to innovative and locally focused approaches as a way to create memorable vacation experiences. Here’s how three distinctly different properties—beach resort, country retreat, and family amusement park—went about creating the ideal vacation escapes.
Beauty and the Beach
When the vast majority of visitors to your island destination are repeat customers, attracting them to your new property can be a bit of a challenge, especially when you’re in the high-end resort area of Wailea on the south shore of Maui—a location already dotted with well-know vacation spots, like the Grand Wailea, Four Seasons, and Marriott resorts, all boasting similar slices of paradise.
Such is the situation for the Andaz Maui at Wailea, a new luxury resort from Hyatt that opens its doors in late summer (see “Building a Sand Castle” sidebar). Under the leadership of general manager Michael Stephens, the staff is prepared to meet the challenge head on. The resort—the first for the Andaz brand—offers 290 expansive guestrooms, seven residential villas, four infinity pools, and the Awili Spa and Salon, and that’s enough to get them in the same playing field as the other resorts in the area. To stand out from the crowd, the Andaz is creating an insider environment, where guests can feel as if they are part of the community—not visitors to it. “Resort guests want to connect in an authentic way,” Stephens says. “Because our guests are savvy world travelers, we need to provide them with off-the-beaten-path experiences—and tailor each one because our visitors will be looking for something special and unique.”
Stephens plans to offer a host of one-of-a-kind immersive opportunities that go beyond the traditional Hawaiian luau—like private lessons with a top surfer on the island, fishing with a local fisherman at his favorite spot, or an outrigger expedition with a renowned island paddler. Unlike other resorts, which may use pre-packaged tours, Andaz hopes to personalize and customize the Maui experience for guests so they feel connected with the locals and their experience.
To design these locals-only experiences Stephens engaged Hawaiian cultural practioner Kainoa Horcajo, who was born and raised on the island and is well-connected to the local community. “He’s putting us in touch with all the right people and giving us the inside track on what’s special on Maui,” Stephens says. Horcajo is also training the staff on island history, facts, and cultural sensitivity, allowing them to communicate that authentic local vibe to the guests. Stephens has also started his staffing search in the surrounding area. “That was our first mission,” he says. “How great would it be if we had a server or arrival host that thoroughly understood the land and the culture and connected the guest to them in a special way? Having someone like Kainoa can bridge those gaps for some people, but having the personal experiences is priceless.” Stephens says many of the employees are passionate about local traditions such as ukulele, surfing, and hula, which is taught in the public school system. “Having staff with those passions and who’ve grown up on the island is the greatest way to connect people to it.”
Complementing a well-trained staff is a food and beverage program that highlights local cuisine. The resort is partnering with local fishermen as well as with two farms on the island that can grow to its specifications. This farm- and sea-to-table experience will play out in the resort’s two full-service restaurants: Morimoto Maui, helmed by celeb “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto, which marries Japanese culinary techniques with local ingredients, and Ka’ana Kitchen, specializing in local ingredients served small-plate and family-style and with a Hibachi grill as the centerpiece. There’s also a 24-hour market with Hawaiian beverages and snacks. Local sourcing even permeates the resort’s spa experience, translating the “farm-to-table” concept into a “farm-to-treatment” one. Guests will be able to craft their own products with the spa staff’s guidance in an apothecary lounge, some of the ingredients for which were selected by local herbalists and foresters—there will even be an indigenous ingredient of the day, which could range from mango to pineapple to local herbs. If they like the formula, they’ll be able to purchase it through a mail-order business.
“Because of those personal connections that we have with locals and because of the way that we think,” Stephens says, “I think we are on to something and can give our customers an amazing experience.”