Hawaii Island and Maui offer so much more than traditional experiences
If you haven’t been to the Hawaiian Islands, lots of ideas come to mind when dreaming up what the paradise may offer, thanks in part to pop culture’s depiction of Hawaii in movies and TV shows. Luaus, pig roasts, hula dancers and pristine beaches are everything you’d expect to find on the islands. But a visit to paradise is an entirely different experience, filled with opportunities one may never expect to find or associate with the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii Island and Maui, in particular, offer many off-the-radar adventures that truly leave a lasting impression on groups. Similarly, the resorts and meeting venues range from traditional to refreshingly unique. So whether it’s immersive and authentic adventures you seek, or thoughtful corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities that give back to nature and the surrounding communities, you can find it here.
Things that may already be on your bucket list include activities such as golf, snorkeling, surfing, parasailing, hula lessons, luaus and hiking. Unexpected activities—things you may not realize are possible to do on the islands—are outings such as stargazing on snowcapped mountains, shopping at farmers’ markets, touring coffee plantations, and exploring art galleries and museums.
Big Island, Big Adventure
Sheraton Kona Beach Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Hawaii Island
Hawaii Island, often referred to as the Big Island, is nearly twice as large as all the other islands combined and, appropriately so, offers twice the adventure. It’s the southernmost island of the cluster and is broken into seven regions: Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Kau, Kona, Kohala Coast, North Kohala and Puna. Hawaii Island is accessible via two airports: Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the east coast and Kona International Airport (KOA) on the west end.
“Beyond meetings and conference rooms, attendees are inspired by days filled with discovery, afternoons with rejuvenation and evenings of epicurean explorations,” says Mary Neister, vice president of Meet Hawaii. “Adventure awaits on land, air and sea. Some unique island experiences include taking a hike out to see the island’s lava flow, exploring the island’s agricultural vibrancy and snorkeling in the island’s pristine waters. A visit to the island of Hawaii truly provides for an unparalleled experience of adventure and excitement.”
Kona and the Kohala Coast are the best places for scuba diving and snorkeling. Leleiwi Beach and Richardson Beach Park in Hilo offer great spots for beginners, while Kona is praised for its visibility and calm waters for divers of all levels. Groups can book a sunset diving tour with Fair Wind, Inc., Hawaii Oceanic or one of the many other diving companies, and swim with manta rays and dolphins. You may even spot breaching whales depending on the season—an estimated 10,000 whales swim 3,000 miles from Alaska to Hawaii between early November and May to breed.
The Kohala Coast, on the north end of the island, offers snorkeling at Hapuna Beach, Anaehoomalu Beach and Samuel Spencer Park.
For golfers, Hawaii Island is one big fairway paradise. The award-winning Francis H. I’i Brown Golf Course on the Kohala Coast boasts 36 holes of continuous play, and is consistently lauded as one of the world’s top golf resorts by readers of Conde Nast Traveler. The course is adjacent to the luxurious Fairmont Orchid, a 540-room resort with more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. In addition to golf, the property offers petroglyph hiking tours, oceanside lei making, standup paddleboarding and lots of water sports.
Luaus and hula dancing are a must when visiting Hawaii, and Hawaii Island offers plenty of opportunities to see an up-close show while devouring kalua pig and soaking in ancient Polynesian traditions. The Voice of Life at Haleo Luau takes place every Monday at Sheraton Kona Beach Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, a 508-room resort with more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Waikoloa Village hosts Legends of Hawaii Luau every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. The Kona Coast property is made for meetings, with more than 240,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including seven ballrooms, all connected by promenades.
If you’ve never heard of a Hawaiian cowboy, you may think horseback riding belongs in the unexpected category, but paniolo, or cowboys, are actually a very significant part of Hawaiian culture. Waimea is just one of the areas that offers lots of wide-open space, perfect for riding. Groups can partake in storytelling tours on horse-drawn wagons or participate in a real cattle drive. Settings vary from upcountry pastures such as those offered at Kahua Ranch to tropical stream and waterfall trails in Waipio Valley.
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, Hawaii Island
Hawaii’s unique history is celebrated all over the islands. Guests can literally walk in a king’s footsteps at Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, located on the historic site where King Kamehameha, the famed King of the Hawaiian Islands, once lived. Offerings such as beachside massages will have you feeling like royalty in no time. The 452-room Marriott-owned property is also host of the Ironman World Championships and offers 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The hotel hosts the Island Breeze luau every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, which includes a 22-dish buffet.
Given the islands’ location, tsunamis are a part of reality in Hawaii. Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM) in Hilo promotes education for locals and visitors from around the world, and serves as a living memorial to those who lost their lives in past tragedies (specifically the 1946 tsunami that hit Hilo). Its goal is simple: Educate everyone so that fatalities never happen again due to tsunamis. PTM is open Tuesday through Saturday for tours.
Grand Naniloa Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Hilo, Hawaii Island
Just a few minutes’ drive from PTM is the newly restored Grand Naniloa Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, which offers 320 guest rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. of conference space. The historic hotel was built in 1939 at the tip of the peninsula jutting into Hilo Bay. The hotel worked with local artists during its restoration to design interactive displays, a hula showcase and other exhibitions that celebrate traditional Hawaiian culture. The Crown Room is a music venue that was popular in the 1980s and has been revamped with state-ofthe- art technology. It accommodates 400.
“Minutes from Hilo International Airport and within easy driving distance to waterfalls, tropical gardens, beaches and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the hotel is an ideal base for guests to discover the island of Hawaii’s diverse natural landscape,” Neister says.
Two miles from Grand Naniloa, Hilo Farmers Market is open seven days a week and has really made a name for itself, thanks to its wide array of food, desserts, arts and crafts, jewelry and clothing. For the full experience, visit on Wednesdays or Saturdays to see more than 200 vendors.
A truly memorable and unique experience is a hike up to Mauna Kea Science Reserve, where groups can partake in a guided tour up 13,796 feet to the Mauna Kea Summit to stargaze. As many as 13 telescopes are set up at the top of the often- snowcapped mountain. Stargazing also takes place at Maunakea Visitor Information Station, at an elevation of 9,200 feet.
You can also study the stars from sea level at Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, which opened to the public in 2006. The large planetarium features an IMAX-style movie presentation that makes viewers feel like they’re flying through space.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Hawaii Island
Nearby Mauna Kea is Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, located on the sunny Kohala Coast. The 350-room hotel boasts a beautiful open-air lobby and a state-of-the-art meetings facility with an 8,428-square-foot ballroom that holds 900.
Also nearby is sister property Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, an Autograph Collection Hotel, which recently underwent a $150 million renovation. It was the first hotel built on the Kohala Coast, and in November, it was inducted into the Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The property offers 252 guest rooms, two restaurants and the award-winning Mauna Kea Golf Course.
Attending a concert may not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a trip to the island, but Waikoloa Bowl at Queen’s Garden is an open-air venue that accommodates 5,000 and hosts everything from big-name bands to hula shows, and a nearby food court makes it the perfect place to picnic under the stars. It’s located at the 1,595-room Waikoloa Beach Resort, which offers 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, Maui
Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian islands, located just northwest of Hawaii Island. Its relatively low population (a little more than 131,000) makes Maui a peaceful and relaxing destination.
Maikai is Hawaiian for excellent and goodness, two descriptors that exemplify not only the island and its venues, but the people of Maui and their relentless efforts to keep the island an authentic and sustainable place.
While there are plenty of resorts, the island is also populated by lots of small towns that give the local vibe so many tourists are looking for. And with 80 uncrowded beaches, it’s easy to find the perfect spot to unwind, whether you prefer black, red, green or white sand.
Most of the island’s resorts and many of its main attractions can be found in five main regions: Kapalua, Kaanapali, Wailea, Makena and Hana. The main airport is Kahului Airport (OGG), but there are two small commuter airports, Kapalua Airport (JHM) and Hana Airport (HNM).
About an hour’s drive west of the main airport, Kapalua is home to boutique shops, award-winning white-sand beaches and luxury resorts.
If you’re looking for face-to-face encounters with wildlife without the scuba gear, consider Atlantis Submarines, which provides real submarine tours off the Kapalua Coast that are environmentally safe, battery powered and emit no pollutants. The submarines go more than 100 feet underwater, where up to 48 guests can see green turtles, sharks, stingrays, yellow tangs, eels and many other species of underwater marine life.
In nearby Lahaina, Whaler’s Village offers 90 shops and restaurants, and a renowned whale museum. Less than 1 mile south along the famed Ka’anapali Beach is Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Every Hawaiian excursion should include a spa day, and there’s no better place to do that than Hyatt’s 15,000-square-foot Marilyn Monroe Spa—the only oceanfront spa in Maui. The relaxation lounge’s expansive windows look out onto the beach. The resort offers 806 guest rooms, including 31 suites, each with a private lanai boasting panoramic views. In 2016, the resort was awarded AAA Four Diamond status for the 21st consecutive year.
Farther south, groups can tour Maui’s 10,000-foot volcano, Mount Haleakala, on bike, foot or by van. The summit offers incredible sunrise and sunset views. The 547-room Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, Maui provides hotel pickups and drop-offs at the volcano. The resort underwent a comprehensive multiyear $100 million redesign in December. The property boasts new dining concepts, including Humble Market Kitchin by chef Roy Yamaguchi and the new poolside Kapa Bar & Grill. Other additions include a new adventure pool with a 320-foot waterslide, new open-air lobby and redesigned guest rooms. Meeting space includes the updated Te Au Moana Luau Grounds, 13,800-square-foot Aulani Ballroom, 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space among 20 breakout rooms plus 72,000 sq. ft. of outdoor event space.
In southeastern Maui, one of the most talked about day trips is the famed Road to Hana. With 600 curves and 54 bridges, it’s one of the world’s most scenic drives to the untouched, quaint town of Hana. Located just past Hana, the Pools of Oheo are beautiful pools fed by cascading waterfalls—a sight you have to see to believe.
“Located at the end of the famed Road to Hana in eastern Maui, Travaasa Hana is ideal for meetings and incentive groups, as it features a variety of flexible spaces, venues, locations, group activity offerings and wellness/health experiences,” Neister says. “Following the recent completion of a $12 million property-wide restoration, groups can experience the renewed Plantation Guest House for special events.”
According to Neister, this historic residence played host to the island’s kings and queens until 1850. In 1939, painter Georgia O’Keeffe spent two weeks in this residence when the Dole Plantation commissioned her artistry. Travaasa Hana, Maui offers inclusive and a la carte packages and 71 guest rooms spread across 66 lush acres.
Windsurfing is one of the many must-do water sports available on the island. There’s no better place to learn the core-building activity than Hookipa Beach in Paia, the windsurfing capital of the world.
There’s no better way of grasping the concept of Maikai than at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, where the Ambassadors of the Environment program helps groups understand ecologically responsible living and how to bring that knowledge back home. Each activity is customized based on the group’s size and time allotment. The luxurious AAA Five Diamond resort offers 463 guest rooms and more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
“As a result of people wanting to step more readily into the community, we have seen a huge interest in our many great agricultural tours, hikes and water sports,” says Carol Clark, director of public relations for Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. “They don’t mind getting a little muddy and many find that it’s the highlight of their trip. The cultural arena is also of great interest, as people get hands-on with things such as lei-making, outrigger paddling, hula and language lessons. This, too, has opened up opportunities while sharing what makes Maui Nui so special.”
Be part of a one-of-a-kind experience at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa’s nightly Lele Kawa, or cliff diving ritual. Legend has it that the last chief of Maui, Kahekili, proved his spiritual strength by leaping from sacred Puu Kekaa into the Pacific—and a young cliff diver honors his heritage each evening by retracing his footsteps in an elaborate ceremony. Guests of the 508-room property can enjoy this unique ritual while sipping cocktails and eating barbecue at The Cliff Dive Grill.
Other unique experiences offered at the resort include ukulele lessons. Sheraton has more than 40,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 6,560-square-foot ballroom.
When you’re building your group itinerary for Maui and Hawaii Island, be sure to leave some room for spontaneity. There’s a good chance that among the list of must-do activities, you’ll come across opportunities you never considered before.
To celebrate the grand reopening of Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa’s meeting space, the hotel hosted media and meeting planners to christen the space and explore the property and nearby attractions.
The grand opening ceremony started on Holona Kai Event Lawn, a beautiful green space overlooking the hotel’s free-form pool and beachfront. Our group was then escorted through the newly redesigned, open-air promenade and into the Monarchy Ballroom, where two stages were set on opposite ends. A drummer on one side began playing a traditional Hawaiian rhythm before the DJ at the second stage cut in with loud, heart-pounding music.
The introduction did more than showcase the ballroom’s acoustics—which were very impressive. A light show that matched the different paced beats showed off the room’s lighting capabilities, and the duel symbolized the evolution of the hotel’s meeting space from classic Hawaiian to its current modern theme. Sunset orange splashes of color can be found throughout the 18,000-squarefoot ballroom and pre-function space. Bamboo and stone wall accents are earthy, yet contemporary.
The ceremony kicked off with an elaborate six-course meal in which chef Greg Grohowski, who oversees the property’s four eateries, had the opportunity to explain each decadent dish.
Other meals included steak dinners at Son’z Steakhouse, sushi at Japengo, and an elaborate all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional Hawaiian food from kalua pig and poi to pineapple upside-down cake at the property’s Drums of the Pacific Luau. The feast included a vibrant show of hula dancing, fashion, Polynesian storytelling and fire dancing.
The group was invited to nearby Simpli-Fresh Farm to see firsthand where some of the fresh produce found at restaurants such as Japengo comes from. Farmer James Simpliciano explained just how complicated it is to successfully farm on Maui soil, and offered up the prediction that someday the craze will be farm to table to farm—composting materials such as coffee parchment to return to the farm in order to bolster soil.
Guests of the Hyatt can take a tour of the hotel to discover how the property obtained LEED Silver certification for existing buildings operation and management (EBOM). Plaques throughout the property detail the high-efficiency lighting and windows, chef’s garden and more. Gary Bulson, director of engineering and LEED green associate, leads passionate tours, giving guests an in-depth look at what goes into receiving LEED certification.
Major Meeting Venues
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
Located on 13 acres on Kailua Bay; close to Honokohau Marina and Kaloko-Honokohau National Park; 452 guest rooms; two restaurants; beach massages; pool; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu
On the island’s North Coast; 243 guest rooms and suites housed in two-story bungalows; collection of native Hawaiian art; 23,384 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Grand Naniloa Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
Short drive from the airport and Pacific Tsunami Museum; recently restored historic hotel; 320 guest rooms; golf course; beachfront property; pool; 13,000 sq. ft. of conference space; Crown Room music venue seats 400.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
State-of-the-art meetings facility with 8,428-square-foot ballroom that holds 900 people; six conference rooms, including two executive boardrooms and 8,000 sq. ft. of outdoor courtyard space; 350 guest rooms.
Hilton Waikoloa Village
Beachfront property with onsite snorkeling; 1,241 guest rooms; protected lagoon with sea turtles; three freshwater pools; 240,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Inducted into Historic Hotels of America; recently completed $150 million renovation; 252 guest rooms; two restaurants; spa; 4,074 sq. ft. indoor meeting space; 43,000 sq. ft. outdoor meeting space.
Royal Kona Resort
12-acre waterfront property; 436 guest rooms; massage and spa center; fitness center; private swimming lagoon; four tennis courts; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including five rooms.
Sheraton Kona Beach Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
Located on the lava rocks of the Kona Coast overlooking Keauhou Bay; 508 guest rooms; weekly luau; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Fairmont Orchid
On Kohala Coast; 540 guest rooms; golf and tennis; private beach; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; recently renovated Fairmont Gold Floor offers lifestyle experience on top floor.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
Overlooks Anaehoomalu Bay; 555 guest rooms; sunset luau; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 24 meeting rooms and Naupaka Ballroom, which accommodates 1,300.
Waikoloa Beach Resort
Largest meeting destination on island; 1,595 guest rooms; 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space accommodates 2,400; two championship golf courses; Waikoloa Bowl at Queens’ Garden music venue.
Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Located on a 1.2-mile beach; 300 guest rooms; two restaurants, lounge and bar; 24-hour fitness center; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Fairmont Kea Lani
Among 22 acres of beautiful tropical landscape; 450 guest rooms; two activity pools connected by 140-foot waterslide; 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Overlooks Wailea Beach; 383 guest rooms; opulent spa; three pools; swim-up bar; 28,876 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort
On top-rated beach in Maui with sweeping views of Wailea Beach; AAA Four Diamond resort; 780 guest rooms; six restaurants; Wailea Canyon Activity Pool area; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
AAA Four Diamond rated for 21 consecutive years; 806 guest rooms; five restaurants; two pools; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes newly renovated Halona Kai Event Lawn; 18,000-square-foot Monarchy ballroom divides into seven breakouts; new Regency Club lounge.
Montage Kapalua Bay
30 minutes from Kahului International Airport; 50 guest rooms; direct access to Kapalua Bay Beach; meeting spaces include 2,000-square-foot Sunset Room and five event lawns.
Royal Lahaina Resort
27-acre resort within a close drive to Kaanapali Beach; 441 guest rooms; 11 tennis courts; oceanfront restaurant; nightly oceanfront luau; three swimming pools; three meeting rooms; 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
On Kaanapali Beach, near legendary Black Rock; 3 miles from Lahaina; 508 guest rooms; four restaurants, bar and lounge; pool with lazy river; spa; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua
AAA Five Diamond resort; 463 guest rooms; spa offers treatments inspired by ancient Hawaiian traditions; two championship 18-hole golf courses; more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas
Situated along North Kaanapali Beach; lily pond-decorated courtyard; 1,021 guest rooms; Spa Helani; three restaurants; more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Travaasa Hana, Maui
Boutique property at the end of famed Road to Hana; 71 guest rooms; more than 5,000 sq. ft. of indoor space; additional 10,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space; all-inclusive and a la carte packages.
Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, Maui
Completed $100 million renovation in December to all 547 guest rooms, lobby and meeting spaces; 20 meeting rooms with 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor space; 72,000 sq. ft. of outdoor events space.