Alluring Hawaii Island and Maui are key incentive destinations
Hawaii Island and Maui have long called to visitors over warm Pacific Ocean breezes, tempting them to take that dream trip and experience the spirit of aloha. Always surprising with new offerings, the Big Island and Maui share a passion for food, vibrant outdoor life and jaw-dropping natural beauty. It would be hard to find a traveler who doesn’t have these islands on their must-see list. Because of this overall allure, the Hawaiian Islands are consistently voted among the world’s top incentive destinations.
“Hawaii is attractive to those groups looking for the wow factor, and for those who are celebrating special anniversaries for their companies or organizations,” says Mary Neister, vice president of Meet Hawaii. “They are diverse islands, each with their own unique personality and range of experiences, from cultural, culinary and outdoor adventure to award-winning spas, golf courses and resorts. When a company really wants to motivate their sellers, Hawaii serves as the perfect location to do just that.”
Born of fire, nurtured by water, Hawaiians are in touch with their land in a way that is unique to their volcanic setting. From the legend of goddess Pele to the iconic big-wave surfers of the North Shore, to the vast farms of fertile red soil, nowhere else in the United States provides this stimulating exposure to the four classical elements: earth, water, fire and wind.
“If you really want to know what the word ‘aloha’ means, go to Hawaii Island,” says Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin’s Travel and Tours, Inc. and winner of the Travel Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award. “Aloha is about the culture of Hawaii and sharing that culture, the land and its history with people.”
Legend has it that King Kamehameha I trained his armies on Kahua Ranch, where groups now can enjoy the crisp, clean air of Kohala Volcano. The working ranch offers a variety of excursions, including horseback riding, ATV rides and a guided historical tour, as well as an authentic barbecue experience with live music and line dancing, perfect for groups.
Anna Ranch Heritage Center in Waimea is the restored estate of Hawaii’s first lady of ranching, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske, and hosts historical home tours, art demonstrations, bike tours and private group tours led by expert docents.
“From farm to cup” is Greenwell Farm’s motto, and no trip to Hawaii Island is complete without a cup of Kona coffee. Greenwell Farms, located in Kealakeku, offers farm tours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday and personal group tours can be booked to observe coffee fields and processing facilities, and savor free samples of various coffee products.
Haleo Luau (The Voice of Life) celebrates through dance and music the history of Keauhou, the spirit of those who came from the land. From the birth of Kamehameha III to the surfing stories of Heeia Bay, this luau show—featured at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay—takes guests on a journey through time. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more, and an upgrade includes special leis and preferred seating.
Another option is The Legends of Hawaii Luau, highlighted by exotic dance and traditional themes. It takes place at Hilton Waikoloa Village, which has 235,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a ballroom that seats up to 2,400 people.
One of the best ways to enjoy the rich beauty of the Hawaiian waters is to skim across them. Un-Cruise Adventures provides seven-day intimate cruises in which adventurers kayak, paddleboard, hike, snorkel, “talk story” with locals and watch marine life gracefully leap around the ship. Group discounts and complimentary berths are available, depending on the number of participants.
For thrill-seekers, a true bonding experience is the manta ray night snorkel from Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii. Starting right before sunset for optimal photo opportunities, the boat cruises along the Kona coast to the manta ray location. Mantas have no bite or sting to them; they are actually gentle giants and provide a safe, yet mesmerizing water encounter. Group discounts and charters are available.
For other ocean-life adventures, event planners can choose from a variety of exciting tours. Body Glove Cruises sails a 65-foot luxury catamaran from Kona that offers whale watching, snorkeling and dolphin adventures, and historical dinner and lunch cruises. Group discounts are offered. Body Glove has affiliate companies that specialize in physical water sports that are great for beginners or experts.
Eka Canoe Adventures brings one of Hawaii’s oldest forms of travel to visitors; Hawaii Surf and Kayak provides surfing, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayak lessons; and Bite Me Sportfishing boasts the ultimate Kona sport-fishing experience. What could be more exhilarating than reeling in a feisty catch as a group? Charters are encouraged.
Hawaii Ocean Sports has Day of Beach Play Beach Blasts, where event planners can utilize their knowledge and design a party program that groups will remember forever. Music, beach games, water sports, team building, cultural activities and gourmet picnics round out the menu. Beach Blasts are available at Hilton Waikoloa Village salt water lagoon and at nearby, historic Anaehoomalu Bay.
Laughter is said to bring people closer together. Captain Zodiac Raft Cruises promises to make its guests smile from the minute they get into the raft. The 16-person zodiacs can accelerate up to 40 mph, depending on the weather. When the sea spray hits participants, giggles erupt like the lava of Kilauea. Rafts can be reserved for groups and exclusive trips can be arranged.
On a smaller scale but still very powerful is Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kailua-Kona, where marine life lovers tour the farm, learn about conservation and visit the aquarium where sea horses from around the world feed and play. Holding these creatures that have existed for 13 million years is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Ticket discounts are available online and groups of 25 or more get a private tour.
“Hawaii is a natural when it comes to group travel experiences,” says Eric Hiss, travel writer and travel industry consultant. “On the Big Island, you have all these great opportunities to explore the abundant nature and adventure options. A couple of my favorites include the zipline adventures and rain-forest treks offered by Hawaii Forest and Trail.
“They’re knowledgeable, have access to truly unique locations such as land once owned by Hawaiian royalty, and know how to work with special groups, including team-building programs.”
Fly through the air while the wind whips by on the Kohala Zipline full aerial canopy course at Hawaii Forest and Trail. Groups spend an inspiring day in North Kohala ziplining, picnicking amid stunning views of the North Kohala valleys and swimming under a private waterfall. Groups of up to 14 can book private excursions.
Stargazing is a rewarding and beautiful pastime, and Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo provides a place for it. A planetarium show and dinner, or a reception can be arranged for large groups, along with discounted rates.
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors see the unforgettable spectacle of volcanic eruptions, reminding us that the Earth is ever-changing. Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele lives in Halemaumau Crater in Kilauea Caldera, so attendees can pay their respects.
Kilauea Lodge, just 1 mile from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is a welcome resting place after a day of hiking. A warm hot tub or the Fireplace of Friendship soothes the mind and body. The lodge has event space for groups and offers cultural experiences as well as personalized menus.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, located at Hilo International Airport (ITO), tours the most geologically active environment on earth by flying over lava flows, tropical rain forests and cascading waterfalls. Each helicopter holds six people, but the company’s fleet can launch 72 passengers per hour.
Kapohokine Adventures’ latest tour is Lava Expedition, where groups are able to enjoy a picnic-style meal before hiking over the lava fields of Kilauea Volcano in search of active lava flow. This tour is dependent on active lava flow, so call ahead. Any groups over six get a 10 percent discount.
“The Road to Hana [Hana Highway] is 52 miles of beautiful scenery that is unparalleled,” says Tanzman of Martin’s Travel and Tours, Inc. “I recommend going as a group and taking a driver so that each person can really soak up the sights and share in the experience with others. Groups are also able to benefit from the invigorating sunrise bike tour down Haleakala. There is always something new to discover in Hawaii.”
Along Maui’s rugged eastern coastline is the peaceful town of Hana, considered one of the last unspoiled Hawaiian frontiers. The legendary road to Hana is only 52 miles from Kahului, but the drive can take up to four hours to complete. Hawaii Limo can accommodate up to 50 people using various vehicles.
Makawao, the biggest little town in the region, locally is known as Upcountry and is famous for its paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys). Groups enjoy touring the art- and cafe-laden town and then often head to MauiWine, rebranded from Tedeschi Vineyards and located at Ulupalakua Ranch. MauiWine grows grapes on its 23-acre vineyard and sources local Maui Gold pineapples from Haliimaile Pineapple Company. Private tastings are encouraged.
Surfing Goat Dairy in Kula is a special place where teams can feed and milk a goat, see the cheese-making process and then sample most of the cheeses produced at the dairy. Call in advance for group rates and tours.
Na Lio Maui is a theatrical performance that offers an authentic cultural experience by staying true to the history of the horse and the Hawaiian people. One of Maui’s newest visitor attractions, it’s offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at Kahalawai Farms and Stables, a private ranch in Lahaina with a seating capacity of up to 100 people.
Trilogy (a family owned and operated local company since 1973) commits to practicing sustainable tourism. Its guided snorkeling and sailing charters enable groups and visitors to experience parts of Maui and Lanai in environmentally responsible ways.
Atlantis Adventures provides a unique underwater paradise aboard a high-tech 48-passenger submarine. Guests view the unique and fascinating natural coral reefs, fish and marine life in air-conditioned comfort and safety. The entire submarine can be rented out.
Spirit and distillery tours provide groups with prime opportunities for socializing. Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery, on the slopes of Haleakala, is home to the world’s only vodka made using deep ocean mineral water. Pulled from off the Kona coast in the crystal clear and near freezing depths of 3,000 feet, the water is used to distill organic cane sugar from the local farm. Groups can arrange to use the property.
Maui is the ultimate windsurfing destination, with steady trade winds, clear warm water, beautiful beaches and outrageous surf. Groups can learn to kite surf, wind surf or SUP with Maui Windsurf Company or HST Windsurfing. Groups are accommodated, but planners should call ahead.
Kula Botanical Garden, located on the slopes of Haleakala, features tropical flowers scenting the breezes, an aviary, a koi pond and waterfalls. Guided botanical and agricultural group tours can be scheduled in advance.
Haleakala National Park is home to Maui’s highest peak. Rising 10,023 feet above sea level, Haleakala’s graceful slopes can be seen from just about any point on the island. Many visitors and locals wake up early to drive up to Haleakala Visitor Center (9,740 feet), the best spot to watch the sunrise.
On a clear morning, seeing the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala is an unforgettable experience. Even frequent visitors say they’ve never witnessed the same sunrise twice. Perhaps just as spectacular are Haleakala’s sunsets and the bright, starry skies at night. Haleakala Bike Co. will take groups up and down the mountain.
A proper Hawaiian luau should reside in the toolkit of any planner, and Maui is home to plenty of options. Top-rated at the moment is Drums of the Pacific at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Lahaina. The luau features a fire knife dance from Samoa, Maori warrior dance from New Zealand, hula lessons for all and the usual smorgasbord of pig, poi and fish.
“Maui has a really fantastic range of options for groups, including activities such as snorkel adventures to the Molokini crater, art gallery tours in Lahaina and yoga classes on the beach of Kaanapali,” Hiss says. “Basically, there’s a lot there to make trip planners look like stars.”
The variety of outstanding options on Maui and Hawaii Island makes it easy for planners to find great lodging, meeting, activity and entertainment for their groups. In fact, their toughest challenge is deciding what to book for their guests. Whatever the choices, they’re likely to stimulate excitement and productivity, which is why the two islands are perfect meeting destinations.
2016 Festivals & Celebrations
Panaewa Stampede Rodeo, Feb. 13–14
An amateur rodeo competition between cowboys/cowgirls, children and kupuna (elders) at Panaewa Equestrian Center. It features food and craft booths.
16th Annual Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival, March 5
Hawaii’s top ukulele performers hold a special evening of entertainment in tribute to Hawaiian music and the beloved instrument at Waikoloa Beach.
National Park Service Centennial, all year
Just in time for the celebration, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park on Hawaii Island, and Haleakala National Park on Maui are offering an annual Tri-Park Pass for $25.
Celebration of the Arts, March 25–27
Held at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, the award-winning event is one of Hawaii’s premier hands-on arts and cultural festivals. Interact with artisans, cultural practitioners, speakers and entertainers.
Maui Film Festival, June 15−19
This festival is packed with film screenings, award tributes and filmmaker panels. It’s held at Celestial Cinema on Wailea Gold Club’s driving range. Group discounts are available.
Hotels in the News
The hotel scene in Hawaii is so dynamic and competitive that it’s particularly important for group planners to stay in touch with what’s new. Here’s the latest news.
The grande dame of the Big Island, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a $4.5 million transformation that will update its famed Copper Terrace promenade and reinvent the former Kaunaoa Bar & Grill into Kaunaoa Ballroom, which will showcase 4,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space. The Copper Terrace was set for completion in December 2015 with the Kaunaoa Ballroom expected to debut this month.
Hilo Naniloa Hotel and Golf Club is set to relaunch in March as DoubleTree by Hilton Hilo at the Naniloa following a $20 million renovation. The relaunching was celebrated during a ground-breaking with a formal Hawaiian blessing ceremony in August. Plans for the 388-room hotel include upgrades to the lobby and lounge, banquet facilities, waterfront restaurant and poolside bar, fitness center, retail shops and three fully restored towers.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has unveiled two new event venues: the Beach Front Lawn and Wailea Point. Located on the oceanfront, each offers panoramic views of the island of Lanai and the west Maui mountains. Perfect for receptions, the Beach Front Lawn can accommodate up to 50 guests and offers stunning vistas just steps from the golden sands of Wailea Beach. Ideal for intimate gatherings, Wailea Point sits high above Wailea Beach and can host up to 30 guests.
Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria Resort is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016 by upgrading all the rooms using a color palette inspired by the island. The green honors the lush landscape, while the auburn, brown and gold hues reflect the colors of Mount Haleakala crater. The design is contemporary and a website (perfectingourmasterpiece.com) is devoted to keeping the public abreast of new artistic touches during the renovations.
Makena Beach & Golf Resort is proud to be turning 30. The resort is celebrating this landmark occasion throughout 2016 by offering special anniversary packages for its leisure and meetings markets. Makena also will provide special amenities for guests, a monthly social media contest, and other programs and events.
Big Island Visitor Bureau
Hawaii State Parks
Hawaii State Tourism Authority
Hawaii Visitor’s and Convention Bureau
Maui Visitor’s Bureau
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.
Winner of the 2014 Conde Nast Gold List award; 32-acre oceanfront hotel along the Kohala Coast; 540 guest rooms; golf and tennis; private beach; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu
Conde Nast Gold List award-winner; set 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.
Hapuna Beach Prince Resort at Mauna Kea Resort
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.
Hilo Naniloa Hotel
Short drive from the airport and Pacific Tsunami Museum; 265 guest rooms; golf course; beachfront property; pool; 11,000 sq. ft. of conference space.
Hilton Waikoloa Village
Beachfront property with onsite snorkeling; 1,241 guest rooms; protected lagoon with sea turtles; three freshwater pools; 235,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Five-minute drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; perfect for team building with smaller groups;16 guest rooms; restaurant; bar/lounge; spa tub; business center; meeting room fits 22 people.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel at Mauna Kea Resort
Recently completed $150 million renovation; 252 guest rooms; spa; 4,074 sq. ft. indoor meeting space; 43,000 sq. ft. outdoor meeting space.
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows
Beachfront property; Conde Nast Gold winner; 341 guest rooms; hammocks and private cabanas; snorkeling; Mauna Lani Spa; two championship golf courses; 18,000 sq. ft. of 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 iconic lava rocks of the Kona Coast overlooking Keauhou Bay; 519 guest rooms; weekly luau; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
Overlooks Anaehoomalu Bay; 555 guest rooms; sunset luau; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 24 meeting rooms and Naupaka Ballroom, which accommodates 1,300.
Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Winner of the Conde Nast Hot List award, located on a 1.2-mile oceanfront beach; 290 guest rooms; two restaurants, lounge and bar; 24-hour fitness center; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas
Located within 11 tropical acres on Kaanapali Beach; restaurant; two pools; reusable water bottles, with refilling stations; beach activity center; 260 condos; 5,773 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Fairmont Kea Lani
Winner Conde Nast Gold List award; 22 acres of beautiful tropical landscape; 450 guest rooms; two activity pools connected by 140-foot water-slide; 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Overlooks Wailea Beach; 380 guest rooms; opulent spa; three pools; swim-up bar; 27,500 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
Winner of the Travel & Leisure 500 award; 40 acres on Kaanapali Beach, walking distance to Whaler’s Village; 806 guest rooms; five restaurants, two pools;100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Set on Kaanapali Beach among tropical gardens; Hawaiian quilts, tropical furnishings and other local touches; 430 guest rooms; two restaurants; pool; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Montage Kapalua Bay
30 minutes from the airport; overlooks Kapalua Bay; 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 with 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
Situated on Kaanapali Beach, near legendary Black Rock, three 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
Winner of Conde Nast Gold List award; 463 guest rooms; spa offers treatments inspired by ancient Hawaiian traditions; two championship 18-hole golf courses; 208,408 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.