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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:19 p.m., Sunday, December 30, 2007

Newly posh Maui Ritz-Carlton gives golfers sneak peek

By Ilima Loomis
The Maui News

KAPALUA — With dropcloths still lining newly carpeted hallways, and workers scrambling to move in furniture and apply a final coat of paint, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua opened its doors Friday for the PGA Mercedes-Benz Championship.

The resort opens to the general public Jan. 7.

An executive acknowledged that the resort's whirlwind six-month, $160 million makeover wasn't 100 percent complete but said The Ritz was still ready to greet its guests with a warm reception.

"We're not where we want to be," said Michael Masterson, director of sales and marketing. "But we're going to kill it with service."

While crews may still have to make a few finishing touches even as the PGA event gets under way, Masterson said he expected the work to be done by the time the hotel fully opens next month.

Most of the unfinished work is in the new wing of "residential suites," he added, which won't go on the market until mid-January.

The renovation that started in July involved a sweeping update of the 15-year-old resort's 445 guest rooms, lobby, fitness center, restaurants and public areas. A temporary spa will be in use until the remodeled spa reopens in May.

The conversion of one wing of rooms into 107 "residential suites" was among the major changes. Guests will now have the option of buying a one- or two-bedroom suite with full access to hotel services at a price tag ranging from $895,000 to $6 million.

Rooms for $8,000 a night

Nightly rates for the hotel's newly retooled guest rooms will range from $599 to $8,000, a full $200 increase over old rates.

That's head-and-shoulders above the average rate of $210 for a room on Maui, and $186 statewide.

The higher prices reflect the resort's plan to "reposition" itself for a more upscale market, Masterson said, shifting its focus from the merely wealthy, to the really, really wealthy.

Today's Ritz customer has an average household income of $200,000 per year and holds $1 million in assets not including the value of the family home (or homes), he said.

The demographic of that customer is shifting too, he added, from the stodgy, scotch-drinking businessman in his 50s or 60s, to the hip, beer-swigging Wall Streeter in his 30s.

"The hedge-fund managers of the world are all in their 30s and 40s, and they're the ones who have the income we're looking for," he said.

The resort approached its renovation with that demographic in mind.

No longer satisfied with high-thread-count sheets, bend-over-backward service and spa pampering, high-end visitors today also want "experiential travel," a taste of local culture, and accommodations that reflect a "sense of place," Masterson said.

"A wealthy person can go anywhere and get beach, palm trees and sun, but a lot of them are saying they want something more," he said.

Embracing Hawaiian culture

To that end, the resort has moved away from the Ritz's "cookie-cutter" Old World style, and redesigned its rooms and public areas with a Native Hawaiian motif, incorporating local art, images of significant native plants such as breadfruit and ti, and meaningful objects, like calabash bowls.

Hotel staff will be trained to explain the history, meaning and cultural significance of the items to guests.

"Everything is supposed to create a question for our guests to ask about," said the resort's cultural adviser Clifford Naeole, who consulted on design elements.

Spa workers will speak Hawaiian to guests, and use traditional Polynesian herbs and treatments.

Those 30-something hedge-fund managers are also more likely to travel with children, leading the resort to add more amenities for families with kids, including a selection of two-bedroom suites, a children's pool, and a mountain adventure center with zipline rides and hiking and biking trails, which will also be open to the general public. An environmental education center with activities for families is slated to open midyear.

But don't expect the Ritz's family-style makeover to go as far as some Wailea properties, where kid-friendly waterslides and pool playgrounds take center stage.

"We're not a water park," Masterson said.

Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.