40-year-old Kauai resort goes upscale with reno project

On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the Sheraton Kaua’i Coconut Beach Resort is both new and mature at the same time. Built in 1978, the property has flown numerous flags from global companies over the years, from Holiday Inn to ResortQuest to Aston to Courtyard—twice. But in 2017 when KSL Capital acquired the property, at the time the Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach, the new owner wanted something distinct from what had been there before. 

“There was a demand on this part of the island for more of an upscale, full-service resort experience,” said Damon Lockrem, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. The resort is centrally located on the island’s east coast, equidistant to both the north and south shores, and Lockrem has seen increased interest from travelers in what Kauai has to offer. “The combination of people wanting to thrill seek and [go on] adventures along with reasonable airfare from the West Coast has drawn a lot of people to this area,” he said. “However, there was not a four-star product in this area. So with its popularity they felt very comfortable, very passionate about creating a four- to 4.5-star rating caliber resort experience, which is why we converted to a Sheraton.”

As part of the rebranding, KSL launched a $30 million redevelopment, tapping San Francisco-based design firm Gensler to oversee the project. “It was more of a remodel than just a renovation,” Lockrem said. “The resort has been transformed from top to bottom, every guestroom corridor and public space. We took the middle of our resort 4 feet down in the dirt and completely rebuilt it and reconfigured it—and rebranded it.” Gensler’s design, he said, was decidedly local. “You have ocean, which [is represented by] the color blue within our resort. There’s sandalwood, which is sand, and of course the green with our flora. Throughout the entire design is very strong accents of blue, green and sandalwood that all tie into the island.”

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To minimize disruption from tropical rains (ubiquitous across Hawaii), the middle of the property was lowered to install an improved drainage system that would get the grounds dry again as soon as the clouds moved on. At the same time, the pool in the courtyard area was doubled in size with a zero-entry edge.

Of all the improvements, Lockrem is most pleased with the steps the property took to attract guests for longer stays. “We went from a two-food-outlet experience to a four-outlet experience,” he said. The resort has a coffee and juice bar for guests who want to go explore first thing in the morning and a buffet breakfast restaurant for those who want to sleep in a little. A cocktail bar is in between the pool and the ocean, and the Moamoa Hawaiian Fish House serves fare from local farmers and fishmongers.

Challenge & Solution

The resort, which is managed by Davidson Hotels & Resorts, remained open during the 10 months of construction, which could have made for unhappy guests. The best way to minimize complaints about construction, Lockrem found, was to give guests a sense of what was in store. “We had a lot of creative assets developed to showcase what this resort was going to be,” he recalled. Guests could see what the finished product would look like, and understood the growing pains the resort was going through. “It really helps,” he said.

The hotel team, Lockrem added, “prepared very well for this renovation,” making sure there were no prebooked major events that would need to be moved. “We had zero group business that we had to relocate, so that was not an issue,” he said.

While many hotels that remain open during a construction project will close several floors around the work area to minimize noise and disruption, the Sheraton team went a step further. The hotel has five distinct wings, and only one was ever worked on at a time, ensuring that guests in the other four wings would experience minimal disruption. “It really eliminated any kind of noise or interruption,” Lockrem said. The rooms, meanwhile, were completed before construction began on any of the public spaces. 

Perhaps most significantly, in 2018, the hotel team came up with what it called a “hardhat special,” offering discounts through wholesale partners for guests seeking a better value. “There is a customer out there that looks for that,” Lockrem said. “They are only looking for a place to sleep while they [explore] the island. And we really put an emphasis on the adventure side of our island to show them that they can come and stay at a nice brand new room to sleep in ... So they are able to stay in a brand new room and explore the Island at a very discounted rate.”

Photo credit: Marriott International

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