Since wading into Waikiki’s tourism scene with a single 14-room hotel in 1948, Aston Hotels & Resorts has burgeoned into a Hawaii heavyweight with 24 condominium resorts, hotels, villas and cottages on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island.
To say that the hospitality industry icon is aggressively enhancing its portfolio is a bit of an understatement. Over the past five years, Aston has spread its wings to South Lake Tahoe, Lake Las Vegas and Orlando. Within the last year in Waikiki alone, the company debuted its first boutique hotel, upgraded all guestrooms at its flagship and introduced an exclusive 3-bedroom/4.5-bath penthouse suite on Kalakaua Avenue. And that’s all within a 2-block area.
On a recent visit to this legendary urban resort, we roll up to the company’s newest Oahu jewel. A block from Kalakaua and Waikiki Beach, the 9-story Hotel Renew by Aston is easy to miss since its low-key facade is void of flashy signage and a hectic porte cochere.
Placing a premium on personalized service, the hotel focuses on pillars to help guests reconnect, rejuvenate, reenergize, refill, replay and refresh. The latter emerges right off the bat with the chilled scented towel and cold tropical juice greeting that hits the spot after flying into and driving from Oahu’s Honolulu International Airport (HAL).
It’s pleasant to ease from Waikiki’s high-energy into this oasis of chill. Infused with a spirit of wellness by acclaimed San Francisco designer Jiun Ho, the eco-friendly retreat balances urban chic with coastal casual through natural elements of cool limestone, sandblasted oak woods and a monochromatic color palette.
“As the only designer boutique hotel in our portfolio, Hotel Renew by Aston allows us to reach a whole new market of travelers,” says Shari Chang, senior v.p. of sales, marketing and revenue. She notes that the 72-room property is an especially good fit for savvy travelers seeking a service-oriented experience and active guests wanting to explore the island.
Averaging 280-300 sq. ft., stylish guestrooms take full advantage of the space with clever storage nooks and crannies. Each is outfitted with a work station, sitting area, platform bed with high-count linens, 32-inch flat-screen TV, CD player with iPod docking station, laptop-friendly safe and Keurig coffee maker. Most add a furnished lanai for soaking in views of the Koolau Mountains, Waikiki or sparkling Pacific.
While Lounge Renew and its daily happy hour are among the limited onsite amenities, Club Renew remedies that with access to two neighboring resort swimming pools, a full-service fitness facility and Hawaiian-influenced boutique spa. A daily $25 amenity fee covers those membership perks plus property-wide WiFi access, continental breakfast, newspaper, weekly mixer with hosted cocktails, local/toll free telephone calls and mega-convenient mobile concierge accessible via cellphones and other handheld devices. The “replay” pillar kicks in with beach gear use and PlayStation 3 Blu-ray consoles with unlimited rentals from a lobby kiosk.
“We’re seeing really positive response to Club Renew and especially its mobile concierge,” says Chang. “The concept allows guests to arrange when they’d like their room cleaned, what time for the valet to bring their car around, and other requests in a private and efficient manner so they’re never inconvenienced.”
Also sporting a fresh contemporary cool attitude, the adjacent Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel has spruced up accommodations with earthy tones, new photography and storage spaces. Upgrades complement such existing conveniences as a flat-screen TV, mini-refrigerator and PlayStation 3 console. While 85 percent of its 645-room inventory feature full or partial ocean views, all provide a private lanai for gawking at the action that makes Waikiki such a hot destination.
A definite hit for its novelty and convenience, daily “Breakfast on the Beach” is akin to a mellow morning poolside party garnished with live music and hula dancing. While a nice mix of families,
seniors and couples graze in lounge chairs around the pool, those of us on-the-go pack our edibles into a complimentary tote and head straight to the sand. The generous buffet includes fruits, pastries, cereals, coffee and juices, plus a made-to-order station with hot items for a nominal fee.
A 2-block stroll away, the 70-room Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel is also garnering buzz with its new Royal Kai Lani Suite. “This is the only 3-bedroom/4.5-bath oceanfront suite right in the heart of Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue,” Chang says. The exclusive 2,900-sq.-ft. luxury retreat consumes the hotel’s entire 11th floor.
In the Hawaiian language, Kai Lani translates to “heavenly ocean.” The moniker couldn’t be more appropriate. Gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows that line a 160-sq.-ft. lanai, we feel a cool sensation of floating above the Pacific. The unobstructed ocean view floods into an open design living room that’s all about space and style.
Chang notes that the upscale haven’s gourmet kitchen, wraparound bar, roomy lanai and private bedrooms hit the mark for family getaways, romantic escapes and small catered receptions. Other high-end touches include a laundry room with full-size washer and dryer, 55-inch flat-screen TV, and master suite decked out with an entertainment center and jacuzzi tub in one of two master bathrooms.
Aston offers a bevy of discounts, packages and value-added incentives throughout the year. Your clients are privy to seasonal fourth or fifth night free offers at select properties, Kids Stay, Play & Eat FREE program, and complimentary Aston Aloha Book with more than $2,500 in savings on Hawaii dining, shopping and activities.
Aston’s Best Daily Rates are from $199 at Hotel Renew by Aston, $189 at Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel and $105 at Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel. The latter’s Royal Kai Lani Suite is priced from $799 nightly.
For super savings, a Prepay & Save option provides an additional 15 percent savings off Best Daily Rates at select properties for any advance purchase made on stays through June 12, 2014.
agent loyalty perks
It’s not only Aston’s inventory that’s receiving a boost these days. To help agents maximize earnings, the company has elevated its generous STARs Online Travel Agent Incentive Program (astonstars.com) with a revamped website for 24/7 access and easier tracking/reporting features. It also shines with a new marketing content section featuring downloadable brochures, flyers and customizable templates.
“STARs Online is the only program that offers points plus cash back bonuses,” Chang says. “And the fact that we allow ‘double dipping’ where agents can register their tour operator bookings as well notes how much we value their commitment to preferred partners.”
Supporting its philosophy that “you sell best what you know best,” Aston extends stay opportunities to agents via its STARs redemption program, eduVacation program and year-round travel agent rates.
“Without a doubt, travel agents have become—and will always be—one of our most valuable and important partners in delivering visitors to the Hawaiian Islands,” says Karen Hughes, v.p. of Meet Hawaii and Travel Industry Partnerships for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB). Reflecting that relevance, HVCB continues to encourage agents to enhance knowledge and resource access through Hawaii Destination Specialist accreditation. Details are available at hds.travelagentportal.net/home/home.aspx.
“Our incredible travel agent network believes in the Hawaii experience and does an amazing job advising their clients about the advantages of a Hawaiian Islands vacation,” Hughes says. “It’s a team effort to keep Hawaii in high demand, and travel agents play a key role in making sure that happens.”
Hughes mentions that recent hotel upgrades, refreshed public spaces, and an influx of new retail and dining gives agents an edge against the “been there, done that” attitude. “The transformations taking place in Waikiki each year continue to make it one of the most sought-after destinations on the planet,” she says.
Oahu’s diversity ups the ante. “The island’s town and country appeal is something many who visit Waikiki really enjoy,” says Hughes. “There’s an incredible energy and vibe you feel when walking along Waikiki’s streets and the ocean. But to also know that in 30 minutes you can be on the other side of the island in an even more relaxing environment is definitely a plus.”
With Hawaii’s popularity, Hughes—who began her career as a travel agent—advises to plan ahead for securing preferred air, hotel, ground transportation and activities. “Agents know their
customers best,” she says. “And one rule of thumb I was taught early in my career is to always ensure a customer buys air seats and hotels that offer an experience above their lifestyle when at home. No customer ever came back from a great vacation to
complain that the cost was too high.”
what to do in waikiki
A former playground for Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki today thrives as one of the world’s most recognized urban resort destinations. Framed by the Ala Wai Yacht Club, Kapiolani Park, Ala Wai Canal and Pacific Ocean, the compact area delivers a mother lode of diversions with appeal across the board.
While ocean recreation naturally rules, more passive clients can go hands-on with Royal Hawaiian Center’s cultural programs, meander amid Waikiki Aquarium’s reef life displays, and hop aboard the Waikiki Trolley to explore Oahu’s scenic eastern shore and Downtown Honolulu’s flurry of historic sites. Or they can simply sit in the shade and soak in the tropical ambiance.