Kahala Resort, Under The Knife, Prefers To Stay Out Of The Spotlight...For Now

There hasn't been a whole lot of news coming from The Kahala Hotel since the owners injected their own management team, which has been steadily growing over the past two and a half months since Mandarin officially fled the scene. We at B on Hawaii hadn't heard much of anything, all but a few grumblings, so we decided to investigate and see if anything interesting was brewing at the other end of Kahala Avenue.

Initial calls to incumbent managing director John Blanco were not returned. However, within minutes of hanging up with Blanco's voicemail, a speedy reply from the hotel's recently hired public relations firm, Sheila Donnelly and Associates, came through via email. We all know how quickly things generally don't move here in Hawaii, thus tempting further investigation.

It was widely reported throughout the local media at the close of 2005 that the new owners of the then Kahala Mandarin Oriental Resort Kahala Hotel Investors LLC, which is heavily backed by hotel real estate developer Trinity Investments LLC were having a hard time coming to an agreement with the Mandarin Oriental Group over management tactics of the 364-room hotel.

An inside source leaked to B on Hawaii that the breakdown came in the form of design styles to be chosen for the desperately needed renovation of guest rooms and common areas. The hotel had not been refurbished since 1996, when the majority of guests were coming from Asia. Since that time, the hotel has been mostly supported by the same demographic, yet an increasing California (Hollywood, to be specific) heavy contingency has been donating heavily to the electric and water bills. Our source tells us that the new owners wanted to re-design in the style of the popular Four Seasons brand modern, sleek, minimalist while the Mandarin Group preferred the current Asian styling, which happens to work well in Hawaii, as well as aides in the comfort of said Asian clientele.

All we know beyond this disagreement was that as of March 1, all people and things Mandarin Oriental-affiliated fled for the hills, leaving behind not only their only Hawaii outpost, but a rather stunned skeleton staff and shell of hotel. If we may interject at this time, B on Hawaii has never heard much in the way of service that matches the price point for room rates at the Kahala resort something that surely weighed in heavily as far as Mandarin's pull-out was concerned; the hotel company is known worldwide for impeccable service and operations. The same was rarely uttered about this location.

So, the question remains: Can the new management team pull together and present Hawaii with a luxury hotel to rival the Halekulani, anchored far at the other end of Waikiki" It will be a long, long road. "We intend to give them a run for their money," was a quote heard recently from a senior sales member. We shall see.

A start might be a comment to the local media, which unfortunately the management team was unwilling to make at this time. A Sheila Donnelly representative did offer the following statement: "John Blanco, managing director, just hit the ground in February with the new management team under Landmark. Unfortunately, his team is cleaning up (a lot more than they imagined) after the previous management company split on March 1. They are also are trying to nail down a plan for improvements for the next year."

Among those plans we have learned that Hoku's restaurant has just began refurbishment, and is scheduled to be completed on June 23. We were also leaked that Sharon Klaschka, former director of leisure sales at Maui's Fairmont Kea Lani a fantastically run Hawaii property has recently come on board to spearhead the sales team. Perhaps Klaschka can take some of the success she had at the Kea Lani and breathe some life in to the seemingly empty yet very aesthetically promising shell that is the current Kahala Hotel & Resort.



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