Maui's Most Exclusive Eco Adventure Tour

Maui's Most Exclusive Eco Adventure Tour

We at B on Hawaii put Maui Eco Adventures up on the stand to ask what makes them "Eco"--as well as why luxury travelers should use them when booking exclusive excursions. General Manager John White stepped up to the plate, and took a swing at selling us on why his operation is the best out there. After rounding the bases, we had a pretty clear idea of why the 7-year old company is where well-heeled hikers are turning.

B on Hawaii: What are some of the principals behind the business model that you all operate at Maui Eco Adventures"

John White: Essentially, we follow an ethos that says there are other hiking companies out there that are bigger, but we want to be the best. And we do so through our unique relationships that allow us to bring adventurers on to private lands, while still giving back to the environment.

B: How did those relationships come about?

JW: Jason Latas, our owner, partnered with Adam Quinn [no longer with the company] and started the operation as "Ritz Carlton Eco Tours" to be run solely out of Kapalua. While we are no longer based in Kapalua, we still co-market with the resort, and we are the only licensed activity partner on the resort's property.

Jason literally went out and found the land owners and worked out agreements by which we are able to bring clients on private land, via car or helicopter, and in return we pay them access and landing fees. High-profile clients like it, as there's no media or "gawkers" around. Plus it helps the land-owners greatly, while being a wonderful opportunity for our clients. This also lends to why we consider ourselves an "eco" company. Eco doesn't necessarily mean you're running all your cars on corn oil, which I wish we could. To us it means you are connected to the culture, and perpetuating it as best you can.

B: Can you tell us about one of those partners with whom you "perpetuate culture"?

JW: Sure, glad you asked. Jason met Oliver Dukelow, a multiple-generation land-owner in West Maui. His acres have been passed down throughout the family as long as there is written record in Hawaii, it's pretty amazing. Anyway, he lets us bring clients through his taro fields in Kahakuloa, and we do a little cultural tour explaining the importance of taro, to ancient Hawaiians as well as now. Oliver has been very happy with the relationship; in fact, he's been known to come out and give a little farming technique demonstration. He once let us put on this incredible luau on his property for a real special celebrity we had in.

B: What was that like? Is that where Keith really fell out of the coconut tree?

JW: Close, but no, it wasn't Keith Richards. We had this group that didn't want the 'Waikiki luau' experience. So we brought them up to Kahakuloa, and had them pulling weeds, digging imu pits to cook pig in and pounding poi--it was real hand's on. The guests loved it. We feasted at the end, and some of Oliver's farm hands played ukulele and entertained. It was amazing.

B: Whom, exactly, are your clients?

JW: We have a huge variety of program offerings, which include simple half-day hikes to waterfalls and swimming holes, to full day excursions that take people all over the island, in groups. So the range varies greatly. However, if you area asking specifically about our private group charters, they are a different story. We cater to actors and musicians, CEOs of banks, Fortune 100 companies and their families. We've actually seen a number of multi-generational families coming through as of late--grandparents with their kids and grandchildren--wanting a multi-day excursion. They are mostly from California or the Northeastern states. We also get our fair share of executives that are trying to impress their clients, who most likely come from another part of the world. People like to show off Maui and boast that it's part of the U.S.

B: Why, have you found, are these people choosing your operation?

JW: These types of clients pay for two things: The silver platter service, like fresh ground coffee in silver carafes served in the middle of the forest, and what we call the "ooh and aah factor." That's where those exclusive relationships with private land-owners come in handy. They see things that no one else on the islands gets to see. Ever.

B: How do you pick your guides? I know the talent pool in Hawaii isn't always the greatest, as far as customer service goes. How do you match guests with guides? And what about the communication with the A-listers prior to arrival?

JW: First off, it is not an easy business, pairing guides with clientele. But we do extensive personality studies, as much as we can get from a client's assistant, agent, or from them directly. It's time consuming, but well worth it.

When we have a month or so to go back and forth with a client's personal assistant or travel agent, which we usually do, we get in as deep as we can to find out what that client does and does not want to experience. We find out what their comfort levels are--do they like boats, helicopters or adventurous foods? And we take it from there.

B: Who does all your catering?

JW: We develop special menus with Island Catering, which is run by a former chef from the Ritz Carlton's Nui Nui Room restaurant. He's awesome. We then have a staff of 14, not including office people, who are out there coordinating efforts that are most often not ever seen by the client. It's a lot of work.

B: Who are some of the other operators you source?

JW: We use Sunshine Helicopters, as they're simply the most flexible, which we need. We make use of Island Star's mono-hull sailboat, which is perfect for a family of four that wants to arrange for a day-sail. They are treated like kings and queens when on board that vessel. The Teralani catamaran is better for groups of 30 or more, and we make use of them. We use Kapalua Dive for kayaking.

B: Tell us about a private excursion you recently organized.

JW: We took a family from Toronto, Canada, on a 5-day tour that included a full two days of rigorous adventure hiking. We took them to the Maui Ocean Center and to the Lavender Farm upcountry on mellower days, and worked in a limo tour of the galleries and shopping in Lahaina. There was a snorkel cruise and dolphin swim just for the family, and a helicopter trip to Lanai. Oh, and somewhere in there we had lobster mango rolls delivered to them mid-hike, for breakfast.

B: What did that run the Canadians--in U.S. dollars? What's the range of excursion pricing?

JW: That excursion cost about $9,000 for the entire family for 5 days. Our packages range from $1,300 to $15,000 for private groups or individual tours.

B: Are there any companies here in Hawaii that you try and emulate? Anyone who manages a similar program you greatly admire"

JW: In fact, we are very close with Hawaii Forest & Trail on the Big Island. They have a great program, and we admire them quite a bit. In fact, the award we won last year for "Hawaii Eco Tourism Operator of the Year" given by The State was won by HF&T this year. They deserve it.

B: Thanks for your time John, and best of luck.

JW: Thank you, B on Hawaii. Keep up the good work.

"We cater to actors and musicians, CEOs of banks, Fortune 100 companies and their families." –White