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Hawaii hotels offer big discounts and cool incentives to stay afloat

WITH tourism in the dumps, Hawaii hotels are offering unprecedented discounts, freebies and other incentives in hopes of drawing tourists to the islands and surviving the economic slump.

The wide range of perks include free nights, rental cars, upgraded rooms, two-for-one activities, daily breakfast, a round of golf, free parking, spa treatments and discounted luau tickets. However, some are getting even more creative, offering everything from the use of a US$200,000 Bentley convertible to a Nintendo Wii.

Hawaii prefers using the phrase "adding value." But truth is, it's getting down right cheap to stay here with only two thirds of hotel rooms booked.

"It's the steepest discounts we've seen since we started tracking the industry," said Joseph Toy, president and chief executive of Hospitality Advisors LLC, a hotel-industry consultant. "Now we see a combination of incentives plus direct room discounts, and that we haven't seen in combination," showing just how dramatically "demand has fallen."

Hawaii's average daily room rate in the first quarter fell 12.4 percent to US$189, resulting in a 23.1 percent drop in revenues for hotels statewide, according to Hospitality Advisors. Throw in the incentives, such as free breakfast, and the deals have never been better.

Every hotel has offers on its Websites or through travel agencies. The industry is being forced to ante up because fewer tourists are coming to Hawaii. And the ones who do make it here, are spending less.

Toy said the incentives were being offered as early as 2007 and the offers accelerated last year. They are now standard. Hotels prefer incentives instead of discounting the room rate, because once they drop rates, it's hard to bring them back up.

"The incentives can only work for so long. If the downturn is so steep and dramatic, as it is here, then you start to see the rate go down," Toy said. "Now you're seeing tremendous value in the market."

Here are some of the more interesting deals:

The Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki has a "Wii Are Family Package," which includes unlimited use of a Nintendo Wii in the room, free parking, in-room microwave and complimentary popcorn for US$149 a night (offer good through December 19).

John Lopianetzky, general manager of the hotel, said with free in-room entertainment, the package is "so affordable that guests will find their money will go farther on other activities."

On the other hand, most guests probably don't come to Hawaii to play video games and watch movies, though it does rain here on occasion.

Luxury vehicle with suite booking

The Halekulani, one of the finest properties in Waikiki, pampers hundreds of women every day at its spa. Now it has something for the guys with an "Art In Motion" package, which offers the use of a Maserati Gran Turismo, Bentley Continental GTC, Lotus Elise or Lotus Exige S.

The vehicles are included by booking one of Halekulani's premier suites, which includes the Royal Suite, Vera Wang Suite or the Orchid Suite. They run about US$7,000 a night. Speeding tickets are not covered.

Guests staying in the standard guest rooms can also order the cars by the day if available. The rates run from US$250 for the Lotus Elise to US$995 for the Bentley.

Don't want to drive? The Bentley and Maserati are offered with the option of a chauffeur.

Peter Shaindlin, chief operating officer of the Halekulani Corp, said Halekulani "appeals to the style, sensibility and needs of the globally affluent."

"It is only befitting that Halekulani offer the world's finest automobiles, whose global brands exude a comparable passion for excellence as reflected in their superior technology, style and innovation," he said.

The Hilton is giving away money in its "50 Years of Aloha" special, offered through December 20 at all four Hilton properties in Hawaii: Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki, Doubletree Alana Hotel Waikiki and Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on Maui.

The deal marks Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood. It includes a US$50 resort credit, a fifth night at US$50 and for coin collectors, a "keepsake memento" of two commemorative 2009 Hawaii quarters. Approximate value of two quarters: 50 US cents.

Cars and coins not your thing? The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island is offering a US$1,000 resort credit to be used for anything that can be charged to the room. The minimum stay is four nights and the deal is good from May 13 to July 31 and August 15 to September 30.

The only catch is that rooms start at US$725 a night. It is, after all, just one of three hotels in the state and 109 nationally given the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award.

The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas on Kauai has a special starting rate from US$312 a night, which includes two-for-one surfing lessons, fifth night free and a US$50 daily resort credit. The deal must be booked by May 31 for travel through December 25.

In this market, it seems everyone is looking for a bailout. So Aston Hotels & Resorts is offering a "Vacation Bailout" special, with 40-percent discounts at its 25 properties statewide, for travel between June 12 and December 21.

Prices run as low as US$88 a night at the Aston Maui Lu in West Maui or US$90 a night at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel.

Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, said hotels are just trying to stay afloat financially, keep people working and fill airplanes.

This all adds up to a great time to travel.

"There are truly deals to be had," said Towill.


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