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Aqua seeks to broaden Hawaii’s appeal
January 24 2013

Hawaii’s position as a diverse market drove Aqua Hospitality’s decision to restructure the company into three brands, according to President and CEO Ben Rafter.

  • “You’re going to see a big push from us to broaden the appeal of Hawaii,” said Aqua’s President and CEO Ben Rafter.
  • To cater to what the wide variety of travelers are looking for in a hotel product, Aqua executives decided to split its 24-property portfolio into three different brands.
  • “We expect to add (hotels) both in Hawaii and in the mainland this year,” Rafter said.

HONOLULU—Hawaii’s growing appeal among a range of demographic profiles was a driving force behind the restructuring of Aqua Hospitality, according to President and CEO Ben Rafter.

Executives of the company formerly known as Aqua Hotels and Resorts took note of the increasingly diverse audience entering the market and realized there was an opportunity to gain market share, Rafter said.

Historically, Hawaii has been more popular among the 45 to 64 age group and honeymooners, Rafter said. However, the market is now seeing its share of younger travelers looking for experiences instead of just a standard hotel room, he said.

Ben Rafter
Aqua Hospitality

To cater to what the wide variety of travelers are looking for in a hotel product, Aqua opted to split itself into three different brands, Rafter said. Previously, Aqua’s 24 hotels were all under the Aqua Hotels and Resorts umbrella.

Now, three brands cater to different lifestyles. The Monogram Hotel Collection is a group of luxury properties geared to highly personalized and specific desires; the Aqua Hotels and Resorts brand is a stylish, mid-market brand; and the Lite Hotels product is a collection of economy hotels for more budget-minded travelers.

“You’re going to see a big push from us to broaden the appeal of Hawaii, and the (Hawaii Tourism Authority) and the (Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau) have done a great job of building a foundation,” he said.

The associations have worked on marketing the destination as the ideal location for all travelers, and Aqua is building on that, Rafter said.

“I can’t think of another market with such (diversity) … We’re trying to broaden the appeal from the age perspective and then from the demographic, so somebody from Australia and Canada can feel at home as much as someone from (Los Angeles),” he added.

Investing in the company
The process of restructuring the company and creating the new brands is one that has been ongoing for the better part of a year, Rafter said.

“To grow any company, you have to continue to reinvest in it,” he said.

When the company announced its plans earlier this month to restructure, executives said they planned to complete $55 million of renovations in 2013 for several properties. Since that announcement, the amount of capital the company plans to put into properties already has increased, Rafter said. He was unable to detail by how much.

Rafter said the improvements range from full renovations to lobby enhancements to restaurant spaces. “We’ve got to keep the products fresh.”

Financing for the property renovations is coming from various sources, he said.

In addition to improving the company’s properties, Aqua also is partnering with local restaurants and farmers to offer farm-fresh foods at its hotels. This is in response to the demographic shifts, Rafter said. It will cater to the consumers who want to buy more into an experience rather than a product.

Plans for expansion
As for expanding its portfolio, Aqua will be growing in 2013, Rafter said. “We expect to add (hotels) both in Hawaii and in the mainland this year.”

The company already has a handful of deals in the works, Rafter said

With the new classification of its properties into the three brands, the opportunity for expansion is greater, he said. “There’s a lot of activity that we’re looking at really for all three (brands). … As we continue to grow, (there are) definitely a lot of opportunities for Monogram and Aqua.”


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