It may sound a bit odd to hear about an iconic Hawaiian resort hotel joining forces with a landmark Tokyo inn, but the two share top-flight status and hope to create synergy amid the global recession.
Effective Wednesday, Imperial Hotel, headquartered in Chiyoda Ward, will start reservations services and sales, marketing and public relations activities in Japan for Halekulani Corp., which operates the Waikiki luxury resorts Halekulani and Waikiki Parc Hotel.
Through the alliance, Halekulani is aiming to attract more Japanese customers while providing information about the Imperial to travelers in Hawaii, Chief Operating Officer Peter Shaindlin said.
The Halekulani resort, Hawaiian for “house befitting heaven,” has attracted travelers from around the world for almost a century.
Shaindlin said, however, the hotel on Oahu wants to further bolster its brand recognition in Japan.
“What we did not do was very deep public relations initiatives to strategically grow our brand in Japan,” Shaindlin told The Japan Times in a recent interview in Tokyo. “We relied very much on word of mouth.”
That may have been the most important marketing tool for luxury hotels decades ago, when there were fewer choices for travelers. But the times have changed, he said.
“Now everyone has more choices. So Hawaii has more competition” from the Maldives, Bali, Vietnam’s beaches, South Pacific islands and other locations, he said.
In addition to the severe competition, the recession is hitting the entire tourism industry hard. According to Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the state’s total number of visitors dropped 10.6 percent from a year earlier to 6.7 million in 2008.
With this new alliance, Shaindlin said the Imperial Hotel, which opened in 1890 and is the oldest Western-style hotel in Japan, will help Halekulani access its 53,000 Imperial Club members and many corporate clients. Roughly 50 percent of Halekulani’s guests come from Japan, he said.
They can also cooperate in the wedding business, for example, by offering a honeymoon at Halekulani to people who have their marriage ceremonies at the Imperial, he said.
“We believe the Imperial can provide a bridge to us,” he said.
As part of Halekulani’s PR efforts, Imperial Hotels in Tokyo and Osaka will host summer Hawaiian food events from July 1 to Aug. 31 using Halekulani’s assorted local recipes at their restaurants and demonstrate hula and other elements of Hawaiian culture in their lobbies.
Meanwhile, via the alliance, Halekulani can provide more information about Japan at a time when the nation is becoming an increasingly popular destination, he said.
“Many (American and European) guests at Halekulani wish to travel to Japan, but they are looking for our recommendation for what’s appropriate to their tastes and preferences,” he said.
Shaindlin said such synergy is effective because the two properties share many values, including long histories and reputations for hospitality. They are also smaller hotels aiming at personal services, unlike hotels run by big chains, he said.
They have capital ties with the same Japanese real estate company. Halekulani Corp. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsui Fudosan Co., the Imperial’s major shareholder at 33 percent.
Shaindlin said that with the alliance, both hoteliers hope their value stands out and they can survive the harsh business environment the industry faces worldwide this year.
“You will see some great hotels around the world fail, be bought and go bankrupt — whatever the case will be,” he said. “I see this year as an opportunity to reposition, redefine, market better and promote better than we ever have before.”