In the rarefied world of uber-luxury resorts, $1,000+ nightly rates are de rigueur in season. Rooms, facilities, amenities, F&B, and guest services must be delivered flawlessly and all in perfect harmony. The GM tends to be more symphony conductor than hotelier in the traditional sense, as every member of the resort’s team hones their performance daily, knowing all too well the importance of delivering consistent, quality service.
Maui, recognized as the jewel in the Hawaiian archipelago, serves as ground zero for several examples of the world’s finest resort chains, notably Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria. A recent entry (opened mid-2014) by Montage provides a further refinement to the definition of the ultimate resort. Located at Kapalua Bay and next door to the Ritz-Carlton, the property comprises just 50 residences tucked into a larger residential complex.
All accommodations face the ocean with spectacular views of the property’s grounds and, in the distance, Molokai, the “Friendly Island” adjacent to Maui. Putting aside the details of my immaculate two-bedroom residence, my particular interest pertains to guest service and learning how exactly this property has mastered it in such a short breadth of time. To this end, I sat down with Richard Holtzman, Vice President and Managing Director of the Montage Kapalua Bay.
Tell me a little bit about the property. Montage Hotels and Resorts entered the scene in 2013 after acquiring the management of the former Residences at Kapalua Bay. Following a $15 million renovation, the resort began welcoming guests in June 2014. We wanted to create a destination that caters to the most discerning traveler while also establishing a sense of place that compliments the destination.
Throughout Montage Kapalua Bay, guests will find elements of the Hawaiian culture interweaved into our onsite experience – from our destination-inspired design and art collection featuring pieces by local artists, to our culinary offerings that take an innovative spin on classic local dishes and spa programming that graciously blends the aloha spirit with the latest wellness trends.
Montage competes in a very bespoke crowd. How do you differentiate yourself? To be mentioned in the same bracket as the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria is quite flattering. As a brand, our main differentiator is the level of personalized service. As a core value of the Montage experience, we empower our team with the knowledge, skills and passion to deliver an unrivaled style of intuitive service that has a lasting impact on our guests. We cater to all types of guests, and have specific programming and offerings that make our product great for family and multi-generational travel.
What extra touches do you create so that guests know they are at a Montage property? What stands out about Montage Kapalua Bay is our personal approach to coordinating these experiences. Through our extensive level of pre-arrival planning, our concierge team is equipped with recommendations on what to do, where to go and what to see before guests even set foot on property. Fluent on all things happening on Maui, our concierge carefully listens to guests’ needs and requests, and from that provides thoughtful recommendations on what to experience while on the island. We also have one of several Cultural Ambassadors on the island for guests hungry for Hawaiian authenticity – hula dancing, ukulele lessons and lei making, for instance – as well as each tradition’s deeper meaning. Guests are considered our ‘ohana’ or family.
F&B is a critical component to the luxury guest’s stay on property. What have you learned at other Montage properties and from your time on Hawaii that you utilized? Our chefs are extremely passionate about their craft and providing guests with an unforgettable dining experience. At our signature restaurant, Cane and Canoe, we are always evolving our menu to incorporate the latest seasonal ingredients and trends. Our chefs are also able to adapt to our guests’ unique culinary needs and desires. For example, if a guest has a special request for a dish that is not regularly on our menu, our chefs will work to create a specialty creation adapted to their specific needs.
Many properties in Hawaii rely heavily upon guests from Asia. How has Montage taken on the international guest and what are the plans to expand in this regard? We still focus on maximizing production from the United States and Canada, but we also seek opportunities to increase traffic from other international markets. Recently, we have been seeing a stronger focus from the Australia and New Zealand markets which are where we have been spending our time funding within our international efforts.
With only 50 residential-style accommodations, there is a strong advantage of being able to know all your guests and manage their needs. What are its disadvantages? We certainly have the advantage of building personal relationships with our guests and catering to their unique needs. With an all-residence product, one challenge is our entry-level nightly rates which are significantly higher than our comp set’s rates. To overcome this, we strive to properly educate luxury travel consumers and professionals on the value the residential-styled units provide. This is done by informing them on the unit’s size, amenities and services, in addition to the resort’s exclusive features such as its private beach club, award-winning spa, dining and more.
If you had to launch the property all over again, what would you do differently? From a developing standpoint, what I feel we should have done differently was to launch our signature restaurant at the same time. When the resort opened in 2014, Cane and Canoe was not open to guests until four months later. Although our all-day, in-residence dining and lunch venues, Hana Hou, Sunset Patio and Beach Club, were open from the beginning, it would have been great to have also gifted our first visitors with the opportunity to experience our local inspired upscale dining option.
Does the rise of the sharing economy create any concerns? Airbnb has developed a new niche in the hospitality market and it has been fascinating to watch it evolve. Despite its growing popularity, we have experienced minimal impact on our business, in that our guests seek out a high level of intuitive service that cannot be replicated in an Airbnb setting. Additionally, our residential-style accommodations allow guests to have the space and amenities that you will find in a normal residential rental but with the programming of an expansive resort. Thus, a guest of Montage Kapalua Bay has the best of both worlds!
By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.lma.ca)
One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited and the founder of LMA Communications Inc., an award-winning marketing agency based in Toronto. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry also sits on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes four books, “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015) and “The Llama is Inn” (2017). You can reach Larry at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss hotel business challenges, to inquire about his consulting services or to book speaking engagements.