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Outrigger’s Next Move

As Outrigger Resorts & Hotels celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the Honolulu-based luxury hotel chain is “focused on looking forward,” Outrigger Hospitality Group President and CEO Jeff Wagoner told Pacific Business News.

“[We are] continuously investing heavily in our people and our product to build brand value and provide a barefoot luxury experience that’s rooted in the culture of the location and shared with heartfelt hospitality,” Wagoner said.

Over the last two years, Outrigger has completed a comprehensive brand elevation and revitalization, acquired global resorts, and finalized multi-million dollar renovations at its local properties. Looking ahead, the company has earmarked $250 million for renovations at Ohana Waikiki East and Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa, has plans to open Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman at Outrigger Reef this June, and has developments actively underway — all in alignment with its corporate mission of being “the premier beach resort company in the world.”

“Outrigger’s development pipeline across Oceania, Asia Pacific and our home state of Hawaii is robust and we look forward to sharing some announcements soon,” Wagoner said. “We’ll also be communicating some exciting updates to our culinary offerings and entertainment spaces in 2023.”

Wagoner joined Outrigger as its president and CEO in 2018. He previously served as executive vice president of hotel operations for Trump Hotels, and prior to that, was president of Wyndham Hotel Group Management.

“For the last five years, every day at Outrigger has been a great adventure,” Wagoner said. “Even in the most challenging times, I’m surrounded by a team of incredible professionals who inspire me to lead with intention and integrity. Outrigger hosts are the heartbeat of our company and I’m honored to work alongside them to serve our guests and community.”

What qualities make an Outrigger resort?

Outrigger has 15 resorts and hotels across five destinations — Hawaii, Thailand, Fiji, Mauritius and the Maldives. Each Outrigger Resort consists of five elements or “brand pillars,” according to Outrigger Hospitality Group Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Sean Dee. This includes a beach location, a beach bar, an authentic live music experience, signature experiences and a commitment to conservation.

The hotel chain’s properties are found in beach towns amidst “cultures formed by their connection to the ocean,” Dee said, adding that the beach bars offer traditional local entertainment such as bands and DJ’s and serve as a location where guests and locals can come together to connect. It represents the “soundtrack to barefoot dancing and breathtaking sunsets,” he said.

Outrigger’s corporate compass — coined “The Outrigger Way” — was established 30 years ago and is defined by a mission of “caring for each other, caring for our guests, caring for our place with our values as our guide.”

“[The Outrigger Way] is a guide and is expressed in ways that embrace and celebrate the culture in each country where we do business,” Dee said.

Brand revitalization and elevation

In January, the hotel chain announced it had completed a two-year-long brand evolution project”, which involved changes to its name, icon, website and color palette. The goal of this initiative was to deliver a more cohesive message across all of Outrigger’s platforms, according to Dee.

The company changed its corporate name from Outrigger Hotels & Resorts to Outrigger Resorts & Hotels to “signify its focus on premium properties,” as previously reported by PBN. Outrigger also changed the name of Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger to Outrigger Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel. The new Outrigger icon symbolizes the sun resting on an ocean wave and the brand’s new color palette is inspired by colors from the sea, sand and sky, according to an announcement from Outrigger at the time.

Outrigger also incorporated a multi-million dollar technology stack into its rebranding, and launched a revamped website that features new imagery of its hosts, guests and the places it operates. The new website “brings to life Outrigger’s premier beach resort product in digital format,” Dee said. “Our elevated brand positioning invites guests to, ‘Come be here,’ for an authentic, iconic, lively, caring and playful experience.”

Multi-million dollar local renovations

Outrigger Hospitality Group’s flagship beachfront resort located in the heart of Waikiki, Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, unveiled an $80 million renovation. Following its closure in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it reopened in April 2021 with upgrades to guest rooms and suites, poolside enhancements, and more. The upgraded resort “celebrates the fusion of authentic Hawaiian culture and barefoot luxury,” Dee said.

“During every step of this renovation, Outrigger worked closely with top designers and Native Hawaiians to pay homage to its rich Hawaiian roots,” he said. “The property is reimagined with a focus on culture, sustainability, art and elevated hospitality.”

As part of the ongoing renovations, Outrigger Reef reimagined its Kani Ka Pila Grille — a 15-year-old poolside restaurant that offers Hawaiian cuisine and music performances — with a larger stage, more outdoor seating and a new menu.

In March 2022, Outrigger Reef made public its new A‘o Cultural Center, a revamped Herb Kane Lounge and new artwork throughout the resort. The A‘o Cultural Center offers Hawaiian cultural activities to guests like hula and ukulele lessons. The Herb Kane Lounge — named to honor the late artist and founding member of Polynesian Voyaging Society Herb Kawainui Kane — now features an open-concept design and updated artwork. Outrigger introduced a 30-foot mural by Hawaii artist Kamea Hadar of a traditional sailing canoe being crewed by keiki as well as an intricate woven sculpture of the Hawaiian Islands by fiber artist Marques Hanalei Marzan which stretches across the Herb Kane Lounge.

Outrigger also unveiled a $35 million modernization to Outrigger Waikiki Beachcomber in April 2019. This transformation featured 498 freshly designed guest rooms with upgrades to in-room technology, an all-new lobby, and renewed public spaces, such as the pool deck, meeting areas, corridors, elevators and more.

Located on Kalakaua Avenue, across from the Royal Hawaiian Center, the Waikiki Beachcomber is Hawaii’s first “craft hotel,” an Outrigger term to signify that the resort features several craft outposts including Hawaiian Aroma Caffe and Maui Brewing Company, according to Dee. Hawaiian Aroma Caffe is “one of the most Instagrammed coffee shops on Oahu,” Dee said, noting that it is also home to the free, monthly art series, Terrace of Modern Art. Maui Brewing Co. serves “authentic Hawaiian craft beer and made-from-scratch foods sourced with local ingredients” he said.

As part of the resort’s renovation, a group of 13 artists and influencers called “The Beachcomber Originals” created personal artwork to be featured throughout the hotel. From surf photographer Zak Noyle to Hawaiian artist Marques Marzan and slack-key guitarist Makana, they worked – and are continuing to work with – Outrigger to “create a one-of-a-kind experience that speaks to the sights, sounds and tastes uniquely Hawaii,” Dee said.

Global expansion and acquisitions

Five beach resorts have been added to the Outrigger portfolio since 2021: the Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa on Hawaii Island, the Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort in the Maldives and Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort, Outrigger Surin Beach Resort and Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort in Thailand.

In July 2021, Outrigger Hospitality Group announced it had acquired three beach resorts in Thailand with a plan to refresh each property before reopening them. It purchased the Manathai Hotels and Resorts brand, which comprised three properties in southern Thailand: Manathai Koh Samui, Manathai Khao Lak and Manathai Surin Phuket. Altogether, the hotels have a total of 372 rooms, as previously reported by PBN.

A week later, Outrigger Hospitality Group announced it was resuming plans to acquire the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. Outrigger first announced its plans to purchase the property in 2020 but had to put a hold on the acquisition due to the pandemic. The resort has 509 guest rooms across 22 acres, PBN reported at the time.

In March 2022, Outrigger Hospitality Group finalized its acquisition of Maafushivaru Resort, a five-star resort in the Maldives, and renamed it as Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort. The property is located on a private island in the South Ari Atoll region, and is comprised of 81 luxury villas, including beach, pool and duplex units, as well as overwater bungalows, as previously reported by PBN.

In Outrigger’s global expansion, the team has sought out beach destinations where Outrigger has a connection, market insights or a competitive advantage, Dee noted.

“We prioritize opportunities in markets and locations where Outrigger has high brand awareness, past record of operating success, and high source market overlap with the existing portfolio.”

Outrigger Zone

In Outrigger’s approach to conservation everyone plays a role, with guests and hosts planting coral in Fiji, Mauritius and the Maldives as part of Outrigger’s global conservation program called Outrigger Zone or “Ozone.” The goal of Outrigger Zone is to increase sustainable tourism. Since 2014, Outrigger has preserved, planted and protected more than 100 football fields worth of coral reef fronting its properties, according to Monica Salter, vice president of global communications and social responsibility.

“In post-stay reviews, Tripadvisor and social media comments — we have seen that there is an appreciation for Outrigger’s conservation efforts and that this is a factor in the high number of return guests,” Salter said.

In July 2022, Outrigger presented a new outline for its environmental, social and governance initiatives across all Outrigger Resorts & Hotels with programmatic approaches and specific key performance indicators connected to 23 initiatives. Outrigger recently achieved Green Seal certification for most of its properties in Hawaii as well as Fiji, making Outrigger the first hospitality brand to pursue certification in Hawaii and outside of the U.S., according to Salter. The Green Seal certification mark, given by nonprofit Green Seal, is a symbol that a product or service meets a high benchmark of health and environmental leadership, according to Green Seal’s website.

Outrigger also recently signed a Climate Coalition Pledge committing the company to tracking its carbon emissions each year and developing a reduction plan. The company has also led initiatives to promote reef-safe sunscreen to its guests and introduced kids clubs to teach keiki about the oceans and coral reefs. Throughout its properties, the hotel chain incorporates sustainability themes, such as Ethan Estess’ 30 foot mural of Diamond Head, which is made from reclaimed plastic fishing-industry rope that washed up on the shores of Hawaii, Salter said.

“As a ‘toes-in-the-sand brand’ our link to the ocean is unbreakable,” she added.

On the horizon

The company is investing $250 million in property renovations at Ohana Waikiki East and Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa, as well as capital renovation investment at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort. Once renovations are of Ohana Waikiki East are completed in 2024, the resort will also be rebranded and named Outrigger’s second craft hotel, Dee said.

On June 1, Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, led by Chef Peter Merriman, one of the founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, will open at Outrigger Reef. The restaurant will partner with local artists and craftsmen and use local materials to bring the space to life, according to Dee.

“Having Monkeypod Kitchen anchor the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort will complete the transformation and make it a must-visit destination,” he said. “… It will be the beachfront anchor for the property.”

Outrigger is also soon re-launching its Surfers In Residence platform, hosted by Tammy Moniz and featuring professional surfers and their families as guests. Past surfers in residence include Carissa Moore and Kelly Slater. The re-launch will kick off with Luke Shepardson, winner of the 2023 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, according to Dee.

Outrigger is actively exploring opportunities for new acquisitions — which would typically involve major renovations, Dee said. The company is targeting three different parts of the world: The Americas, Australia, and Asia Pacific, and is continuing to explore expansion opportunities in the Maldives and Thailand as well.

Outrigger had a strong presence in the Australia market for years, and at one point in time, had around 17 properties in Australia. While the luxury hotel chain still has a small sales team based in the country, it has not been in the market for about eight years — most recently having properties in Australia in 2015.

“We’re looking actively at Australia; we’re looking actively on the Mainland; and we’re also looking very actively in Hawaii,” Dee said. “… We’re really excited about the future opportunity for us to deepen our long and strong ties to [Hawaii].”