'Inspired' changes at a refreshed Halekulani

As of this month, guests will once again move through the serene spaces of the Halekulani, lounge by its blue-tiled swimming pool and take to the House Without a Key to marvel at the spectacular Hawaiian sunset.

The renowned Waikiki resort has been closed since last spring as the pandemic set in, but its teams have not sat idle. The property itself underwent a refresh and, to hear Peter Shaindlin, the COO of the Halekulani Corp. explain it, a thoughtful one that incorporated property renovations, to be sure, but also guest enrichment.

“It’s the same lovable Halekulani, but it’s got a spark to it,” he said.

The renovation has extended down into rewiring the building to support all the ways guests want to digitally connect, a trend that has kicked into high gear during Covid when “contactless” became the new buzzword.

“It struck me a few months ago that the affluent traveler has always social distanced, even before Covid,” Shaindlin said. “A first-class seat. What’s the objective? You want space. Having a cabana at a pool. They want privacy. 

“What we found was with the renovation, yes, there is more demand for those services now that it gives them yet another option to not see anybody if they want to. They don’t even have to handle the hotel telephone.”

But at the same time, the Halekulani is leaning into its high-touch ways.

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Promoting ‘Inspired Living’

There will be new and different ways for guests to connect with the Halekulani, and with Hawaii. 

The Halekulani’s connections with cultural institutions have been able to take guests beyond the hotel’s porte cochere; they receive complimentary access to places like the Bishop Museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art and Iolani Palace. 

But as part of a new plan for premier suite guests called Inspired Living, maestros can now come straight to the guests’ suite. Take, for example, a partnership with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. “If you played an instrument, let’s say you play violin, we can arrange for a violinist from the symphony to come hang for an hour,” Shaindlin said. “You can talk music, or they can play for you, or you can play together.”

This isn’t just about fine arts, either; another example would be to head to the surf break just outside the hotel and take a surfing lesson with a waterman, a person with a deep connection to Hawaii’s waters. “They talk about how to reconnect with the sea,” Shaindlin said. “Not so much as a sport but a cultural pastime.”

More on the program will be announced in the coming weeks.

Light, bright colors

For the Halekulani’s redo, Shaindlin said that the Halekulani worked with a firm that has experience designing “unique, one-off” hotels. 

The refurbishment keeps several calling cards intact. One is its distinctive pitched roof, called a Dickey roof. Another is the continued use of light colors — “seven shades of white” is what it’s called — that contrast with the blues of the sea and sky and the greens of the grounds. The hotel said that elements of “warmth and texture” will be added, such as wood panels and cabinetry and textured wall coverings.

Another aspect of the hotel isn’t changing: Its open-air feel. Big lawns, shaded walkways and private lanais, coupled with the bright, neutral interior designs, contribute to the feeling of spaciousness, an aspect that guests may particularly prize in the age of Covid. 

Shaindlin also said that the hotel’s extensive collection of Hawaiian art has been catalogued, updated and re-curated — plus new artwork is being acquired — and the works will be tied to a QR reader where guests can access the description and history of the pieces. 

Return of House Without a Key

Meanwhile, the House Without a Key restaurant will reopen for entertainment and limited beverages and appetizers on Fridays and Saturdays, with some new touches (the full restaurant reopens Nov. 23).

Aside from the stunning views, the alfresco, oceanfront lounge and venue for live Hawaiian music, dining and cocktails is an excellent place for visitors who aren’t guests of the hotel to partake in the Halekulani’s hospitality.

Shaded bar seating has been added, along with an exhibition-style glass kitchen and new, contemporary furnishings.

House Without a Key is also at work on a new cocktail program, but classics like the signature Mai Tai will remain. 

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