On Oahu, visitors find laid back coastal surf towns with a crescendo of waves setting the soundtrack juxtaposed with the cosmopolitan bustle of Honolulu. Nicknamed the Garden Isle because of the emerald valleys that blanket it, Kauai is beloved for its rugged beauty—a place where serrated mountains slice into the clouds. On the Big Island, Hawaii is known as paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country. And throughout the Pacific waters, humpback whales make cameos when they migrate and sea turtles play peek-a-boo with snorkelers.
Hawaii’s environment—the land, the ocean, the flora and fauna—is a large part of what makes it such a special place to visit. So, when COVID-19 swept the globe and the pause button was pressed on travel, tourism officials began to reimagine what visitation to the islands would look like in the future, and they saw an opportunity for travelers to better connect with the land.
Now, as groups return to Hawaii, they’re encouraged to connect with the destination in a more meaningful way through voluntourism. The idea here? Your relationship with the island is even stronger when you malama, or give back, explained John Reyes, Senior Vice President and Chief MCI Sales Officer, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Opportunities through the Malama Hawaii Program include helping restore native Hawaiian fishponds, working with the Pacific Whale Foundation to clean up the coastline, and, on Oahu, helping to rehabilitate the world’s most famous battleships, Missouri Memorial.
These types of volunteer opportunities are great for meetings and incentives groups because it allows for teambuilding, and the combined efforts of a group can make a big impact.
While Hawaii had some of the most comprehensive COVID restrictions in the United States, and was among the last destinations to lift them, there are no longer any pandemic-related requirements for domestic travelers. The islands have almost rebounded completely from pre-pandemic levels as tourism boards communicate that Hawaii is open for business, welcomes visitors and encourages guests to be a part of its volunteer programs.
A total of 900,800 visitors traveled to the Hawaiian islands in March 2023, the most recent figures available, which is a 14% increase from March 2022, according to figures from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). It’s also a 97% recovery in total visitors arrival when compared to pre-pandemic visitation in March 2019.
Some travel trends are culminating to help travel bounce back on the Hawaiian Islands. After Maui starred on HBO’s series “The White Lotus,” the islands experienced a “set-jetting” trend—visitors who saw the island beauty on their television screens while cooped up during COVID and now are arriving on the islands to experience them in real life.
On top of all that, the chain of islands in the Pacific don’t require a passport for U.S. travelers, yet feels a world away.
“When you go to Hawaii, you feel like you’re going to someplace extra special,” Reyes said. “It’s like an international trip, but contained within the United States.”
Meeting planners also have their pick of islands, each with their own distinctive personalities but thread together with a palpable Aloha spirit.
Hawaii is a favorite for incentive winners, said Vicki Kern, Vice President of Global Sourcing and Proposal Development with JNR Incorporated.
“With a variety of islands, incredible hotels, exquisite beaches, and fabulous weather year-round, guests feel rewarded and appreciated,” she said. “Add the wide array of activities, an unrivaled selection of fresh dining options, and inviting cultural experiences all delivered with the famous Aloha spirit, programs to Hawaii are a guaranteed success.”
Ahead, a spotlight on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii, including what to see and do, where to stay, and more.
Why Visit the Hawaiian Islands?
Surf’s Up!: Groups can learn to surf at The LineUp at Wai Kai, Hawaii's first stationary deep-water, big-turn surf wave powered by Citywave along with water-based recreational activities at the adjacent 52-acre Wai Kai Lagoon. The LineUp has food options for groups of 20 people to a full buyout for a private event of up to 750 people. It’s fast becoming a popular activity for incentive and team building events.
Easy Landing: A multi-billion-dollar renovation at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu, which is the largest airport serving the islands, is underway. Some of the improvements that have been debuted included an extension to the Mauka Concourse and a consolidated rental car facility brought 10 rental car facilities to one location.
Voluntourism: Mālama Hawaiʻi Program makes it seamless for groups to enjoy a meaningful trip that gives back.
Celebrate Culture: To give tourists meaningful experiences, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is building up a “Community Enrichment and Signature Events” programs to diversify tourism in niche areas like agriculture, culture, culinary, education, health and wellness, nature and sports and perpetuate Hawaiian culture by honoring its people and traditions.
Farm Fresh: Turtle Bay Resort’s Kuilima Farm produces hundreds of pounds of produce for the resort and also supports community garden plots and a roadside farm stand selling macadamia nut banana bread and sweet and juicy Kahuku watermelon.
Though it is Hawaii's third largest island, Oahu is home to most of the islands' population. Aptly known as "The Gathering Place," Oahu is a blend of East and West cultures, with deep roots in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiians.
From bustling city life in Honolulu and famed Waikiki Beach, which was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty; to surf towns and farm-fresh produce on the North Shore; to the quiet coastline of the Leeward Coast and lush landscapes throughout the island, the diverse island suits all kinds of definitions of paradise.
Kaka'ako Mural Art Walk
Murals are popping up all across the U.S., and Hawaii is no different. Oahu embraces the street art community by hosting the WOW!POW! Worldwide Mural Festival. The artwork created by artists from all over the world over the course of more than a week lingers. One place to see the Instagram-worthy art is in the hip, bustling Kakaa'ko neighborhood. Take your group on a guided walk to learn the stories behind the images.
Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and the only royal palace on U.S. soil. It is within this palace that the king and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, entertained with balls and hula performances. The brother and sister were Hawaii's last reigning monarchs, and in fact the queen was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of the palace for nearly eight months after the monarchy was overthrown. Once the site of the state capital, the palace was restored to its original grandeur in the 1970s.
You simply cannot visit Hawaii without seeing a waterfall. And on Oahu, one that is easy to get to and hard to forget is Manoa Falls, about 15 minutes from Waikiki. The 150-foot cascade plummets through a dense rainforest that set the scene for the original "Jurassic Park" and the TV show "Lost." The trail head is within the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve and is a terrific way to stretch your legs.
E Ala E
One of the most magical, authentic experiences you can have in Hawaii and on Oahu is to participate in an E aAla E ceremony. Held beachfront at sunrise, a Hawaiian cultural advisor will guide your group through the ceremony. As you walk into the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, facing the rising sun, your guide will lead an oli, or chant, that welcomes the opportunities of a new day.
Longboards and Lagers
When the meetings are over, take a page out of the locals' book: go surfing, and then hit a local brewery for happy hour. The waves at Waikiki Beach are ideal for beginning surfers to take lessons, and challenging enough for the more experienced. After, take a 15-minute walk to the Waikiki Brewing Company and talk about the wave that got away over locally crafted beer and great food.
Take a peek into the undersea world with this special Hawaiian, family-owned outfitter. Not only will guests go on a unique snorkeling adventure amongst coral reefs teeming with marine life like sea turtles and colorful fish, and dolphin sightings, too. The family also shares its deep-rooted culture and genuine hospitality with their guests.
The story of the Hawaiian heirloom ko, or sugar cane, comes to life as guests can tour and taste the rum made onsite: K Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum. Afterwards, enjoy a meal in an intimate setting that caters to smaller groups.
Make a splash with your group by hosting an event at the #1 most sought-after venue in all of Hawaii: aboard the historic Battleship USS Missouri. The massive ship has four venues at which to host your event, from the expansive Fantail overlooking Pearl Harbor, to the intimate Captain's Cabin, take a step back in time to the simple elegance of the 1940s.
An event hosted at the 4,000 acre nature retreat is sure to be epic. After all, more than 50 Hollywood blockbuster movies and TV shows were filmed in the lush landscape, including some of Elvis Presley's classics and "Jurassic Park."
STAY / MEET
Honolulu is home to two ALHI properties: Halekulani and Prince Waikiki. On the quieter side and on the North Shore is Turtle Bay Resort, about an hour from Daniel K.Inouye International Airport (HNL).
Once you step onto the grounds of the Halekulani, you will instantly realize its meaning in Hawaiian: "house befitting heaven." Located on a piece of land that has welcomed guests since 1883, the original Halekulani began as a residential hotel with a beachfront home and a handful of bungalows. Today, the hotel features 453 guest rooms, five event rooms that can accommodate up to 500 guests, and myriad dining choices, including House Without A Key, an indoor-outdoor dining and gathering spot boasting a 130-plus year old kiawe tree and views of Diamond Head.
When business has wrapped up for the day, your guests will make a beeline for their guest rooms. Why? Each of the 563 rooms and suites at Prince Waikiki has floor to ceiling windows that face the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and Pacific Ocean, making for spectacular views all around. When it is time to go back to work, the hotel's 39,708 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space can be arranged to fit your needs, and will inspire your guests.
On the opposite side of the island from Honolulu is the newly renovated Turtle Bay Resort, perched on a point on the North Shore with nothing but Pacific Ocean views for miles. The resort's 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting spaces can host as many as 2,000 guests, or pared down for more intimate groups. Every guest room, villa and cottage have ocean views, and you simply cannot miss the sun dipping into the ocean, mai tai in hand, at The Sunset Pool Bar. For team building fun, learn about Hawaiian-cowboy history and culture with their Paniolo, A Hawaiian Cowboy Luau. Turtle Bay Resort is also known for its exclusive experiences (there’s more than 70!) that honor the land, history and big-wave surf culture and include activities like an open-helicopter ride over a waterfall, surfing with a pup, and a mermaid academy. Kuilima Farm provides a bounty of fresh produce to the resort’s restaurants.
Filmmakers love Kaua’i because of its cerulean blue oceans and verdant valleys that make for fantastic cinematic backdrops. Hundreds of films and TV shows have been filmed here, including “Jurassic Park” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Groups love Kaua’i, too, because of the high-rated golf courses and superb meeting spaces that come with great views and ample indoor-outdoor spaces. Did you know that no hotels are taller than a coconut palm tree? The restrictions help keep the views unobstructed.
Much of what to do in Kauai involves enjoying the island’s natural attractions. A must-see is Waimea Canyon, which has multi-colored ravines and a 14-mile-long gorge that’s known as “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Canyon tours stop at scenic lookouts (one of the best viewpoints is of Ni‘ihau Island) and if you’re lucky it will rain a little and bring a rainbow. There’s also adjacent forests with longer hikes. Add on a stop at Waimea Town, a historic seaport near the canyon which is where Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii in 1778.
Go Horseback Riding
One of the best ways to take in the ocean bluffs and emerald mountains on the Garden Island is via a horseback ride. Other outdoor activities in Kauai include kayaking on Hawaii’s rivers and tubing through the old sugar plantation canals.
Hit the Links
Kauai is known for great golf, and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course at Hokuala is a great example of why. It has a long stretch of ocean holes, with almost a mile of up-close Pacific Ocean views.
To the north, Hanalei Town is a great place to pick up a souvenir. Tourists here will find contemporary art galleries, cafes, and boutiques. Kapaa Town on the eastern Royal Coconut Coast has lots of crafts and Hawaii mementos. Old Koloa Town dates to Kauai’s early 19th-century sugar mill days. Visitors will find shops, fine art galleries, shaved ice and restaurants in old plantation buildings with charming clapboard storefronts and a 14-site heritage trail to explore.
Share sushi rolls and slurp ramen made with an 18-hour bone broth at Japanese Grandma’s. Enjoy bento boxes and poke bowls for lunch.
Duke's Kauai is located in the Royal Sonesta Kauai Resort and has menus with fish and steak and Hawaiian-style dishes (save room for pono pie made with local “ulu”, passion fruit, toasted coconut and macadamia nuts).
The Beach House
The Beach House has a large terrace for watching sunsets. The fine dining restaurant serves poke tacos and wasabi-butter fresh fish and a full-service event venue.
STAY / MEET
Set on golden sands, Royal Sonesta Kauai Resort meetings guests can immerse themselves in all of the beauty the Garden Island has to offer. The resort has direct access to Kalapaki Beach and is close to the Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve and the Ahukini Recreation Pier State Park. Another perk? It’s just a couple of miles from the Lihue Airport. With 27,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, capable of hosting groups up to 1,350 people. A crown jewel is the Kauai Ballroom with picturesque gardens and the Luau Gardens deliver gorgeous ocean views.
Hawai'i's Big Island
The island of Hawai’i is called “the big island” because it's larger than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined, and thanks to active volcanoes, it’s still growing. Visitors here can explore volcanoes, snorkel with manta rays, hike to waterfalls (and cool down in the mist!) and enjoy the scenic black-lava beaches.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. It’s also a designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden
Explore a tropical paradise at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, with more than 2,000 types of plants plus waterfalls that flow even more when it rains. The gardens are a living classroom, drawing photographers, botanists and nature lovers alike.
Hit the Links
The Big Island is considered the “Golf Capital of Hawaii” and visitors can hit links along the Kohala Coast. Make a tee time at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai Golf Course, the championship Francis H. Ii Brown courses of the Mauna Lani Resort or experience the award-winning 45-hole championship Mauna Lani Golf Course when you stay at Fairmont Orchid.
Anglers fish off the coast near Huggo’s and are cheered on by diners. Staff at Huggo’s toss soft dinner rolls into the surf to cause a frenzy among awaiting fish and eels. The landmark restaurant has been around since 1969, and serves fresh fish dishes and farm green salads and can accommodate large groups.
Binchotan: Bar & Grill
Guests can enjoy the centuries-old practice of robatayaki: fireside cooking at Binchotan: Bar & Grill in the Fairmont Orchid. Dishes illustrate the long-running creative culinary exchange between Hawaiʻi and Japan, cooked on a traditional northern Japanese grill.
CanoeHouse is the signature oceanfront restaurant at Mauna Lani, showcasing farm-to-table dishes. Guests can sit among the glow of fire pits and tiki torches while dining on local fish, poke style sashimi, steaks and koji-marinated chicken.
STAY / MEET
Located on the majestic Kohala Coast of Hawaii Island, Fairmont Orchid has 32 oceanfront acres with tropical gardens, a lagoon, cascading waterfalls and a white sand beach and a “Spa Without Walls” where guests can enjoy ocean breezes and the aroma of flowers during treatments. The resort also has six restaurants, world-class golf, a fitness center and a 10-court tennis pavilion as well as the Hui Holokai Beach Club that hosts cultural events. Meeting guests have their pick of 32,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and 76,000 square feet of outdoor function space, including ballrooms, boardrooms, a beach, a plantation estate in addition to a ramped amphitheater, the only one of its kind on the Kohala Coast.
Laidback but luxe, Mauna Lani is a soulful Hawaiian resort in a primate location along the dramatic Kohala Coast and is the piko (center) of five mountains. The resort has palm-fringed swimming pools and secluded beaches and rooms come with furnished lanai balconies that overlook mountain and ocean views. The resort has about 27,000 square feet of meeting space, including the Francis H. I’i Brown Suite is a one-of-a-kind hospitality suite and venue equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen, spacious parlor and covered lanai enjoying panoramic views of the Resort Pool and ocean. The resort also has authentic cultural programming for groups, plus three pools and two 18-hole golf courses plus a 9-hole executive course.
For more activities and ideas, ask your ALHI GSO about working with Hosts Global Destination Services.