Hawaii Business Magazine interviews the CEOs of prominent local companies about their plans for the near future in which change and uncertainty often seem to be the only certainties.
Here is our conversation with Jeff Wagoner, CEO of Outrigger Hospitality Group. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity.
What are your big plans for 2022?
Two key areas are property improvements and new resort acquisitions. We have allocated $200 million to reinvest in our Hawaiian assets and I am pleased that after two years of headwinds we are back on track to deliver on this plan.
On O’ahu, our $80 million top-to-bottom transformation of the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is nearing completion. The Kani Ka Pila Grille features Hawaiian music every night and our new A’o Cultural Center is a hub for celebrating Hawai’i’s rich heritage. The cornerstone of the project is Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, which is expected to open by the end of the year.
On the island of Hawaii, the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa, a 22-acre property we acquired from Sheraton in July 2021, is in the planning stages of a remodel. We are seeking to invest $40 million in this beachfront resort above Keauhou Bay – birthplace of King Kamehameha III – focusing on the area’s history and culture
Two other hotel properties we are upgrading are Waikiki Malia by Outrigger and Ohana Waikiki East by Outrigger
You have also added to your overseas properties.
Yes, we recently announced the acquisition of a five-star private island resort in the Maldives that is the epitome of barefoot luxury and a great addition to our portfolio.
And Outrigger bought three resorts in Thailand last July; properties in Phuket and Khao Lak reopened earlier this year after extensive renovations and the third, in Koh Samui, is set to reopen this summer.
Escalating problems and rapid change mean that Hawai’i and the world are facing a new era. What are the biggest opportunities facing your organization or industry?
I see tremendous opportunity in the ESG (environmental, social and governance) space for Outrigger and the hospitality industry in general. Five of Outrigger’s properties recently received Hawai’i Green Business awards and we are on track to be the first Green Seal-certified Hawaiian hotel brand.
Our global conservation platform called Outrigger’s Zone (OZONE) is focused on protecting coral reefs because stewardship of the oceans is integral to keeping our destinations healthy and beautiful. Our partnership with Kualoa Ranch for the Mālama Hawai’i Voluntary Tourism Initiative and the Polynesian Voyaging Society for our A’o Cultural Center are just a few examples of how we encourage mindful and ultimately regenerative tourism.
What is the biggest challenge facing you and the tourism industry?
It inspires the next generation to get excited about the hospitality industry. This field offers an incredibly wide range of career opportunities – from operations and management to finance and marketing. My own career started with a night shift at a 1,000-room Marriott in Los Angeles and from there I was hooked. I loved every minute of my career and I still do.
To meet today’s workforce challenges, we must take exceptional care of our employees and work with others in Hawai’i to help shine a light on the hospitality industry’s benefits and viability. of a career in it.
There is widespread pessimism about the future. What gives you optimism?
Outrigger celebrates its diamond anniversary in September: 75 years of winning the hearts of travelers around the world. The past two years have proven the power of travel and the desire to connect with people and cultures in meaningful ways. There’s no Zoom background that mimics the feel of your toes in the sand or the smell of a lei around your neck.
I’m optimistic for the future of travel with a new generation of travelers who want to see the world in an authentic and meaningful way.