By now you’ve likely heard that billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently paid an estimated $300 million for 98% of the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.
Included in that sale were two Four Seasons resorts and nearly all the land on the tiny (140 square mile) island.
What’s been going on since the transaction closed in 2012? A lot!
While on a business trip to Hawaii last week, Four Seasons invited me over for a stay and a look-see at the progress. (See photos below.)
Here’s what I saw:
First off, big changes are underway at the Four Seasons secluded Manele Bay property. As soon at the deal closed, renovations of public areas began. The dramatic lobby is now sheathed in rich wood paneling and stark white furniture with views out to an aquamarine pool deck that spills down to the hotel’s almost private white sand beach.
There are only two other hotels on the island, the homey, high-country Four Seasons Lodge at Koele in the cool uplands– with a revamped grand lobby and famous golf course awaiting a makeover by Jack Nicklaus (opening date unknown), and the rustic 10-room Hotel Lanai, recently purchased by Ellison.
At Manele Bay, a hotel staffer told me that, “Mr. Murdock’s style is a lot different from Mr. Ellison’s.” Hearing that, I assumed that the previous owner was billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but soon found out that it was actually David Murdock, the head of Hawaiian conglomerate Castle & Cooke, which owns Dole Foods, and the 98% of Lanai that Ellison recently bought.
In addition to the modern Hawaiian look in the lobby, a new Nobu restaurant is under construction. When I was there, about half of the hotel’s 217 rooms were closed for a major revamp, which will bring them up to global five-star resort standards with see through glass balconies, hardwood and slate flooring, 75-inch LED flat screen TVs and big bright modern bathrooms. The current plan is to open the new rooms by this October and have both old and new rooms open for the holiday season.
When the holidays are over, the rest of the rooms will close down for their revamp. The entire resort will look and feel brand new (sans construction noise) by the end of 2015. During the transition, guests who opt for the older rooms get a “third night free” deal. Guests who reserve the new rooms (which command a $200 premium over the older ones) get a $100 resort credit for stays of four or more nights. The older rooms are comfortable with outstanding views, but pale in comparison to the new designs. Current rates for early November are about $530 per night.
Leave it to me to find the only other person on a “real” business trip on this tiny Hawaiian island. At the general manager’s reception at Views, the hotel’s striking new restaurant overlooking golf courses with views out to neighboring islands, I met Erik Barnes who works in sales for Algae Aqua-Culture Technology, Inc. His company builds power plants that utilize sustainable and green methods to produce electricity. He was there to promote his company’s wares on an island that Ellison envisions as a sustainable, self sufficient eco-topia that includes transforming old pineapple fields into organic farms and greenhouses, doubling the population (from the current 3,000 to 6,000), adding desalinization plants for fresh water, a new satellite campus for the University of Hawaii and much more.
With all the new focus and activity on Lanai, getting there is getting a makeover, too. In February 2013, Ellison purchased Island Air, which now offers 5 ATR flights per day to and from Lanai City (LNY) from a newly refurbished, club-like terminal at Honolulu airport. Hawaiian Air’s new inter-island operation, Ohana by Hawaiian offers three flights per day on a colorful fleet designed by Sig Zane. Both airlines use new ATR turboprops for the 25-minute flight. Fares from Honolulu are currently about $70 each way (there is no nonstop service to Lanai from the mainland). Nice: Free, fast wifi is provided at Lanai City Airport by Four Seasons.
— Chris McGinnis
Disclosure: Four Seasons paid for my two-night stay at the Manele Bay property
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