Learning from a magical Hawaiian hotel

In the 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” a mystical island that’s visible but not reachable is referred to as Bali Ha’i. In the 1958 movie adaptation, they filmed on the breathtaking north shore of Kauai – Hawaii’s fourth largest island – with Mount Makana used as a substitute for Bali Ha’i. This jaw-dropping view sets the stage for the St. Regis Princeville Resort, and I was fortunate enough to sample this utopian setting for two nights while touring the 50th state.

There’s trouble in paradise, however, or at least the potential for it. At first glance, you’d think this property’s occupancy would teeter on triple digits year-round from now until the end of time. But the reality is that a Hawaiian resort of this celestial caliber requires a perfectly oiled machine to stay afloat. For the rate they command, expectations are likewise through the roof, and the competition is forever doing its damnedest to gain any possible edge, be it through guest service, new technological integrations, activities, packages and everything in between.

Todd Raessler, the property’s general manager, has the pleasure of overseeing this magnificent property. A Cornell Hotel School graduate, Todd has 30 years of industry experience, with the previous assignment at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had an opportunity to meet with him and touch on a few points for how the hotel keeps its operations running efficiently and constantly strives to differentiate.

Todd Raessler
Todd Raessler

What do you expect to happen to the resort from the Marriot-Starwood merger?

While I cannot speak for every property, the St. Regis Princeville will benefit from the operational legacy that Marriott has combined with the synergies of working with our new sister brands such as Ritz-Carlton, which will greatly expand what we have to offer for our customers. This is of particular interest throughout Hawaii, where there are opportunities for multi-island functions and integrations.

How do you maintain a 5-star service quality level given the limited labor pool?

We do not take our line staff for granted. We invest in selection, training and retention planning. We are fortunate to have many long-term, extremely talented staff members who have embraced the 5-star mentality and service standards our guests expect. And our reputation as Kauai’s finest resort certainly helps in attracting the best talent!

How does your F&B help to differentiate your property?

Our F&B options are aimed at providing guests with locally grown foods that they would expect, with preparations and flavors they have never experienced before. Dining is an integral part of our Princeville experience. It needs to be better, special and different in order to meet our expectation as something the guests will eagerly anticipate throughout their stay. For example, we are the only fine dining restaurant on the island highlighting the Asian-French artistry of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. But it goes further than that. Our location means that there are few fine dining options within a short drive of the resort. Therefore, it is not only something we strive for, but an obligation to our guests that we must deliver upon.

Elaborate on what specific touches you bring to the guest experience to make every visitor feel special.

We do many, many things, but one that stands out as truly unique is that we offer a nightly ritual in our bar where we tell the story of Makana Mountain (Bali Ha’i) and saber a bottle of Champagne during our breathtaking sunsets in honor of our guests. This Champagne sabering ritual was established at the St. Regis New York over 100 years ago.

How do you raise awareness for the Princeville property outside of the St. Regis core program?

We have many partnerships that bring our story to life. For example, the North Shore of Kauai is well known as the home of many legendary surfers. One of our experiences included a visit with famous surfer and surfboard maker, Bill Hamilton, where guests were able to make their own surfboard with him.

What is the most difficult issue that is facing the property at this time, and how are you tackling it?

We would like to attract a greater mix of international travelers and have been increasing our sales efforts on emerging markets to embrace their growth in travel to our special island. There is a lot of opportunity, but it will require us to be diligent and patient as we tackle this grand marketing challenge. Mahalo!