Ask RedWeek / March, 2014

Did Marriott add a new resort partnership in Hana, Maui?

I heard a rumor that Marriott was adding a new resort partnership in Hana, Maui. Is it true, and what are the details of this program?

Yes, this is true. In a move to create more vacation opportunities for timeshare owners --- and to alleviate an inventory crunch at the Maui Ocean Club --- Marriott Vacation Club (MVC) has partnered with a luxurious, rustic and remote resort in Hana to accept Vacation Club points for nightly reservations.

As a result, MVC Destinations Club owners can now book stays at the Travaasa Hana, a so-called "experiential" resort that caters to couples who want to unwind in the most deliberately underdeveloped resort on Maui. On a busy day, for example, this 70-unit resort at the very end of the steamy Road to Hana can host 140 adults and a handful of kids. With a one-story, original Hana plantation look and feel, it's an extreme change of pace from the hustle and bustle atmosphere of the family resorts along Kaanapali Beach on the western side of the island.

That's the whole idea in Hana. Create an original island experience that celebrates the culture, customs and culinary tastes of Hawaii. Unplug, unwind, take a spa and enjoy the spectacular views of Kaihalulu Bay. But don't look for TVs, clocks or radios in the rooms, because there aren't any. On purpose.

Travaasa Hana is the charter member of a new "boutique partner" program that Marriott just launched, without any fanfare, to increase owner options on Maui. The program is new enough that not many reservations agents are familiar with it. If you call Travaasa Hana directly, their agents will refer you to Marriott's Destinations Club and www.My-VacationClub.com for reservations. Room rates range from 1000 to 3000 MVC points per night, depending on number of guests and time of year. Kids are extra.

"This is a great option for people who are going to spend a few days at Maui Ocean Club then drive to Hana anyway," said Brody Long, marketing director at Maui Ocean Club. He also acknowledged that it takes some pressure off a chronic supply-and-demand problem at Maui Ocean Club. In peak seasons, Marriott simply doesn't have enough rooms at its massive, nine-to-12 story, four-tower Maui Ocean Club resort to fulfill requests from deeded owners and members of its Destination points program.

Too Popular for Its Own Good

Maui Ocean Club is arguably the jewel in the crown of Marriott's Vacation Club. With 719 villas, this resort on Kaanapali Beach is ideal for families who want to explore the island or just hang out at the giant waterslide pool, the swim-up bar or kiddie pirate ship. It's walking distance to restaurants and shops in Whale's Village and a short shuttle to Lahaina. The newer units in the 12-story Lahaina Villas and 10-story Napili Villas are all two- and three-bedroom oceanfront suites with complete kitchens and modern appliances. What's more, the staff is persistently service oriented. Unlike some other timeshare resorts on Maui, the Maui Ocean Club suites also draw top rentals. Marriott owners using RedWeek.com can typically rent a summer week in a 2-bedroom, 2 bath, sleeps-8 suite in the Lahaina Villas tower for $3500 to $4500 (approximately double the annual maintenance fee). No surprise that Maui Ocean Club earned a #4 ranking on RedWeek.com's list of top 25 timeshare rental resorts for 2014.

The downside of all this popularity is a housing squeeze. For legacy and new owners, it is increasingly difficult to get weekly reservations at Maui Ocean Club. This has been a problem for years. Even though Marriott has added resorts around the world, and created other travel programs for owners to use points --- such as guided tours of Europe and Asia, attending major sports events, or Manhattan getaways --- Marriott has not added inventory on Maui. Because of its location, amenities and year-round activities, the Maui Ocean Club also has a much higher rate of returning owners every year compared to stateside timeshares.

In fact, Marriott keeps contributing to the popularity crunch. Their marketing staff aggressively sells new memberships in the Destinations Exchange Club, citing the availability and example of Maui Ocean Club as a place where new owners can come back again and again, as if the inventory is unlimited.

It's not. In its Annual Report for 2012, Marriott executives bluntly stated, "Our points-based product... exposes us to an increased risk of temporary inventory depletion." With 421,000 owners/members, and increasing sales of points to legacy owners, the risk of having "no vacancy" signs at Maui Ocean Club continues to grow.

More Rooms, More Options

That's where the Travaasa Hana comes into play. Even though it's tiny compared to the Marriott Ocean Club, it has expansive grounds, including 70 acres of tropical gardens, ocean views and a get-away-from-it-all atmosphere that will appeal to many. Only downside is that it caters primarily to adults. Kids under 16 are not allowed in the "couples only" Sea Ranch View Cottages except during family weeks, which are very limited.

It also takes commitment to get there, because the only thing that stands in the way of enjoying a getaway at the award-winning Travaasa Hana is the infamous Road to Hana, which is one of the muddiest, bumpiest and least maintained highways in the USA. Tourists who drive the circuitous 50-mile Hana Highway, along S-curve switchbacks at 15 miles an hour, usually call it a "once in a lifetime experience." They mean it. They're happy to navigate it once, and to see all the jungle waterfalls along the way, but they're not likely to return. Too taxing for a laid-back trip to Hawaii. Especially on a road that is purposely under-maintained (this is Hawaii's way of reducing traffic). It's a three-hour drive that takes all day if you're making a single-day round trip trek from Kaanapali Beach to Hana. But if you're heading there for a two- or three-night stay at Travaasa Hana, it becomes a tropical road trip worth repeating. Travelers who don't want to risk wrecking the suspension on their rental cars on the Hana Highway can, instead, reach Hana by taking a tour bus from Lahaina or hopping a six-seater Airbus from Kahului Airport ($200 per person, round-trip).

Owned by Travaasa Experiential Resorts, the Hana property won "#1 Resort in Hawaii" and "#1 Spa Resort in Hawaii" in Conde' Nast Travelers 2011 and 2012 Readers Choice Awards, respectively. Its regular room rates are steep, especially for their all-inclusive packages but also for their a la carte packages.

For example, a family of four reserving one of the two-bedroom, two-bath, full kitchen Waikoloa Suites would pay $970 per night this summer. A couple, meanwhile, would pay $681 per night to stay in one of the coveted ocean view sea ranch cottages under the a la carte package. The everything-included package (meals and activities) would cost $1234 per night.

More Bang for Your Points?

The Hana resort should appeal to Marriott owners with deep pockets in their MVC accounts. But is it a good value? The least expensive rooms garden view suites cost 1000 to 1500 points per night. High season rates for ocean front sea ranch cottages can reach 3000 points --- per night. For comparison purposes, here are examples of other ways MVC owners can use their points this summer.

A seven-night, eight-day, 9-meal guided tour of Rome and Florence costs 7500 MVC points per couple. A week in a two-bedroom, two-bath week villa at Marriott Ocean Club requires 5450 points for an island view, or 8650 points for an oceanfront suite. One week at Marriott's Newport Coast Villas, where all 700 suites are two-bedroom, two-bath villas, costs 4725 points. The Fourth of July week at Newport is 5675 points.

In addition to booking stays at Travaasa Hana, MVC owners can redeem points for rooms at the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, which is located just a short drive up the coast from Maui Ocean Club. Depending on time of year, nightly rates run from 1000 to 2200 points in a deluxe hotel suite, and from 1400 to 2600 points in an ocean view suite at the luxurious Ritz Carlton.

The good news for Marriott owners is that there are no restrictions --- yet --- on how they use their reservations at Travaasa Hana. Other than observing a 10-day cancellation policy, owners can list their Hana reservations for rent on RedWeek.com.

Need More Information?

Reservation tips: Family friendly dates for Sea Ranch Cottages are March 11 to 24, July 25 through August 8, and December 22 to January 4, 2015. Travaasa Hana will provide complimentary room upgrades to Marriott owners, depending on availability. For reservations, owners can call a Marriott ownership advisor at 888-682-4862. For specific information on Travaasa Hana, call 808-248-8211 or visit www.travaasa.com/hana.

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek's Chief Correspondent, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress, and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.

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