"Everything is connected,” the nature guide explained as we hiked through the lush, rainforest-lined Maunalei Arboretum trail just beyond the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua - our gracious hosts during the property’s annual four-day Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. On our way to the trail, we passed a garden full of fresh herbs, pineapples, and vegetables, where scraps from the resort’s kitchens are composted to enrich the soil. The produce and spices we saw would later make an appearance in our meals at the six restaurants on site. Everything was connected - a delicate ecosystem eloquently and efficiently sustained.
This was the pattern that emerged during a recent press trip throughout Maui hosted by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. There was such diversity in the terrain, weather, and beaches, but a common thread remained - the idea of “aloha,” which I now define as unabashed generosity, kindness, and a boundless respect for nature. From the open-air baggage claim at Kahului Airport to the roofless, Moorish-inspired, 1,200-square-foot lobby of the Fairmont Kea Lani, nature was never far.
The 450-room Kea Lani in Wailea, our first host hotel, has more than 36,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 8,400-square-foot Kea Lani Ballroom, which opens onto the 3,200-square-foot Royal Fountain Terrace. Looking out over the resort’s three pools is Ko, a new sushi restaurant serving 100-percent sustainable produce and locally caught fish, where our generous hosts served up Kobe beef and fresh spring rolls our second night.
With small peephole windows throughout the grounds, the sun and sand are never out of view, and the Kea Lani provides nature tours weekly. The property also offers an Eco-Meet program, providing a meeting structure to planners that encourages maximum waste diversion and environmental awareness for conference delegates, including organic menus and disposable-free F&B service.
Nature is woven throughout the Hawaiian lifestyle, and its industries as well. During our first two days on Maui, we drove past sugarcane fields and Koa trees to scientific landmarks such as the Haleakala Observatory, which sits atop 10,000-foot Mt. Haleakala. We also visited nonprofit organizations that are working to protect and sustain the environment, such as Pacific Biodiesel, the leader in biodiesel fuel production in Hawaii. (Read more about these site visits on Convene’s blog.)
After two days on the southwest side of the island, we took a scenic 45-minute drive to the north, past floating cliques of longboarders and fishing boats. Upon arriving at the 463-room, recently remodeled Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, we were greeted by a modern lobby with a picturesque view of the three-tiered swimming pool beyond the Alaloa Lounge, an open-air restaurant and bar serving specialty cocktails, ideal for pre- and post-meetings. The resort offers 27 function rooms and more than 35,000 square feet of indoor conference and banquet space, plus 173,120 square feet of outdoor space.
Our first night in Kapalua was the inaugural event of the Ritz-Carlton’s annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, where we enjoyed a welcome reception at Merriman’s Kapalua on the water, owned by Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) chef Peter Merriman, cooking with 90-percent local ingredients. The restaurant sits next to Kapalua Beach, once rated the best beach on Earth by Condé-Nast Traveler magazine.
The next day was our nature hike to the Maunalei Arboretum, which introduced us to the spongy roots of the Banyan tree, which act as a natural trampoline, and to a wealth of foreign and native species, all coexisting harmoniously. From our tour of the village of Lahaina, known as the “Venice of the Pacific,” we learned the origins of the Hawaiian written language, the history of the 19th-century missionaries who visited Hawaii, and the evolving culture of a small industrial economy turned tourist destination. Lahaina is full of unique venues for small- to medium-sized events, including the old Lahaina Prison, an open-air fort with a large courtyard built in the 1830s.
We ate lunch as we did everything else: on the water. With the waves lapping onto the shore beside us, we tasted a smorgasbord that Mark Ellman - another HRC chef, cooking with 90-percent local ingredients - provided at his newest restaurant, Honu. By some bit of serendipity, at the table next to us was Mick Fleetwood, drummer for Fleetwood Mac. He told us about his new restaurant, called Fleetwood on Front Street, which will open on the main drag in Lahaina within the next year. It will serve a mix of American, British, and island cuisine and have a rock-music, Fleetwood Mac–inspired ambiance.
Our last evening, on the rolling beachfront lawns of the Ritz-Carlton, yellow and orange lanterns glowed above white tents, each one housing a sampling of the local cuisine, such as fresh ahi-tuna bruschetta from Honu, or fine wines, some organic and biodynamic, from all over the world. Whether your attendees are in search of science and innovation or an escape to nature, they’ll find that everything is connected in Maui. And they’ll learn, enjoy, and give back - all at the same time.
For more information: gohawaii.com/mauiIsland
Sidebar: Additional Research
Greener and Greener: 56% of travel managers in Europe and Australia and 41% of travel managers in the United States think environmental responsibility is more important now than it was two years ago.
SOURCE: 2012 Sustainable Travel Policies Benchmarking Study, GBTA Foundation (gbta.org/foundation)