The engaging, effervescent Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the DoubleTree Hilton in Waikiki Beach, Cheryl Nasser, is an enthusiastic advocate for the islands of Hawaii – and her hotel. The Siteseer chatted with Cheryl recently to find out what makes them special, and why PCOs could profitably consider meeting there.
The Siteseer: So Cheryl, why should an events organiser hold a meeting in Hawaii, and at your property?
Cheryl Nasser: The people, for one thing. In the 14 years I’ve been in Hawaii I’ve lived on three islands, and the people share something wonderful in common. They aren’t all necessarily of Hawaiian blood, like me, I come from California, but they all embrace the generous Hawaiian culture. This places great emphasis on friendliness and family, and Hawaii in turn embraces the diverse people who’ve come to live here. I really love and appreciate this, both in the workplace and in my personal life.
The DoubleTree Hilton itself embraces that inclusive culture, and it starts on arrival with the friendliness of the staff, the chocolate chip cookies and so on that are presented to you. It’s about caring, and that’s also part of the DoubleTree brand and its standards.
CN: Some business is from local enterprises, government and military around the island of Oahu [where Honolulu and Waikiki are located] for meetings and leisure. Our meetings encompass anything from seminars and training sessions, to banquets, weddings and celebrations like high-school reunions.
SS: Do you get many inbound events?
CM: Yes, our hotel and Waikiki itself are popular with Japanese visitors for example. We do lots of student group tours from Japan, on exchange programs or the programs they need to do to get into college. We also have a definite and emerging Chinese market, matching what’s happened around the world everywhere from New York to Chicago, Australia and elsewhere. In the years that I’ve been here I’ve seen huge growth in this sector.
SS: One of the first things a PCO or anyone looking to organise a meeting wants to know is what they’re going to get for their money? Do you represent value?
CN: Part of our value is that we’re centrally located, a very short walk from Waikiki Beach. It’s a place where people can meet and be close to the beach, restaurants, shopping and so on. We have beautiful weather throughout the year, and there’s easy access by air. There’s also what can best be described as a sense of place when you’re in Hawaii; you know you’re going to have an enjoyable leisure component, that you’re going to meet, yes, but you’re not going to meet all day. You can have fun, see the island, and Hawaii has been put on the map [gastronomically] in the past few years, with great seafood especially. We have top chefs here.
We’re close to the widest stretch of the beach on Waikiki, which many people don’t realise. We’re set next to a pretty park which is government land that will never be built on – a great place to relax and stroll. Plus the Hawaii Convention Center is only two blocks from the hotel.
There’s a big emphasis on sustainability, which more and more visitors expect. For instance the Governor of Hawaii wants us to be completely sustainable in the next ten years, in everything from agriculture to food production, and to look after our ocean environment, which is vitally important for the future of the world, not just Hawaii.
SS: What would the average rate be for a typical conference or wedding here?
CN: Our conference day rate depends on the package and whether you’re going to have food, [so it’s negotiable].
It goes by season but during the summer the room rate would be in the USD 200 to $220 range; at other times it would be $180 or $190. We look at the market and see what demand is.
Look, at some level we’re not going to be able to compete against some countries in terms of cost. We’re part of the US and have certain standards for wages and so on. But the experience you get is great value. People see that when they’re here.
Many groups will incentivise their sales teams with a trip to Hawaii, and some of the outer islands with high-end resorts are outstanding places for such groups. Every island has just about everything you want to experience as a delegate, from horseback riding to diving, hiking, eating out, sampling local beers and spirits. We have it all really.
SS: Is there a better time of the year to get better deals for conferences and events?
CN: The [northern] winter time, November December, is a better time to get the best value on meetings and room rates. You see better prices for airfares, from all over, as well in this period. And we have a spring rates period through April and May.
We continuously upgrade and refresh the property. The hotel runs at high occupancy so we get lots of constant trade. Book early!
CN: We have ten thousand square feet of meeting space within 10 meeting rooms. This doesn’t include our pool deck and the penthouse lanai, which have beautiful views and are popular for outdoor events. Our largest space can accommodate up to 180 people for dinner.
As mentioned we’re a great location, a two-to-three-block, eight-minute walk from the beach and close to our sister resort property, the Hilton, and Hilton Hawaiian village [a major hotel, restaurant and shopping precinct] which has thousands of guest rooms in five towers.
SS: Tell us a bit about your background.
CN: I’ve been in the industry about thirty years. I started my career in front office, working on the US mainland, in southern California and San Francisco. I worked back of house for a time as well. I joined Hilton out at the Hawaiian Village and also worked on the island of Maui, where I lived for six years. I’ve been with the DoubleTree here for five-and-a-half years, having started out in revenue management and staying in that area until the beginning of 2018. One of the great things about working in this industry is that you have opportunities to get, and give, promotions.
So at the beginning of 2018 I was given the opportunity to take over sales and marketing as well as revenue management. I now oversee a team of six.
It’s a great place to work. We have many team members who’ve worked here and in the wider Hilton group for 20 years or more. We have a new general manager, Fernando Vasquez [pictured below, with Cheryl], who recently joined us.
SS: You must have had interesting experiences dealing with guests?
CN: Yes, we’ve had vice president Biden visiting here, and actors from Hawaii Five-O.
One time when we had an overbooking, a businessman refused to leave even though we said we’d pay for a room at another property. He wouldn’t budge and said he was going to sleep on a couch in the lobby. Eventually, though, he did leave and the next day he called to apologise for his behaviour. I always say to the team that when guests arrive you don’t know what they’ve experienced to get here. They may have had flights cancelled or delayed, and one little thing tips them over the edge.
There are so many Hilton hotels. In all of them [success is] about building relationships. And one of the challenges for us is that there are still many people who don’t know we’re here. And as I said, our location is ideal.
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