Halekulani Okinawa, a new luxury resort, will open its doors on July 26. It is the second hotel to be created by the Hawaiian luxury hotel of the same name and its first outside Hawaii. The Okinawa hotel will also become Japan’s third member of The Leading Hotels of the World - an exclusive collection of the world’s most extraordinary luxury establishments.
The hotel, a 65-minute drive from Naha Airport, will have 360 spacious guestrooms, including 47 suites and five villas, each offering stunning ocean views. The hotel also showcases an expansive array of facilities, including four restaurants (cuisine themes include innovative, steak & wine, Japanese cuisine and all-day dining) and a bar. The restaurants offer unique, highly original dishes that bring out the full flavor of ingredients from all over Japan, as well as many celebrated local Okinawan foods.
Overseeing operations will be General Manager Jun Yoshie who started his hotel career in 1983 with Prince Hotels. He subsequently worked as Director of Marketing at Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Director of Sales & Marketing at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Executive Assistant Manager and Sales & Marketing at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, and General Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa. He was appointed as General Manager at Halekulani Okinawa in November 2017.
Japan Today met up with Yoshie during a visit to Tokyo.
How do you feel in the lead-up to the opening of the hotel on July 26?
Very excited. This is my sixth hotel opening. Everything is going well, so I feel confident.
You’ve worked for many hotels. How is Halekulani different?
My previous openings were hotels that belonged to big hotel chains, such as Hyatt, Prince, Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton. All the standards were in place from the beginning, so we just followed the check list and created a new hotel. But for Halekulani, there is only one in Hawaii. This is the second one in the world. So, some cultural aspects we will incorporate from Hawaii but in other ways, we are building an original hotel.
When I enter the hotel, will I feel like I am in Hawaii or Okinawa?
The building decor may make you feel more like you are in Hawaii. The guestrooms have inherited the traditional Halekulani theme of seven shades of white. We won’t have Shisa (the guardian lions) in the lobby like other hotels in Okinawa. We are very neutral in that sense. Even uniforms are neither Hawaiian nor Okinawan. For restaurant menus, Okinawa is very distinct from mainland Japan — it has its own culture, history and unique food products. So we will use local ingredients.
What about facilities?
The guestrooms have a minimum size of 50 square meters. All rooms have a balcony with an ocean view. We have a variety of suites, and five villas that have their own private pools and onsen. There are five different styles of indoor and outdoor swimming pools, including a pool adorned with around 1.5 million mosaic tiles in the shape of Halekulani’s signature orchid.
In addition, there is a prestigious spa with five treatment rooms and a gym.
We have four restaurants. One is SHIROUX, which will offer innovative French-based cuisine. Chef Hiroyasu Kawate (famous for his two Michelin-starred restaurant Florilège in Tokyo), is SHIROUX’s consulting chef. The other restaurants are AOMI (Japanese cuisine), KINGDOM (Steak & Wine) and House Without a Key (All-day dining).
How well known would you say the brand is in Japan?
Japanese people who have been to Hawaii know the name even if they have not stayed at the Halekulani. The brand image is the best known in Hawaiian luxury.
How competitive is the hotel industry on Okinawa?
Although there are many hotels in Okinawa, we will be the first real luxury resort here. Okinawa is not yet widely considered as a luxury resort destination. I think that will change over the next few years. Most Japanese travel to Hawaii or Bali for luxury resorts, so this is a good opportunity for us to tap into the domestic market.
How are you marketing the hotel?
Social media is a major method. There has been a lot of traffic on our Facebook page since we launched it last December. We are also working closely with travel agents.
How have advance reservations been so far?
They’ve been much more than I expected. The phone didn’t stop ringing on Feb 27, which was the first day we started accepting reservations. Online bookings are increasing as well through sites such as Expedia and other online travel agencies.
Do you expect mainly Japanese guests?
Yes, in the first year. That’s because the Halekulani brand has a stronger presence in Japan compared to China, Hong Kong and South Korea. But I’m confident that the Asian market will grow for us in 2-3 years.
As a long-time hotelier, how would you describe the difference in expectations between Japanese and foreign guests?
Japanese guests’ service level expectation is high for all tiers of travelers, not only luxury travelers. Before they travel, Japanese do a lot of research about a hotel, such as the restaurants’ open hours, dress codes, facilities and so on. The length of their stays tend to be shorter than international travelers, so they try to cram everything into a few days. I feel like they are not as relaxed as international travelers.
But I think all guests expect the same three things when they come to a hotel: Safety, cleanliness and good food.
Do you think many local people will come to the hotel?
Probably not to stay but we hope to get locals for special events like birthdays, anniversaries at our restaurants.
In your experience, what is the best way to get feedback from guests?
A long time ago, it used to be questionnaires in guestrooms. Now it is online comments. We pick random people to do surveys and analyze reports. We see feedback on SNS and from online travel agencies, and word of mouth.
Where are your staff training — in Hawaii or Okinawa?
We will invite some team members from Hawaii and the training will take place in Okinawa. We have been taking enough time — about 2 1/2 months of training — before we open our door to guests.
What is your management style?
I don’t micromanage the staff. There are seven division heads in charge of rooms, food and beverages, sales, HR and so on. They are specialists, so mostly I can delegate to them.
What is your business philosophy?
For me, engagement is what we are all about. We want to engage with every single guest. This philosophy applies not just to guests but everyone we work with — companies that work with us, such as housekeeping, security and others. They are not vendors but partners.
In hiring staff, what do you think are the most important qualities?
Our key word for Halekulani Okinawa staff is in Japanese, いい人 (ii hito) — nice people. There are three pillars to that. No. 1 is to act with sincerity; No. 2 is to talk sincerely; and No. 3 is to be a team player.
How did you get started in the hotel business?
After graduating from university, I joined Prince Hotels as a bellboy, then worked at the front desk.
I’ve noticed that staff tend to move around a lot from one hotel to another. Why do you think the hotel labor market is so mobile?
Nowadays in Japan, in the hotel industry, we have more opportunities than before. When I joined Prince, I never thought I would change companies. My first change was in the early 1990s when luxury international hotels came to Japan.
When you travel, do you stay in other hotel brands?
If I’m traveling within Japan, I tend to stay in onsen resorts, but overseas I sometimes stay in other hotels. It’s always good to see the latest trends.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
I play golf, eat out, and just enjoy sitting on the beach. That’s why I like living in Okinawa.
Do you miss Tokyo?
Well, I have lived in Okinawa for the past eight years and I love it but I still think Tokyo is the best city in the world to live because I’m a city boy. But I must say I like my current lifestyle, living in Okinawa and coming to Tokyo frequently for meetings and such - just a perfect work life balance.
For more information and to make reservations, visit www.okinawa.halekulani.com/en/© Japan Today