Barnett on Business Travel



January 5, 1992 -- Finally, for the traveler who can never really relax, Four Seasons has invented the first true business resort, a work/play paradise with palm trees and PCs.

Heaven for the driven.

Officially, the 18-month-old Four Seasons Resort Wailea bills itself as an island of tranquility within an island, one of those luxury compounds that quietly whispers, "We have every imaginable convenience right here. Why set foot off our manicured grounds?"

But unlike most Hawaiian resorts that expect you to be dazzled by the surf, the sunsets and not the service, this hostelry is just as efficient as a great Asian or European business hotel.

Example: With guests from all over the world, most people are on different time zones and many can't sleep. So every morning at 5 a.m., General Manager Peter O'Colmain trots out the sterling-silver coffee urns and croissants and invites the insomniacs and early risers to wake up with some rich Kona coffee at no charge.

Hawaiian resorts usually hawk poolside luau buffets and hula dancers gyrating to bongo drums. The Four Seasons Wailea pampers guests with a comfortably furnished library that also opens early - 6 a.m. - and also serves free coffee.

The magazine selection is a bit sparse, but you'll find a good book, daily newspapers and a 25-inch TV set with a 32-channel cable system so you never feel cut off from the rest of the planet.

Until recently, the fitness center has been a big-city phenomenon designed to let pressure-cooked commercial travelers burn calories and maintain their exercise regimen when they're on the road. Resort hotels have always figured their guests will get their exercise swimming, playing tennis, golfing and biking.

O'Colmain, who has managed Four Seasons mainland hotels - the Clift in San Francisco and, most recently, the Inn on the Park in Houston - created two fitness centers with top-of-the-line equipment, including four Stairmaster 4000s, three Trotter treadmills, Lifecycles, Schwinn Airdynes and other gear.

What's more, one "center" is open- air and, hence, always open, ideal for the driven businessperson.

Until recently, though, the hotel did not have a real weight room. No one figured travelers and vacationers wanted to work on their muscles while in Maui. Wrong.

"We listened to our guests, and in their comment cards they said they wanted to get more of a workout," says Jayne Hunkins, assistant recreation director.

Result: The fitness center recently was tripled in size, and eight Cybex weight workstations and free weights were added.

The resort hotel has incorporated yet another feature found mainly in big-city hostelries - a private club floor with its own lounge.

For an $80-a-night surcharge over the normal room rates, vacationers who have to pack in business meetings have their own office- restaurant and personal concierge from 6 a.m. until 11:30 at night. Sydney Casil, chief concierge, who is also a professional dancer, is smart, discreet and can arrange anything.

The club itself cuts no corners. The complementary champagne is the expensive Louis Roderer. An English tea with scones and delicate sandwiches is served every afternoon. The bar is tucked away inside a stately European armoire.

The 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. pupus - grilled shrimp, cracked crab claws, beef satay - rival what are found on the appetizer menus of fine mainland restaurants. And cordials cascade into snifters all night long.

Meantime, Casil is arranging laptop computers and private lanais overlooking the Pacific for businesspeople who want to negotiate or ruminate undisturbed.

Don't be misled. The Four Seasons Wailea is first and foremost a resort, and, mercifully, it does not charge for every activity.

A typical day starts with low- impact aerobics, water aerobics, windsurfing and scuba demonstrations, beach volleyball, croquet, bocce ball, badminton - it never stops, and it's all gratis. Two tennis courts on the sixth floor and the automatic serving machine are available at no charge on a first- come basis.

On the beach - 20 steps from the front desk - the first hour of snorkeling, complete with gear, is free. So are the bikes.

For busy parents, the Kids for All Seasons program keeps the youngsters occupied - and learning about Hawaiian culture and nature. They're not just parked in front of a TV set. However, every guest room has a VCR and kids' videos are free.

The tiny, thoughtful touches are rarely found in other resorts: Climb out of the car and the welcoming lei that's slipped over your head was strung, petal by petal, by the young lady right there at the entrance.

At the pool, a friendly chap walks by with cold towels and spritzes your face with Evian water - no tip, no fee. In fact, there are no towel or chaise charges.

In Seasons, the hotel's open-air fine dining room, the prices are high - no question about it - but the food and the service are unrivaled. Book a reservation and ask for Steve. There's a nice floor for cheek- to-cheek dancing.

The cuisine is Pacific Rim and the chef, Rene Bajeux, is French- trained. In fact, Four Seasons is credited with bringing international chefs to Hawaii to work the subtle flavors of Asian cuisine.

The hotel doesn't drip with Hawaiiana, the bead-and-tiki-god decor hotel builders think everyone expects when they come to the island.

Says Kathy Van Vechten marketing director: "We want to present the culture of Hawaii, not the cliches of Hawaii." Hawaiian culture - and all the pampering - starts here at $250 a night.

Interestingly, this is one resort where you're not trapped or isolated. Right next door is the brand-new Grand Hyatt with its waterfalls, grottos, water slides and even a wedding chapel on its spacious grounds.

Next door to the Hyatt is the Maui InterContinental, and adjacent to it is the Stouffer Wailea Resort. The beaches are open to anyone, so feel free to walk, jog or swim the distance.

But the Grand Hyatt Wailea is more than a look-see. Aimed more at families and groups, it's renowned for what's considered to be the most lavish spa in the Hawaiian Islands, and the prices are surprisingly reasonable for a resort hotel.

A two-hour session starts with a Swedish loofa rubdown, a half-hour soak in one of five pools - seaweed, fragrance, saltwater, mud - showers that pepper you with 100 jets of water and then drench you via a waterfall. The session ends with a serious one-hour massage. Price, including tip, $90.

This column originally appeared in the Albany Times Union

Copyright 1990-2009 by Chris Barnett. All rights reserved.