|By Robbie Dingeman, The Honolulu
AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 17, 2009 - Today, the Makena Beach and Golf Resort in South Maui begins to create a new brand from what was the Maui Prince Hotel for 23 years.
Some of the new signs went up early today, and 180 of about 300 Prince workers have been hired by the new operators, Benchmark Hospitality International.
But there's much more to do as the hotel works to switch everything from payroll and business accounts, signs and uniforms to the logos on the chocolates that go on the guests' pillows each night, said Bob Boyle, vice president and regional director of operations for Benchmark.
He said the fact that the hotel has a group of seasoned workers should help smooth the transition. "We're thrilled to have them," Boyle said.
The management change follows foreclosure proceedings filed against hotel owners last month. Court-appointed receiver Miles Furutani selected Benchmark Hospitality International as the new operator for the resort. The hotel previously was managed by Prince Resorts Hawaii.
"Benchmark is a proven hospitality company that has successfully turned around Turtle Bay Resort, and we are confident in their abilities to manage this operation moving forward," Furutani said.
Several guests said they made their reservations early in the year and didn't learn of the hotel's financial woes until just recently.
Lisa Ross of Sacramento, Calif., said she talked with her travel agent a week before leaving for her eight-day stay at the Maui Prince and was advised the hotel might be closing. Once her agent checked with resort officials, Ross was told not to worry. She said the situation has not disrupted her vacation.
"One thing I've noticed is that the restaurants are a bit disorganized," said Ross, who works in road construction. "Everything else is fine."
Boyle's company will handle all operations and marketing at the Maui resort.
The company worked closely with Willie Kennison, head of the Maui division of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union. Although the hotel is only able to bring on about two-thirds of the workers initially, Kennison said management has assured the union that it will hire more people as the hotel picks up business.
"This is just the initial step because of the money the hotel has been losing," Kennison said.
He said when you add in the workers at the golf course, the number being hired is closer to 215. He said Prince already had placed about 50 employees on unpaid furlough months ago.
Kennison said the union felt that managers worked hard to keep the hotel open through a critical time that could have closed the property.
Boyle said the previous management team, led by Donn Takahashi, president of Prince Resorts Hawaii, was "very, very, very cooperative" during the emotional changeover.
The 310-room hotel has been running at about 50 percent occupancy, Boyle said. "We're in 100 percent better shape than Turtle Bay was when we came in," he said.
Boyle said Prince also has granted Benchmark 60 days to complete the transition, which helps with key operations such as restaurants that carry the Prince name and other logistics that will take day or weeks.
Boyle said the resort is going through a list of 500 items that might have the hotel's name on them. He said his main concern is making the transition as smooth as possible for guests.
"It's going to be a little funky at first," Boyle said, "but the guests don't care what name's on the pen, as long as it works."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com or 535-2429. Advertiser Staff writer Christie Wilson contributed to this report.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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