Section of “new” Waiohai opens, former employees return

Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club at Po’ipu is opened, and many familiar faces are on board.

Around half of the 67 employees and managers in the operations side of the new Waiohai used to work at the old Waiohai, said Edgar Gum, general manager of the new Waiohai.

Hurricane ‘Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992 caused millions of dollars in damages to the hotel. The hotel was in ruins following ‘Iniki until construction workers cleared the site to make way for the new hotel.

The first Waiohai opened in 1962 and was a low-rise, two-story cottages built on the land adjacent to the Knudsen family’s beach home. The owners of the tony Halekulani hotel at Waikiki were the original developers of the property.

The cottages were torn down or moved to Koloa town near Big Save and to other locations on Kaua’i in 1979, and the next Waiohai opened with 438 rooms in 1981. A year later, Hurricane ‘Iwa did damage to the hotel, but it was closed for just six weeks.

Hurricane ‘Iniki in ’92 closed the old Waiohai for good, and ten years and three months to the day after ‘Iniki hit the new Waiohai crew reported for work as Marriott employees.

The first day on the job, and the first day back for many of the employees, last month, was emotional, and included a blessing and planting of an ‘ohai tree near the porte cochere, Gum said.

“We had a blessing in the morning for staff, and you could see the happiness, pride and joy in the eyes of all the employees, both new and returning to Waiohai,” Gum recalled.

“There were many tear-filled eyes in the group. At the close of the first day the employees planted an endangered ‘ohai plant next to the pond in the porte cochere, to symbolize the re-opening of the property after 10 years,” he said.

“Again, many teary eyes at that event. Tears of joy. After so many years, (it was) a coming home for many,” Gum said.

There are 70 employees in sales and marketing.

“We have a great team of employees who take a lot of pride in their work. The response from our owners and guests has been overwhelmingly positive on the ho’okipa (hospitality) that are employees extend to them,” Gum said.

It is also a homecoming of sorts for Gum, who helped open the Kaua’i Marriott Resort & Beach Club on Kalapaki Bay as part of the food and beverage team.

He spent five years at Kaua’i Marriott, as director of conventions and catering, then director of food and beverage.

“I am truly honored to be the opening general manager of a resort that has such a long history of hospitality in Hawai’i,” said Gum, 40.

He has been with Marriott 16 years, all in Hawai’i, except for a short time when he was part of the transition team when a Tokyo hotel became a Marriott property.

He spent eight years at the Maui Marriott, in food and beverage and catering, and nearly three years at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa on O’ahu, again part of the Marriott transition, starting as director of food and beverage and then resident manager.

“Which leads me back to Kaua’i with Waiohai Beach Club,” he said.

“I was amazed by the beautiful site the property sits on, with Po’ipu Beach and our friendly visitors the monk seals,” he said of his first steps on the new Waiohai property.

“By the way, there are whales in front of the property every day now.

“I was also impressed by how well the property was laid out, (with) lot’s of open space between the buildings. The low-rise resort layout is perfect,” he said.

Many Kauaians know that a prominent heiau, believed to be a shrine to a god who could grant bountiful ocean harvests, sits on the shoreline near the Waiohai.

Gum understands its importance. “Marriott had already been working with the State Historic Preservation Division (of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources), Scientific Consultant Services, and the Na Hui o Kau Ka Hoku curator group that will act as the stewards for Kihouna Heiau,” he said.

“In time we will display artifacts, such as Hawaiian fishing hooks, that were found on the property during construction,” he said.

“It is very important to us all that we convey the history and culture of Waiohai to all of our owners and guests. We plan on having a cultural education program for all of our employees, and sharing this in many of our offerings to our guests,” he said.

Asked if he expects to stay long in his present position, Gum said, “We were very blessed to have the opportunity to return to Kaua’i. We have many friends here that we made during the opening of the Kaua’i Marriott Resort & Beach Club, and missed Kaua’i greatly while we were in O’ahu.

“It’s difficult to say in my line of work, but we consider Kaua’i home, and wish to be here for awhile.”

Born and raised on O’ahu, Gum is a graduate of St. Louis High School, and attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa before getting the urge to earn money.

“I began my food and beverage career at the landmark Willow’s restaurant in Honolulu, never received my degree, but never looked back, (and) have been working in the hospitality industry ever since then,” he said.

Married with four children, Gum and family maintain a residence on Kaua’i away from the hotel. The opening, though, has forced some long days on him, and he said he has been spending more time at the hotel than at home.

Marriott’s Waiohai opened with 75 villas, plus seven hotel rooms required by the resort zoning the property enjoys.

The hotel rooms are in the first phase, already opened and being rented.

The two-bedroom villas in the first phase are nearly half sold to timeshare purchasers, and around 15 percent of the total, 215-villa project has already been sold.

“The sales pace is going very well, and we anticipate selling out completely by 2007,” Gum said.

The next phase opens in May, with 26 more units, followed by 65 more units in February of next year, and the final 49 villas on line by June of next year.

As buildout continues, more employees will be needed, he said. By June of next year, the operations staff will double, to 130.

A restaurant, yet to be named, is scheduled to open in June of this year.

Other executives at Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club include Rob Centra, project manager for construction and development; Merrill Yavinsky, project director; Amy Shiroma, front-office manager; Gary Tocatlian, guest activities manager; Karl Schwartzlow, director of finance; Chuck Brady, director of human resources; Cathy Veatch, director of services; Peter Villatora, chief engineer; and Sandra Muragin, executive secretary.

The opening of the Waiohai coincided with the opening of another Marriott vacation ownership resort, that being Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club on O’ahu.

Both have units available for weekly, lifetime ownership, or just nightly rentals. Please see www.marriottvacationclub.com for more details.

Kathy Seguine, 55, a geometry teacher from San Ramon, Calif., and her husband Edward, have sent five of their six children on honeymoons using their Marriott ownership weeks on Kaua’i and Maui.

“It’s so romantic,” said Seguine, citing moonlit walks on the beach and memorable swims with turtles. Married for 35 years, Seguine added, “It’s like having a honeymoon every year.”

The Seguines also use their five Marriott weeks to vacation with their children and 11 grandchildren. “Our vacations are consistent now,” said Seguine, who is currently planning a family reunion in Hawai’i with 27 relatives spanning four generations.

“Everyone finds a part of Hawai’i that speaks to them.”

There are 45 holes of golf within 10 minutes of the Waiohai resort, including the Poipu Bay Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones and home since 1994 to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

The Waiohai features two-bedroom, two-bath villas averaging around 1,200 square feet of living space, able to accommodate up to eight guests.

Introductory rental rates are offered at www.marriottvillarentals.com, or by calling toll-free 1-800-VILLAS-9.

Pricing for deeded, fee-simple ownership at the new resorts vary by villa type and season owned, currently averaging around $35,000 per weekly interval. See www.marriottvacationclub.com or call toll-free 1-866-300-3032 for more information.

A division of Marriott International, Inc. (NYSE: MAR), Marriott Vacation Club International has over 215,000 owner families and 6,000 units around the globe.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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