Marriott changing ownership, 457 laid off

LIHU‘E — Donald “Hawk” Kawaihalau worked the graveyard shift as a valet and shuttle driver at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort &Beach Club for over 21 years.

He is one of over 450 employees affected by recent layoffs spanning the hotel, including 56 housekeepers, 20 banquet servers, 25 laundry attendants and 14 pool servers, to make 457 affected employees.

Essex House Condominium Corporation, which operates as the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort &Beach Club, will cease operations in March.

In a letter to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and Mayor Derek Kawakami dated Dec. 31, hotel General Manager Paul Toner explained that the Massachusetts-based Sonesta will take over as the new operator to manage the hotel, “most likely at the close of business on March 1, 2021.”

Sonesta will manage the hotel property as a Royal Sonesta, according to a letter from Art Gillespie, president of the Kaua‘i Beach Club Owners Association and the Association of Apartment Owners. It is set to become the first Sonesta resort in the state.

The 232-room hotel is owned by Services Properties Trust. Last October, the trust terminated its agreement with Marriott International for 122 hotels in over 30 states after Marriott could not meet its payments.

The property is the fourth-largest employer on the island, according to DLIR 2019 statistics on the state’s open-data portal.

Kawaihalau, who grew up in Nawiliwili, has spent his life working in the tourism industry. His first job was as a beach boy at Kaua‘i Surf. He later spent stints at Coco Palms and a resort in Las Vegas.

“At my age, I spent my time,” Kawaihalau, 75, said Tuesday afternoon. “For the younger guys, it’s really sad.”

The affected employees will be given information from Sonesta on employment, according to Toner’s letter to the state.

Spokesperson Lucy Slosser could not comment on hotel specifics, but said, “business levels have been profoundly affected by the pandemic, and continue to determine operational and staffing adjustments.”

Due to the pandemic, the resort closed from April to October, temporarily furloughing employees and reducing work hours. To aid employees, Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank and the resort’s charity fund provided monthly care packages of groceries. The resort was also able to make pool repairs.

The hotel and timeshares are separately operated, and conversations between Sonesta and Marriott Vacation Club are ongoing “to ensure that the services you are accustomed to will continue to carry on into the future,” Gillespie wrote.

Beach Club timeshares will continue to be managed by Marriott Vacations Worldwide as a Marriott Vacation Club, according to Gillespie’s letter.

Kawaihalau has no regrets, saying he enjoyed his work, management and fellow associates. But he’ll miss meeting tourists from around the world.

“The island really misses them,” he said. “I’ll miss meeting new people.”

  1. sharon January 6, 2021 7:35 am Reply

    Does the Marriot offer any retirement options for its employees that have worked for over 20 years?

    1. David January 6, 2021 5:59 pm Reply

      Pensions pretty much don’t exist anymore from private companies. I’m seeing a standard 401K matching mentioned and free stays after 25 years.

    2. S.Kai January 6, 2021 7:01 pm Reply

      after 25 years lifetime benefits

  2. Da Shadow January 6, 2021 9:14 am Reply

    welcome to The New Kauai. No one is welcome here unless you are an elitist friend of government.
    Livelihoods don’t matter.
    Freedom doesn’t matter.

  3. unbeleivable January 6, 2021 2:29 pm Reply

    This is BS!! A mainland company coming in and laying off almost 500 workers? Holy crap, what nerve they have.. This is definitely not the way to start off a relationship with the people of kauai. Perhaps they don’t realize that they might actually need the support and patronage of the local community to sustain their business? Lets just hope they don’t replace everyone with mainland transplants.. I’m not sure how the DLIR is allowing this but please people lets not welcome this new ownership company with “open arms”. I say we boycott them after March 1st and send a message and hopefully send them packing their bags back to Massachusetts.

    1. Anahola Paul January 7, 2021 6:52 am Reply

      Yikes….I don’t know who Services Property Trust is…but I did look them up. Take a look at this presentation….

      Services Property Trust owns the hotel…not the Marriot. Marriot just managed the property. When visitors went away in Kauai…Marriot stopped paying. They haven’t paid since March. This happened to 200 hotels that Services Property Trust owns. So…the landlord fired Marriot and replaced them with Sonesta. Services Property Trust owns 34% of Sonesta. As you can imagine…without any income by visitors…they got no money. In fact…the company averages only 43% occupancy within their portfolio and 0% occupancy in Kauai….and they had to put up another $91 million to keep their hotels going. So…before we send them packing….AND…as one of the largest employers to Kauai…these folks are trying to keep their hotel alive to fight another day. Think BIG picture…please.

    2. Da Shadow January 7, 2021 12:15 pm Reply

      by “support and patronage” -are you referring to the hatred many (North Shore in particular) have toward visitors? or maybe the way Kauai makes it difficult to do business here?
      yeah, great support.

  4. Henry Rearden January 7, 2021 8:23 am Reply

    @unbeleivable, you may have misunderstood the article. This is a change of management from Marriott to Sonesta. Marriott is the current employer and must terminate the employees upon ending management. Sonesta is stepping in as the new manager and would continue to operate the hotel. Usually in these types of transactions, the incoming manager offers employment to the current employees. Sonesta has been around a long time and has recently been in the hotel news about their growth. They likely know the need to keep the current employees…gotta have the peeps to run a hotel.

  5. Edward Thatch January 21, 2022 4:10 am Reply

    Could this void my timeshare contract with Marriott?

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