Disney’s Aulani Is Doing It Right

Mufi Hannemann
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
August 24, 2011 | Hawaiian Airlines Discount Share

Elliot Mills gives the author a tour of Disney’s Aulani. Photo from Mufi Hannemann

Aulani, Disney’s new resort in Ko Olina, is amazing in its attention to detail and impressive in its contributions to our economy.

Aulani managing director Elliot Mills, a local boy who had been with the hotel industry for 25 years before joining Disney, recently gave me a preview of the property, as construction workers labored to complete last-minute features and employees were put through their paces.

While I’ll return later to the topic of jobs, Elliot Mills is emblematic of Disney’s commitment to hiring locally. As further indication, the company retained the expertise of West Oahu resident and my former colleague Todd Apo and longtime island hotelier Kimberly Agas. They complement the terrific groundwork laid by Disney veteran Djuan Rivers, who helped lead Aulani to this point and in the process immersed himself in our local culture and lifestyle.

For anyone familiar with the wonders of Disneyland or Disney World, Aulani brings the Disney touch to our islands, with a unique emphasis on Hawaiian culture. Guests will enjoy a kalo patch fronting the hotel, a front-desk collage of photos taken by local children, murals adorning the towering reception hall and other creations by local artists and artisans, a Hawaiian language immersion-themed restaurant, lamps replicating burning kukui nuts, a family-oriented spa and myriad other features.

Disney certainly did not scrimp on creating a unique Hawaii visitor experience. I can’t do justice to Aulani and will leave it up to you to discover it for yourself. I can, however, speak to the contributions this development has made to our economy. In addition to adding to our hotel room inventory, creating a new attraction, and spurring growth in West Oahu, Aulani generated more than $600 million in spending, $59 million in state and county tax revenues and 4,800 jobs during the construction phase.

Elliot told me 900 employees are already on board, with up to 1,200 expected to be employed as the resort grows. Aulani will produce up to $270 million in salary income and general economic activity and $33 million in tax revenues a year. Disney projects that the fully realized resort will create 2,400 jobs in Hawaii, half at Aulani.

Residents will be hearing more about Aulani as the official September opening date approaches. But, for now, a brief account of how this project came to be might be in order as an example of economic development in action and a glimpse into how public-private partnerships are so vital to our visitor industry and economy.

Sometime after I took office as Honolulu’s mayor, developer Jeff Stone called to alert me that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts was looking to build its first standalone resort and was considering Ko Olina, among several other locations. Having supported the growth of residential, commercial and resort development in West Oahu during my stint on the City Council, I was intrigued with Disney’s interest and pledged my involvement.

Tammy Omoso

I subsequently met with Jay Rasulo, then chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, and made a strong case for Ko Olina. I also traveled to California to meet with Disney executives to reaffirm the county’s support should Oahu be the chosen site for their resort. While we encouraged Disney to come to Hawaii, we also urged the company to stay true to the Hawaiian culture and to hire locally. From what I saw at Aulani, Disney has fulfilled those key goals and more.

Once Disney made a decision to build at Ko Olina, the City administration lent its assistance in planning and zoning so the project could move forward. It was a lengthy and involved process that required time and attention on the part of the City government, but one that we viewed as vital to the realization of the vision for West Oahu and Ko Olina, crucial for our construction industry, and important to our economy.

Aulani, when complete, will have 359 hotel rooms, 481 Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas, restaurants, a conference center, event lawns, a kid’s club, and a family-friendly spa unlike anything seen in Hawaii. While the jobs and spending are welcome, more significant is having Disney select Hawaii for its first stand-alone resort, which sends a powerful and influential message to travelers and investors alike that our state is as great a place to do business as it is to enjoy the sun, sand, sea, surf and spirit of aloha.


Tammy Omoso

Position: Guest Service Representative
Location: Ilikai Hotel & Suites

The Ilikai Hotel & Suites has named guest service supervisor Tammy Omoso its “WOW Honoree” for her exceptional work performance, and “wow” is an apt description for this 23-year-old.

She’s been described as “insightful, knowledgeable, hard-working and [with] outstanding customer service skills.”

Tammy greets everyone with a big smile and warm aloha, earning her consistent high marks from guests.

When the hotel recently reopened after a renovation, Tammy took it upon herself to learn a new computer system on her own and then trained her coworkers.

Tammy’s unblemished reputation for excellence means that co-workers turn to her for help and advice.

She is so helpful and professional that management and the entire front office team look to her for inspiration.

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