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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Fairmont Orchid Resort: Flower power

Courtesy Fairmont Orchid

The Beachboys have become a big hit at one of the Big Island of Hawaii’s best-known AAA Four Diamond resorts. This band of boys, though, is not the crooning kind.

The Beachboys are ambassadors of Hawaiian culture, one of the more obvious ways that the Fairmont Orchid Resort preserves indigenous culture.

Given its location, it is natural that the Fairmont Orchid wants to protect Hawaiian heritage. The 32-acre oceanfront resort is part of the 3,200-acre Mauna Lani Resort and its sacred Hawaiian lands, which are rich with lava formations and historic, spiritual and archaeological sites.

The Orchid’s Beachboys are modeled after Hawaiian men who, through the late 1950s, took tourists on the island of Oahu out for a day and showed them how to surf.

Today’s Beachboys go beyond the surf in their interactions with guests.

“We’ve gone to another level of service with the Beachboys program,” said Rick Nagaoka, the Orchid’s director of sales and marketing. “At most hotels, they give you snorkel equipment and tell you to bring it back in an hour. Here, our Beachboys will show you how to surf or how to use a mask, will snorkel with you and will take you on a moonlight outrigger canoe ride.”

These friendly Hawaiians accompany guests as they swim among green sea turtles and hike past petroglyphs. During functions, the Beachboys mingle with attendees, then “talk story” over a fire pit, relating legends such as the fiery tales of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes.

To give a conference a Hawaiian-style start, the resort can arrange a “Big Kahuna” arrival for the company CEO aboard an outrigger canoe. The Beachboys will man the paddles and bring the company royalty to the white-sand beach to disembark as the CEO’s attendees await.

“We want people to go home with a knowledge of our culture and say, ‘That was a real bar-raiser for our program,’” said Nagaoka.

Island tradition also emerges in the Orchid’s team-building program. During one event, participants plan, build and furnish a small grass hut from a bundle of bamboo poles, shells, 
ti leaves and coconut fronds. Along the way, teams have to make decisions, such as whether to rent additional tools or hire a grass-shack builder to do the work. Another event is a dress-up relay where teams race to don Hawaiian costumes a piece at a time.

“It gets everybody out of their comfort zone,” said Jaisy Jardine, the resort’s director of public relations. “People love this event. It’s not very traditional, but it’s pure fun.”

In a generous twist on working as a team, a group of 700 attendees who met at the Orchid in April wanted to give back to the local community. After making arrangements ahead of time with the Big Island Visitors Bureau, the group convened for a half-day in meetings, then spent the rest of each day working on projects, such as painting and cleaning at six Big Island County public schools, and even donated computers and software.

“The mayor expressed his gratitude personally,” said Debbie Hogan, senior director of sales for the visitors bureau. “We’re getting more and more of these types of requests from visiting groups.”

The resort’s setting makes it simple to settle into the Hawaiian spirit.

“I always tell planners on a site inspection visit that our property is like a blank plate,” said Nagaoka. “You have multiple areas of outdoor function space which have that view.” He pointed to the Pacific Ocean, where two whales breached and a three-masted schooner cruised under full sail.

In places where the year-round temperature averages in the 80s, outdoor space is in demand. There is twice as much outdoor event space as indoor meeting space at the Orchid: 76,000 square feet in nine venues that vary from tropical gardens to open-air courtyards to crystal beaches.

A 21,600-square-foot lawn called Turtle Point overlooks the sea. It can accommodate starlit dinners for 1,000. Almost as many can savor roast pig at a traditional luau complete with a hula at Plantation Estate, 15,000 square feet of lusch grass surrounded by palm trees, located near the Tennis Pavilion.

Or for an intimate supper, 40 can enjoy live music and white-linen-and-silver service lit by tiki torches on a grassy knoll defined by tropical hedges outside Brown’s Beach House, one of four full-service restaurants.

“Our Coconut Grove space is oceanfront, and our Beachboys make a reception for 800 a real toes-in-the-sand experience,” said Jardine.

The Orchid’s 32,000 square feet of indoor function space lies in 18 meeting rooms, including a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and a 160-seat amphitheater.

Another plus is the Fairmont Gold Floor, which occupies the entire top floor of one of two six-floor guest-room buildings. All 45 guest rooms have views of waterfall gardens or the ocean. From 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., a concierge registers guests and arranges dinners, tours, spa visits and travel reservations.

The Gold Lounge offers continental breakfast, afternoon tea, pupus (Hawaiian hors d’oeuvres) and a full bar. For business conversations, there are indoor and lanai seating areas.

Other team-building possibilities include customized golf events such as scramble tournaments, clinics, skills challenges and night golf on two 18-hole courses.

Appealing for green-seeking groups is the Fairmont Orchid’s Room to Reef project, an integrated approach that encompasses biodegradable cleaning supplies, organic landscaping, reef maintenance and local ingredients — the farm-to-plate concept — in its restaurant kitchens.

Spouses can whip up local fare in cooking classes in those kitchens, hit the links, take a cool dip in a meandering 10,000-square-foot pool or enjoy seaside relaxation practices such as Flo-Yo (yoga on a stand-up paddle board) and classes in art, AquaFitness and crafting Hawaiian quilts and leis.

Chill time can also mean rejuvenation at the resort’s Spa Without Walls, with treatments indoors or in private oceanside or waterfall-side cabanas.

Either the hotel or a destination management company can arrange hiking a lava flow, flying above the rain forest on a zip line and horseback riding at a ranch, topped off with a chuck wagon barbecue for a group or family.

A year-round children’s program keeps little ones busy and even has nannies available.

“Our vision statement describes us as ‘Hawaii’s luxury resort inspired by culture, well being and genuine aloha,’” said Nagaoka. “To me, aloha is the feeling that you’re part of a family and that you’ll be missed when you leave. We strive for every guest to feel that way.”