by Deanna Ting | March 24, 2015
The Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Hawaii Island, also commonly referred to as the Big Island, continue to attract incentive groups to their shores thanks to their variety of properties and venues, as well as the uniquely Hawaiian cultural experiences that they offer.

"In Hawaii, we're always looking for ways to honor the unique culture and heritage of the islands," says Karen Hughes, vice president of Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships for the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

To bring more meetings to Hawaii, Meet Hawaii is making a "considerable effort to get more planners here" says Hughes. "The best way for us to sell Hawaii is to have planners feel, touch, taste, smell, and experience it."

She adds that Oahu and Hawaii Island, in particular, are gearing up for many more meetings groups. "Citywide conventions often tend to go to Oahu," she explains. "The next island with the largest capacity for larger groups is Hawaii Island."

She says that Hawaii Island, in particular, has seen a lot of interest from travel- and meeting-industry-related groups, including the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, which held its annual conference at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in November 2014. The National Association of Career Travel Agents plans to meet this November at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay for its annual conference. "We're seeing some industry conferences that want to host their conference there; it's been a great destination for that," says Hughes.

The Sheraton Kona is one hotel property that Deanna Isbister, sales director for the Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB), knows well. Having taken several meeting planning programs to the property, as well as been part of internal BIVB meetings that took place at the Sheraton, she says that what she finds most special about it is its rich history and "special sense of place."

Cultural activities at the Sheraton Kona include a traditional Hawaiian imu (pit) dinner, lei making, hula lessons, guided tours of the historic Keauhou Bay, and even branding your own Hawaiian canoe paddle with Polynesian symbols.

While there are a number of beach and island destinations around the world that are suited for meeting and incentive groups, it's that one-of-a-kind cultural experience that sets Hawaii apart, says Hughes and Isbister. "It helps benchmark Hawaii as an international experience--but without the price tags or difficulties of traveling internationally," explains Hughes.

Here's a closer look at the latest news and updates from Oahu and Hawaii Island.

Often regarded as the "heart of Hawaii" and the "meeting place" of the islands, Oahu continues to add to its already robust meeting and tourism infrastructure. The biggest news from the island relates to the 2016 opening of the island's very first Four Seasons, the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, which replaces the former JW Marriott Ihiliani Resort.