We were disappointed when we received a letter from reader Cynthia Burdge of Kailua, Hawaii, shortly after our Stay List came out, informing us that one of our picks, the Lodge and Beach Village at Molokai Ranch, had closed. But we were even more frustrated to learn about the circumstances surrounding it.
On March 25th, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that the hotel, which consists of a restored plantation and tent village, shuttered its doors after it was denied permission to build a 200-lot luxury development on 500 acres at La'au Point. The hotel generated more than $9 million in revenue for the island each year, and over the past few weeks, the fallout has begun its ripple effect: over 120 employees are out of work, nearby businesses that the hotel ran to serve tourists have closed, and residents are worried that the hotel will not continue to maintain roads and other public utilities that they rely on. As Burdge writes, “[T]hey ‘gave back’ to the community by putting 120 people out of work on an island where the unemployment rate was already twice that of the rest of the state...This time, Aloha means goodbye.”
Traveler wrote about the resort in our September 2004 issue, describing the hotel as family-friendly enclave and noting that "Molokai has managed to avoid the tourist crush of Oahu and Maui—and likes it that way." Molokai's uniquely authentic character was further demonstrated in our Places Rated: Islands issue (November/December 2007), where Molokai ranked highest of all of the Pacific islands. One of our panelists reported that:
"More than 60 percent of the population are native Hawaiians interested in preserving their heritage, homesteads, and family values. Many prefer to live on a subsistence level. Under these circumstances, they are resentful of and oppose tourist developments. Better to just leave the island alone."
When the Molokai Properties management company, a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., finished their development plans to build the luxury properties in 2005, they were met with strong resistance from the community of 7,500 residents. Protesters staged a rally at La'au Point, and a series of debate-filled community board meetings ensued over the following years. (You can watch a video that presents a comprehensive look at the conflict here.) The management company submitted an environmental impact statement in October of last year, but it was rejected by the state Land Use Commission, due to concerns about water treatment and the potential threat to Hawaiian monk seals, among other environmental issues. Unable to make a profit on the hotel (Hawaii's governor Linda Lingle said the hotel reported net losses of $37 million between 2001-2006), Chief Executive Peter Nichols decided to "mothball" the ranch. In a press release that was up on the hotel's website (which is no longer available online) Nichols explained his decision, saying, "[W]ithout the prospect of an economic future for the company that results from the implementation of all facets of the Master Plan, we are unable to continue to bear large losses from continuing these operations."
When the decision first came out, the hotel’s management company,
Molokai Properties, said that they would
be restricting public access to their property, which
amounts to more than a third of the island. They’ve thankfully just announced plans
to donate 1,600 acres to the Molokai Land Trust, which will preserve a
five-mile stretch of land on the island’s north shore, which is home to
bird nesting sites, rare plant species, and an extensive network of
tidal pools and traditional fishing shrines. But the company owns
60,000 acres, and we’ll be following this story to see how the rest of
the land is distributed, and how the residents of the island are faring.
At present time, they've convened a Molokai Action Team of political and economic leaders to help plan for Molokai's future.
The Lodge and Beach Village at Molokai Ranch was nominated for the
Stay List by one of our travel experts. We then sent an in-depth
questionnaire to the property which included request for information
about recent renovations and other changes. We did not ask for
information regrading plans for future changes to the property, and in
hindsight, this is something we regret. In future Stay List efforts,
this will change: We will seek out information regarding plans,
permits, and the like.
We thoroughly vet all of our content before publication, and our Stay List accurately reflected the hotel at press time. But we will be removing the ranch from our Stay List listings and look to our readers to keep us abreast of changes for all of the places we cover. The state of travel is always in flux; as readers you are our eyes and ears. So comment here on the blog and email us at email@example.com. We're ready to hear from you.
Photos: Austin Wallace via Flickr