Top 250: Aqua Hotels and Resorts
Benjamin Rafter, President & CEO, Aqua Hotels & Resorts.
Marrying analytics and technology with guest experience has proven successful for Aqua Hotels and Resorts. The full-service hotel management company has created a name for itself in Hawaii and it shows no signs of slowing.
“Most people who are involved in hotel business come from the guest services and lifestyle side of the industry,” says Benjamin Rafter, Aqua’s president and CEO. “We’ve successfully merged people with luxury and lifestyle experience with people who have deep analytics, technology and ecommerce knowledge.”
The results speak for themselves: Aqua uses third parties to evaluate its metrics and compare its product with other hotels. The numbers consistently show that Aqua outperforms competitors, a trend Aqua plans on continuing.
Later this year, when Aqua reopens the iconic Volcano House on the Big Island of Hawaii, Aqua will be the only company operating on Hawaii’s six major tourism islands. In its inception in 2001, Aqua had just two hotels. Now, the company has grown to encompass 22.
But a large number of locations doesn’t mean cookie-cutter products. One of Aqua’s major initiatives is to immerse guests in their surroundings. “When you stay at one of our hotels, you experience the destination. Our procedures were not written in New York City or Los Angeles,” Rafter says. “Rather, we customize the experience for the guest, whether that experience is in Waikiki or the east side of Kauai, it’s localized to exactly where guests are staying.”
We also encourage team members to make recommendations on what they would do. “Anyone can pull the 10 most popular restaurants in Honolulu, but most guests want to go one step further. To truly experience the destination we encourage guests to know what someone local would do,” Rafter says.
And the Aqua team is more than happy to help. This may be attributed in part to the fact that employees have a stake in the company’s success due to the company’s execution of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 2008. “All of our team members are owners,” Rafter says. “The pride of ownership and even the way they relate to guests creates a bond for everyone who works for us. To own a piece of the company and participate in its growth is special.”
The ownership employees take resonates with guests. Rafter recalls a housekeeper who was awarded national recognition as “Employee of the Year” for the hotel industry. “Every night, on her own time, she wrote letters to the guests thanking them,” he says. “That kind of interaction makes guests want to come back. Above anything I can do, her dedication defines who we are.”
1850 Ala Moana Boulevard
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