The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas officially opens today

Na Hanona Kulike O Pi‘ilani kumu Kapono‘ai Molitau (from left) chants Friday morning at The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas as Makalapua Kanuha, the resort’s complex director of culture; Ron Hensel, regional project director for Vistana Signature Experiences; Chris Rabang, general manager; Angela Nolan, area managing director of Hawai‘i Villas for Vistana Signature Experiences; and Bruce McNish, Vistana vice president of operations, untie a maile lei. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAANAPALI — Kaanapali’s newest multimillion-dollar resort, The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, officially opens today.

Set along north Kaanapali Beach just 300 yards north of its sister property, The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, the new resort consists of eight six-story buildings, with one-, two- and three-bedroom villas. Only 190 villas are open, with the remaining 200 coming online in the fall, General Manager Chris Rabang said Friday as workers with hard hats roamed the property and hotel staff buffed floors in preparation for opening day.

According to county building permits, the resort buildings are valued at more than $275 million, with the pool and water features valued at $5.5 million. Groundbreaking was in February 2015.

The resort is open for bookings from the general public as well as its vacation ownership members, Rabang said.

Kamaaina rates start at $229 per night for a one-bedroom resort view villa, excluding taxes and fees. The average starting rate for a one-bedroom resort view villa is $559, excluding taxes and fees.

About 190 of the 390 rooms in The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas are currently available to guests. The resort sits on 16 acres fronting North Kaanapali Beach. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A traditional Hawaiian blessing with pule, or prayer, and untying of a maile lei were held Friday along with an awa ceremony with Native Hawaiian community members and leaders along with stakeholders and hotel officials. At least 100 people, including politicians, resort staff and community members, attended the private blessing.

The cultural blessing ties into the hotel’s commitment to Hawaiian culture as it intertwines the use of local Hawaiian art and other features throughout the resort into its decor, programs and food.

While the multiroom villas are an attraction with full kitchens and washer-and-dryer units, the luxury accommodations are not unique to Maui, Rabang said.

“What sets us apart is our commitment to the culture,” he said.

Rabang said that Hawaiian cultural experts and community members were brought in early on to work as unofficial consultants assisting with work on the features and programs of the resort. The effort was led by the resort’s complex director of culture, Makalapua Kanuha.

The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas General Manager Chris Rabang talks about returning to Maui for his “dream job.” -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

At the heart of the resort lobby is tiled artwork in the floor depicting the piko, which hotel officials said represents Hawaiian ancestors and ties to Hawaiian genealogy.

“It’s the lifeline to our property,” Rabang said. “This is our connection to our ancestors.”

In the ceiling and in the four pillars in the lobby are wooden designs depicting hina’i, or the ancient Hawaiian fishing basket, which represents the collection of stories from ancestors.

The basket represents the collection of stories that have been taken in over the years, Rabang said.

“It’s our kuleana to share those stories now to those that come to visit us,” he added. “When they leave, they have a better understanding of Maui and our culture.”

Guests gather in the lobby for an awa ceremony at The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas on Friday morning. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The fishing basket design is tied to the ancient fishing village that had been in the area, said Krystle Alcain, public relations manger for The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, as she gave a tour of the hotel.

She added that every building has a name tied to the traditional Hawaiian land division, or ahupua’a, which stretches from the uplands to the sea. For example, one building is called lawai’a, or fisherman.

Its signature restaurant is named Mauka Makai, which means to the mountains and to the ocean.

The 16-acre parcel is dotted with native plants and includes a small lo’i kalo, or taro patch. When grown, the taro will be used in the restaurant, Alcain said.

“You will walk away with a little bit of knowledge,” Alcain said.

Another unique feature of the hotel is its Pu’uhonua o Nanea Cultural Center, located off the lobby, which contains Hawaiian displays and books. It will offer cultural classes featuring history, language, art, crafts, music and dance. Some classes are for guests only, but others will be open to the public.

The neighboring Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas also has a cultural center.

The momentum for guest bookings for the new resort is building, Rabang said.

“You’ll see a week from tomorrow, the floodgates will be open. We will welcome an almost full hotel by next week,” he said.

While the resort will see 390 villas at full buildout, there are more than 700 bedrooms, Rabang said. All buildings are constructed, with crews finishing the interior work of the remaining buildings, he added.

Rabang said that even though the resort is available to those that have vacation club ownerships, it’s open to the public because there are usually rooms not taken up by the owners.

The old model was that owners own a room at the resort, but it no longer operates that way, he said. The owners come and occupy a nonspecific room.

More than 220,000 families own at Vistana Signature Experiences Inc.’s 21 villa resorts in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. The resorts operate under the Sheraton and Westin brands.

“Maui is forever going to be a popular tourist destination with families and couples traveling together,” Rabang said.

The villas have amenities that other Westin resorts and hotels have, such as Westin Heavenly Beds and Westin Heavenly Baths.

There’s a living area with queen-sized sofa sleepers and a private furnished lanai for each of the villas.

The resort features a lagoon-style swimming pool, children’s beach pool and a kids’ area with fountains, along with grills for guests. The beach is adjacent to the property. A small grocery outlet is on site, and guests can order groceries to have delivered to their rooms before they arrive, Alcain said.

A snack shop, Mea Ono, in the lobby is designed to look like an old-time crack-seed store.

The resort has around 120 employees, Rabang said, and more are being sought. When the final portion of the resort is complete, Rabang said, another 40 employees will be needed.

Around 95 percent of the resort employees are from Maui or have been living on Maui at least for a decade, he said.

The resort hired two workers who lost their jobs when Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. closed in December, Rabang said. And there are at least two employees who worked at Makena Beach & Golf Resort, which closed in July.

For Rabang, a 1991 graduate of Maui High School, the position at The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas is a “dream job.”

He was hotel manager at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa and has held senior leadership positions at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, including hotel manager. During his tenure at the Westin Ka’anapali, he led the opening of the north side expansion of the villa resort.

He then joined the regional team and most recently spent three years in Samoa, where he opened two new Sheraton resorts as a general manager.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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