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Lanai resort workers to return to jobs beginning of next month

Pulama Lana‘i COO offers insight into Koele resort transformation

This is an aerial view the hydroponic farm on Lanai, which is producing vegetables currently sold on the island. This is a screenshot of a slide in a presentation by Kurt Matsumoto of Pulama Lana‘i on Thursday. — The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

Furloughed Lanai resorts workers will return to their jobs at the beginning of October, following the announcement of a COVID-19 pre-testing program for trans-Pacific travelers to bypass quarantine, said a top Pulama Lana’i official Thursday.

Kurt Matsumoto, chief operating officer for the company owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, made the announcement during his talk as part of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center’s Ta-Ke Leadership Series. Pulama Lana’i owns the Four Seasons Resorts Lana’i on the Manele coastline and Sensei Lana’i, A Four Seasons Resort in Koele and oversees the daily operations for Ellison, who bought 98 percent of Lanai from Castle & Cooke in 2012.

“We are so pleased to hear the governor’s announcement,” Matsumoto said regarding the pre-travel testing program. “That does mean we will be able to bring (the) workers back at the beginning of the month.”

Four Seasons Resorts Lana’i spokeswoman Lori Holland said Friday afternoon that both resorts will open Oct. 15 and are already accepting bookings.

“Employees will be returning based on occupancy and business needs,” Holland added.

Matsumoto

In August, more than 700 workers from the two resorts were furloughed after the quarantine for interisland travel was reimposed due to large numbers of cases on Oahu. Workers continued receiving medical benefits and were allowed to use their paid time off, which included personal, sick or vacation days. They also could file for unemployment compensation.

Prior to the furloughs, workers were paid from March 25 when the resort closed until July 1, when it reopened, Holland said previously. The interisland travel quarantine initially was imposed April 1, then lifted June 15. The interisland travel quarantine was reimposed Aug. 11 for arrivals on the Neighbor Islands.

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen so unfortunately, staff was put on furlough,” Matsumoto said.

Prior to the pandemic taking hold in March, Matsumoto said the Lanai resort at Manele was on its way to “having its best year.”

The other resort at Koele became the first wellness retreat in Hawaii in May 2019. Matsumoto offered some insight into how the Four Seasons resort at Koele became a Sensei wellness retreat.

The Koele resort was not popular among Mainland travelers because it wasn’t close to a beach, he explained. That’s where the rebranding came in. 

“And we took it and put it into a market where the weaknesses would actually be a strength,” Matsumoto said. “Not having a beach, being in a cooler climate, was actually more in tune with helping people focus on themselves and pay attention to their mind and body.”

The Koele resort was shutdown in 2015 and a $75 million “refresh” was done. The Sensei retreat is a joint venture between Ellison and Dr. David Argus.

“Our goal is to create experiences, products and services that help people address the gap between their wellness intentions and daily practices,” said Argus.

Activities range from one-on-one training sessions and group classes to lectures, philanthropic activities, immersive spa treatments in a private hale and island excursions.

On Pulama Lana’i’s agriculture front, Matsumoto said that its environmentally controlled hydroponic greenhouses have been providing products to markets and food vendors on island. The food grown will be used by the resorts when they reopen.

Sensei Ag began producing vegetables earlier this year on the island, the Associated Press reported in late July. The operation aims to produce more than a million pounds of food annually for distribution beyond Lanai using 90 percent less water than traditional farming, company officials have said. 

Matsumoto said the greenhouse is climate controlled, which also allows operators to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides used. The facility runs on solar and battery power.

Pulama Lana’i also has been busy on the island with conservation and restoration projects. In one example, the company tried to restore some old plantation homes, but they were too structurally unsound. So instead, the company rebuilt plantation homes for residents.

Pulama Lana’i volunteers have restored rocks at an island fishpond, put in measures to protect the Hawaiian petrel and worked to manage axis deer. The company fixed up private pools for public use, since the island had no county pool, and built a basketball court and football field.

Matsumoto said the company has sought to improve health care on the island. Hospice Hawaii operates on the island, and Lanai has a dedicated pharmacy.

The company currently is working on getting a CT machine so residents don’t need to travel off-island and bought and donated COVID-19 quick testing equipment to Lanai Community Health Center.

The Ta-ke speaking series provides leaders in the Maui community an opportunity to share their insights on modern day society, current issues and how through the lens of nisei or second-generation Japanese American values the community can get past today’s obstacles.

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

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