In December 2012, North Kihei’s Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort was featured on Travel Channel’s hit show, Hotel Impossible. While reality makeover shows often lead to either great success or swift failure for many businesses, especially on an island where the coconut express often brings news faster than Facebook, we’re happy to report that the Sunseeker survived the storm, and then some.
We recently sat down with Owner Chuck Spence, along with General Manager Michael Waddell, to chat about the advantages and disadvantages of being featured on an internationally recognized reality show and how it has affected their hotel business on Maui.
Hotel Impossible Advantages
One of the most obvious advantages of being featured on Hotel Impossible is the esteemed advice and expertise from host Anthony Melchiorri, who has over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry and comes engrained with an expectation for quality from those fortunate enough to work in the same industry.
During the episode, Anthony arrives to find the level of hotel maintenance, in addition to the delegation of duties between the owner and general manager, less than acceptable for travelers seeking comfort and relaxation in island paradise. While his criticism of the hotel’s appearance and management is predictably harsh throughout the episode – think of a less foul-mouthed but similarly outraged Gordon Ramsay – Chuck and Michael voluntarily invited him because they knew they needed his help to turn the business around before it was too late.
Before the show, we were actually a bit confrontational and maybe did not have as much respect for each other’s positions. After the show, and even during the filming, I was able to be more direct with him. Today, two years down the road, we share a lot of interaction about the business, about strategy, about staff and about each other. -Michael, General Manager
Anthony also brought light to another important issue – while Maui Sunseeker caters to LGBT travelers, it’s also important to widen the market to heterosexuals, who continue to make up a giant portion of the 2+ million travelers to Maui each year. By changing the marketing strategy to be more inclusive of open-minded heterosexual visitors, business could easily increase by 10 to 15%, enough to make a huge difference in the hotel’s annual profit.
We market ourselves as a primary LGBT resort but we welcome all awesome adults. We do not discriminate. We are not and have never positioned ourselves as the typical gay hotel. We are all about our guests having the Maui experience, and if Sunseeker is part of that experience, all the better. Our guests are our Ohana; we treat everyone like family. That is one of the guiding principles of our business model. Guests are more than a room number. They have names and we try to remember them. -Michael, General Manager
Another obvious advantage of being featured on Hotel Impossible is the opportunity for complimentary renovations, which can be extremely costly and challenging in an environment only feet away from the ocean’s corrosive salt spray. With the help of Hotel Impossible designer Blanche Garcia, the formerly drab rooftop deck got a modern makeover, complete with several seating areas, UV, rain and wind protectant sun sails and bamboo fencing.
In addition, a Full Suite was given a full renovation with modern kitchen features, new paint and design upgrades, which Chuck and Michael replicated on an additional 15 rooms using Blanche’s custom design model.
On the night the show aired, two months after filming was complete, Maui Sunseeker posted the redesign photos to coincide with the episode reveal, and invited the whole staff to watch the episode in Chuck’s apartment before heading to Kihei’s Moose McGillycuddy’s for the premiere party and second showing later that evening. Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa even dropped by a couple weeks later for a tour of the property!
As the first (and currently, only) LGBT hotel ever featured on Hotel Impossible, public support flowed in from local and national LGBT communities, and with the exception of one irate caller, response was overwhelmingly positive.
As a result of the show, not only are travelers aware of a new, beautiful place to stay on Maui, but the Sunseeker happily reports that business has increased, and two years later, continues to do so every time the episode airs on the Travel Channel. Just last week, in fact, the Sunseeker was featured on Hotel Impossible’s Top 10 Blowups & Meltdowns (Michael’s beach meltdown came in at #5), which came as a funny and welcome surprise. With a 40% repeat guest rate, an impressive statistic in the highly competitive hotel industry, it’s safe to say that the Sunseeker’s reality TV appearance did not go unrewarded or unnoticed.
I have felt the aloha spirit, and I believe the sun will rise on the Sunseeker. -Anthony Melchiorri, Hotel Impossible Host
And it seems it has.
Hotel Impossible Disadvantages
Besides getting chewed out on national television, the only real disadvantages noted by Chuck and Michael are the same disadvantages in agreeing to appear on any reality television series – conversations edited with different reactions, embarrassing moments caught forever on film, a general focus on only the ugly aspects of the hotel’s appearance, and an emphasis on lack of hotel quality and occupancy instead of, perhaps, less interesting issues with Maui County building permits and regulations.
All in all, the experience was a definite win for Maui Sunseeker, who continue to provide a relaxing haven for travelers from around the world. Chuck and Michael still keep in touch with Anthony and Blanche, who they now consider to be friends and supporters, and the Sunseeker is now proudly one of the only successful LGBT resorts in the state of Hawaii.
For more information, please visit Maui Sunseeker or call +1 (808) 879-1261.