Oahu, Hawaii's most populous island, has always drawn a large share of the meetings and incentives market. Now, with the July 1998 opening of the 1.16 million-square-foot Hawai'i Convention Center, the island will have even more to offer groups. That facility, located on the banks of the Ala Wai waterway in Honolulu, just at the entrance to Waikiki, will be a four-story complex with distinctive island architecture. It is within walking distance of many of Waikiki's 30,000 guest rooms and just a 20-minute drive from the Honolulu International Airport.

The first floor holds a 200,000-square-foot exhibition hall broken into four sections that operate independently, each with its own lobby and service entry. The second floor is given over to parking, while the third floor has 107,426 square feet for meetings, with 49 meeting rooms (the largest seats 1,000); 12 executive rooms with private restrooms, wet bars, and terraces or courtyards; two audiovisual theaters with seating for 332 and 465 persons; a teleconferencing center; and a press room. A 36,000-square-foot-ballroom-Hawaii's largest-is on the fourth floor. It overlooks a 2.5-acre roof garden that can be set up for theme parties such as luaus. The ballroom is divisible into three rooms, each with its own food service.

The majority of the complex is landscaped with native Hawaiian and tropical plants, while the interior design incorporates the traditions of the islands, with murals, artifacts, and frescoes depicting the myths, legends, and traditions of our 50th state.

Though Honolulu is best known for its famed beach resort of Waikiki, the city's other neighborhoods have a good share of attractions. A vibrant Chinatown offers bustling crowds, colorful lei stands, fragrant noodle and dim sum factories, and exotic acupuncture and herbal medicine shops. Your attendees could spend half a day exploring its charms, either on their own or on a walking tour that covers the area and its history.

For a completely unique experience, rouse your group before sunrise and take them to the Honolulu Fish Auction at Kewalo Basin. Each morning (except Sundays) the site bustles with activity as wholesale dealers and restaurateurs furiously bid on the day's catch. Visitors are welcome.

Any group-particularly those with veterans-will appreciate a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, which commemorates the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, leading to the United States' involvement in World War II. The facility includes an excellent museum and a moving film about the attack. A short boat ride takes visitors over to the memorial itself, which straddles the wreckage of the USS Arizona, the ship that sank in less than nine minutes with 1,177 of her crew, most of whose remains are still beneath the sea. Entrance is free; come early in the day to avoid long lines, as groups cannot make reservations.

History buffs will want to take in some of Honolulu's vintage structures. The Renaissance-style Iolani Place, built in 1822, was the official residence of Hawaii's last monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Lili'uokalani, and is the United States' only royal palace. The Kawaiahao Church, which dates to 1842, is Hawaii's oldest; services are still conducted in Hawaiian. Hawaii's Plantation Village is a collection of 30 original and replica plantation homes and buildings from the time when sugar cane was a major cash crop. Finally, the well-regarded Bishop Museum has excellent exhibits on Hawaii's colorful history.

An Enchanting Effect There's a vibrant excitement to Waikiki, the world-famous beach resort-one that travelers won't find anywhere else. High-rise hotels line Waikiki Beach, and upscale boutiques and downscale souvenir shops clutter Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag, but somehow the effect is enchanting rather than assaulting. Though each Hawaiian island offers its own type of beauty, there's something about Waikiki that masterfully blends man's handiwork with nature's treasures. Perhaps it is the dramatic backdrop of the extinct volcano, Diamond Head, that makes it all work so well.

To the ancient Hawaiians, Diamond Head was Leahi ("the place of fire"), a site of worship and human sacrifice. Its modern name came from 19th-century British soldiers who mistook the volcano's glistening calcite crystals for diamonds. Inside the crater is a state park with broad grassy areas and a hiking trail that rewards those who reach the 760-foot summit with panoramic views.

Among Waikiki's many attractions are the Hawaii Imax Theatre, with a screen five stories high and 70 feet wide; the Wailolo Aquarium, the country's third oldest, with exhibits on native sea life and depictions of how native Hawaiians used the ocean in their daily lives; and the Honolulu Zoo, where 42 acres are home to elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and indigenous animals such as the Hawaiian pig and the nene, a rare goose.

Groups will appreciate the chance to experience Hawaii's greatest asset: the Pacific Ocean. You can arrange kayak or outrigger races, snorkel and scuba diving excursions, catamaran rides, dinner cruises, or a voyage in the Atlantis submarine, which descends 100 feet to view coral reefs and a shipwreck.

As the Waikiki/Oahu Visitors Association likes to say about its island: "The beach is just the beginning." Oahu's 608 square miles include two mountain ranges: the Waianae, which stretches along part of the leeward (west) coast, and the Koolau, located along the windward (northeast) side of the island. On the north side are the famous surfing beaches of Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Pipeline, where winter waves can exceed 20 feet in height.

Located just 15 miles from Waikiki along the south shore in Makapuu, Sea Life Park covers 62 acres and offers an up-close look at marine life. Attractions include a 300,000-gallon reef tank, a whaling museum, a bird sanctuary, a touch pool, and an open-air aquatic theater in which dolphins, sea lions, and penguins perform. The park is also home to the world's only "wholphin," a hybrid of a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.

On the north shore, a good place to send your attendees for a free day or spouse tour is Waimea Valley, an 1,800-acre park with botanical gardens, a tropical forest, and an ancient village and burial site. Continuous demonstrations showcase the Hawaiian traditions of hula, game-playing, fishing, and crafts. One of the highlights is the Hawaiian-style cliff-diving show from the rocky ledges of 60-foot Waimea Falls. (Visitors are welcome to swim beneath the pounding falls after the performance.) The adventurers in your group will thrill to the valley's all-terrain vehicle or downhill mountain biking tours. The park also offers snorkel and kayak trips.

Both Sea Life Park and Waimea Valley are open to groups for special outings and events, such as a shipwreck theme party or a Hawaiian-style barbecue.

The Dole Plantation, in Wahaiwa, tells all you'll ever need to know about the farming of pineapples, while the Hawaii Maritime Center at Honolulu Harbor gives the history of the islands' whaling days.

Another good spot for groups is the Polynesian Cultural Center, which recreates seven island villages-including those from New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, and, of course, old Hawaii. The nighttime revue covers Polynesia's 5,000-year history with great pageantry. Charmaine Jagodinsky, marketing manager of Waunakee, WI-based Germania Dairy Automation, Inc., brought her group of 150 sales representatives and spouses to the complex for an awards banquet. The firm's key presenters, garbed in traditional Hawaiian costumes, boated over the lagoon to the amphitheater to get the show rolling, and each of the 25 winners donned native costumes before going on stage to accept their awards. While she and top management members attended a dress rehearsal to pull off the unique evening, the group was free to roam the center and enjoy its attractions. "A trip to Oahu is not complete unless you've been there," Jagodinsky says of the facility. "In fact, it was my third time there."

If you're looking for someplace different to hold a meeting or seminar, consider the Hawaii Theatre Center. This splendid neoclassic venue complete with regal columns, gold-leaf accents, Shakespearean bas reliefs, and a sweeping Lionel Walden mural, just reopened in May 1996 after a four-year, $22 million renovation. The theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, seats 1,401 persons and has a function room for receptions and an on-site catering kitchen.

Hotel News The Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki is a small city unto itself with 20 acres of lush landscaping with a large and fanciful pool, numerous restaurants, and some 100 shops. The 2,545 guest rooms include the upscale Ali'i Tower, whose 348 guest rooms are a bit more upscale with three-times-daily maid service, daily newspaper, fax machines, and three telephones. The tower has its own private pool, health club, and open-air lounge. The Hilton's impressive meeting space includes three ballrooms (24,744 square feet, 8,640 square feet, and 10,080 square feet) just refurbished in spring 1996, and many smaller meeting rooms. The resort will open a new 400-room tower in January 2000; a year earlier, its lagoon will become an underwater "reef adventure" attraction in which snorkelers will be tugged by a motor device as they pass by sharks and other large creatures-safely tucked behind Plexiglas.

The Hawaiian Regent, which sits on Waikiki's quieter end near Diamond Head, has 1,345 guest rooms, three ballrooms-the largest is 6,673 square feet-and 11 meeting rooms, for a total of 18,740 square feet of meeting space.

Another Oahu meeting property is the 1,852-room Sheraton Waikiki, which has more than 45,000 square feet of meeting space and a 17,000-square-foot lawn, with great views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.

Smaller groups will enjoy the historic ambience at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, one of Waikiki's few Victorian-style hotels. It has 793 rooms and 24,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space.

Located just steps from the large Ala Moana Shopping Center and right across the street from the new Hawai'i Convention Center, the Ala Moana Hotel offers groups more than 1,200 guest rooms, including seven concierge floors geared toward business travelers, and 15,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 7,000-square-foot ballroom.

The Hyatt Regency Waikiki is undergoing a $10 million renovation that will spruce up all 1,230 guest rooms and public areas, as well as a new fitness center. The hotel's Regency Club, which encompasses six floors, offers concierge service with a private lounge and special room amenities. Meeting space includes the 10,023-square-foot Regency Ballroom and seven additional meeting rooms.

Fans of television's "Hawaii Five-O" will recognize the Ilikai/Hotel Nikko Waikiki from the show's opening credits. The hotel, which overlooks the Ala Wai Yacht Marina, has 800 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet for meetings, including a 15,340-square-foot ballroom and 23 meeting rooms.

On the island's quiet western shore at Kapolei, the 351-room Ihilani Resort & Spa offers 18 holes of golf, six tennis courts, and exercise and pampering in its 35,000-square-foot spa.