Against a backdrop of Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano, picture-perfect waterfalls plunge into glistening pools, majestic mountains beckon with little-known tropical trails, and the sun-drenched beaches exert their mighty pull on 2.5 million tourists a year, to make Maui the most popular of all neighbor islands. For the tenth year, readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted Maui "Best Island in the World."
So it might surprise more than a few meeting planners to mention Maui and Silicon Valley in the same breath. Just as Oahu came to the conclusion that it needed the Hawaii Convention Center to attract the business community, Maui has quietly positioned itself as "the most technologically advanced center of the Pacific Basin," according to "Economic Indicators," a report from First Hawaiian Bank. Near the resorts of Wailea, the Maui High Performance Computing Center is hosting meetings for up to 50 people at the site of one of the world's most powerful super-computers.
And by mid-1999, the 45,000- square-foot International Conference Center will open as a venue for symposiums and retreats focused on technology.
At the same time, tourism (including meetings and incentives) remains firmly entrenched as the number one economic engine on Maui. Along the island's west coast, four major resort areas contain the island's most spectacular properties: Kapalua, Kaanapali, Wailea, and Makena.
Maui's most popular attractions take visitors from 10,025 feet above sea level within the moonscape-like Haleakala Crater to sea-level and Maui's easternmost point, the tiny town of Hana. Hikers can walk the brilliant red landscape of Painted Pots in the Haleakala Crater, or join a biking group to cycle down its 38-mile flanks. To get to Hana, it's a slow drive on a 56-mile serpentine road, where you might do five miles an hour, then stop to swim in a pool beneath a waterfall.
Maui's other top two popular spots are equally diverse--the old whaling port of Lahaina, just south of Kaanapali and now a center for shopping, boat charter, and art galleries, and the Iao Valley, deep in the center of the West Maui Mountains. Iao Needle, a volcanic cinder cone soaring 1,200 feet, is one of Maui's most photographed sights. The newly opened Hawaii Nature Center in Iao Valley, with its Interactive Science Arcade, has exhibits, games, aquariums, and live animal displays.
In late January 1998, the $20 million Maui Ocean Center opened in Maalaea, midway between Wailea and Kaanapali, with dozens of exhibit tanks, a walk-through acrylic tunnel surrounded by a 600,000-gallon aquarium, and Humpback Whale Discovery Center.
Winter on Maui means whale-watch season, a popular event with incentive groups and meetings.
For land-based entertainment of another kind, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului is Hawaii's newest state-of-the-art theater complex. It accommodates groups from 50 to 100 in the rehearsal halls and meeting rooms, 300 in its "Black Box Theater" with flexible seating, 1,200 in the Castle Theater, used for dinner meetings or stage performances, and 3,000 in the outdoor amphitheater.
Mary Charles of MC&A often uses the Maui Tropical Plantation for a "Symphony Under the Stars," with a 40-piece orchestra. Amid 112 acres of sugar cane, pineapple, coffee, papaya, bananas, and macadamia nuts, it becomes the ultimate "enchanted evening," as music wafts along warm tropical breezes.
Hotel News * Aston Wailea offers special cultural presentations as part of its award-winning Hoolokahi program, designed to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian culture. It features prominent authorities who share their expertise on topics such as Polynesian navigation, Hawaiian herbs, and the Hawaiian language. The resort has also enhanced its Lokelani Ballroom with hand-painted murals by members of the Lanai Arts Program.
* The Hyatt Regency Maui recently completed a $2.5 million renovation of its ballroom, including additional open space, a new sound system, and new Hawaiian decor.
* Kea Lani Hotel, Suites & Villas has remodeled the mezzanine level of the hotel's lobby to create a new 25-by-25-foot room for board meetings, private dinners, and group hospitality.
* Sheraton Maui has reopened after a two-year $160 million redevelopment. All of the original buildings were demolished, except for two that were completely renovated. As a result, over half of the 510 guest rooms and suites are entirely new, while the rest have been remodeled. The majority of the rooms have direct ocean views.