Even in 1916, writer W. Somerset Maugham called Honolulu "the meeting place of east and west." Today, Honolulu is the only U.S. financial center where investment managers can communicate during the same business day with New York and the Far East. Served by 23 major airlines, numerous charter services, and more than a dozen airlines for mainland air cargo, Oahu is at the hub of Pacific Rim commerce.

What more logical reason to build the long-heralded convention center on the island known as "The Gathering Place." Strategically located on Kalakaua Avenue, the ten-acre Hawai'i Convention Center is within walking distance of most of Wai-kiki's 33,000 guest rooms. Within seven blocks there are 6,500 first-class deluxe committable rooms.

"Our goal is to become one of the top ten centers in the United States," says HVCB's Butler-Moreno. Since tourism is Oahu's number one industry, the larger hotels ardently champion the center.

"The convention center is probably the most important development in the Hawaii visitor industry since airplanes started flying to the islands" notes Jon Conching, director of sales and marketing for Hilton Hawaiian Village.

"What it does is to open up a new market. In the past, we have been unable to deal with the larger conventions due to lack of space, and now, as one of the largest hotels in Waikiki with 1,800 rooms, we have much to gain," said Paul Kikuta, hotel manager for the Sheraton Waikiki.

On the North Shore, an hour from Waikiki, the Polynesian Cultural Center recently opened its 42-acre grounds and waterways to the meetings industry. Recognized as Oahu's top paid attraction, the center is home to Polynesians from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, the Marquesas, and New Zealand.

Meeting sites include a Samoan chief's home, luau garden, 2,775-seat Pacific Theater, or thatched roof villages. Planners can also request special ceremonies. For example, if the meeting involves installation of a new president, a flaming torch can be thrown 50 feet across a stage from the outgoing to the incoming executive--fortuitously aided by a Samoan warrior!

"People want to have fun. They want a lot of Hawaiiana....[It can be] the common thread through the programs, like a legend about strength or courage in Hawaii and relating it to the award winner," explains Mary Charles, owner of MC&A, a Honolulu-based destination management company (DMC).

Some Enchanted Evenings Dining at luxurious private mansions or plantation estates gives attendees a taste of romantic Oahu. "Under the Hula Moon," one recent theme party held near Diamond Head, featured an art gallery under the stars with gourmet cuisine by award-winning island chefs Roy Yamaguchi, Bev Gannon, and George Gomes, and entertainment by pianist Jay Laren. Another for 300 persons was held within the Pali rain forest at a turn-of-the-century plantation home.

No longer a private residence, Armstrong Manor is typical of such private homes. Built in 1938, with a panoramic view of Diamond Head and Waikiki, it is on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places and accommodates up to 200 persons.

On Days Off When the workday ends, the waters off Waikiki offer excellent choices. Above the waterline, the unique Navatak 1 cruiser sails the Oahu Gold Coast from Diamond Head to Koko Head, using a virtually seasickness- proof design. Atlantis submarines take passengers on a voyage of discovery at depths down to 100 feet. The more adventurous can paddle a Waverider kayak out to Diamond Head or ride in an outrigger canoe.

One of the best ways to sample hiking is the easy, three-quarter mile hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater, with sweeping views of Waikiki, Koko Head and Punchbowl Craters, and the Pacific Ocean.

For walking enthusiasts, "A Journey to Old Waikiki" takes place every Saturday morning. Dressed in period costume, noted author/historian Glen Grant offers insights on Mark Twain, King Kalakaua, Robert Louis Stevenson, Prince Kuhio, and Duke Kahanamoku.

For golf devotees, Oahu has 30 courses--more than any other Hawaiian island, including the world's busiest course (Ala Wai Municipal Golf Course) and America's most difficult course (Koolau Golf Course), according to the Guiness Book of World Records.

From the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the U.S., to the Bishop Museum, housing the world's most prestigious collection of Hawaiian and Pacific Island artifacts, to the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, and the adjacent U.S.S. Bowfin/Pacific Submarine Museum, the city has a bounty of history and culture for groups to explore.

Hotel News * The Hawaiian Regent recently invested $6 million in its renovations of three ballrooms, public areas, and The Summery Restaurant. The hotel also appointed Rick M. Moad as its director of group services.

* Hilton Hawaiian Village will begin construction on the 400-room Kalia Tower during the second quarter of 1998. The Lagoon Apartments residential building, next to the hotel's Rainbow Tower, is being repositioned and renovated into suites. The Diamond Head Tower will include all hard and soft goods in its $10 million renovation to be completed by mid-1998.

* In 1997, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts celebrated its Golden Anniversary. The new 287-room Outrigger Islander Waikiki opened in May, while the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach celebrated with a $6 million refurbishment of all 630 rooms, and the 445-room Outrigger East completed its $5.5 million guest and public rooms refurbishment.

* Sheraton Waikiki launched its Total Meeting Services (TMS), especially for companies or associations without a full-time meeting planner. TMS is designed around a one-phone-call concept for access to planning services for air travel, hotel accommodations, special events, food and beverage, off-premise attractions and pre- and post-tour options.