Hawaii is already a favorite destination for corporate meetings and incentives, and it is poised to become more popular than ever for groups with the opening of the long-awaited Hawai'i Convention Center in July 1998, which will have positive ripple effects throughout the islands.

That facility will add 1.16 million square feet of dedicated conference and exhibition space to complement Oahu's already impressive meeting facilities in the hotels and resorts of Waikiki.

"The convention center will diversify our visitor mix," says Janet Clark, executive director of the Waikiki/ Oahu Visitors Association. Indeed, hoteliers throughout Hawaii welcome the new convention facility with open arms. "We look toward it as an opportunity to even out our flow of business, especially during the shoulder months of January, April, June, September, and October," says Jon Conching, director of sales at Waikiki's Hilton Hawaiian Village. "When an organization uses a lot of space at the center, that leaves a lot of our function space available for smaller meetings and special functions."

That excitement has spread throughout the islands, with many hotels expecting to reap the benefits of pre- and post-meeting trips.

Glenn Berk, director of sales at the Kona Surf Resort on the Big Island, expects his island to reap the benefits of "trickle-down" group business that can't secure room blocks on Oahu when functions at the convention center have the town sewn up.

Alex Doyle, director of sales and marketing at Maui's Aston Wailea Resort, also points out that the new center will put Waikiki on the map with foreign-based groups, "so we will compete on an international basis with places like Singapore and other Asian-Pacific destinations," he says.

"Hawaii is the top of the line when talking about incentives-everyone has visions of palm trees and beautiful sunsets," says Carol Marsh, executive assistant to the president at Dura Pharmaceuticals. The San Diego-based firm brought its top sales performers and spouses to the Big Island for a five-day incentive. "We put the word out on the destination six months in advance to get everyone pumped up," she recalls, "and people were definitely psyched for Hawaii." Many of the winners took advantage of the trip by extending their holidays on neighbor islands.