The business of hawaii isn’t all business. It’s tourism that drives the economic engine on the Big Island, employing about half the workforce either directly or indirectly. The state and county governments are the other big employers; only about 1 percent of the Big Island’s businesses have more than 200 employees.
To understand the Big Island — which is the island of Hawaii and the county of Hawaii, but rarely called by those names because of the obvious confusion with the name of the state — is to understand the weather patterns of a large tropical island. Resembling an equilateral triangle (apex pointing north), the western, or leeward, side of the island has the beaches and abundant sunshine. The eastern, or windward, side has few beaches and heavy rainfall.
Hilo, the county seat and secondlargest city (after Honolulu) in the entire state, is the rainiest city in the United States, with an average of more than a foot of rain a month. As such, Hilo has never undergone massive tourism development. On the plus side, it’s been able to keep its historic character and charm, and its focus on business. Apart from government entities, Hilo is home to a branch of the University of Hawaii and to a thriving port. Cruise ships and film crews alike have discovered the quaint appeal of Hilo’s streets, so there are plenty of shops and restaurants; but because Hilo is only a 45- minute airplane hop from Honolulu, and a 30- inute flight or two-and-ahalf- hour ride to the resorts of West Hawaii, there are few business hotels.
In recent years, scientific and hightech industries have discovered the Big Island’s northeast, growing up around both the institutions of higher education and the major research centers including the astronomical observatory atop Mauna Kea and Volcanoes National Park, just south of Hilo, which draws both tourists and scientists to the area.
Traditional industries are still the backbone of the economy. Agriculture contributes $500 million a year, and Hilo is the center for the world’s largest tropical flower industry.
Aquaculture and livestock round out the picture. On the western side of the island, an influx of new residents and retirees has created a construction boom, primarily for private housing.
A foreign trade zone has been developed adjacent to Hilo Harbor, and plans are under consideration for expansion of its port. Confidence in economic growth is high. Two airports provide frequent, inexpensive service to and from the other Hawaiian islands, and should business travelers need further encouragement, there are at least 20 golf courses, more than a few of them within easy driving distance of Kailua-Kona, which is the main population center on the western coast of the island.
FOUR SEASONS HUALALAI
This beautiful resort property sits just 10 minutes north of Kona airport on its own white-sand beach. Its 243 guestrooms are spread out among 36 two-story bungalows, all with Polynesian décor, lanais and top-tier amenities. The resort has free Internet in the public areas, a fitness center, a spa, several top-rated restaurants, five swimming pools, and an oceanfront golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. 100 Ka’upulehu Drive, Kailua- Kona, tel 808 325 8000, http://www.fourseasons.com/hualalai $$$$.
This get-away-from-it-all hotel is on the island’s northwest corner, with a halfmile crescent of swimmer-friendly beach and several noteworthy restaurants. Guestrooms are airy, done in light colors with lanais and plantation shutters, glass shower stalls and marble tubs. Highspeed Internet access is available in rooms, for a fee. The hotel’s own 18-hole golf course was designed by Arnold Palmer, and there’s also a complimentary shuttle for the five-minute ride to the Robert Trent Jones-designed Mauna Kea Golf Course. 62 Kauna’oa Drive, Kamuela, tel 808 880 1111, http://www.princeresortshawaii.com $$$$
HILO HAWAIIAN HOTEL
A large, curving high-rise overlooking Hilo Bay, the 70-year-old Hilo Hawaiian was a star in its heyday, and is still the best hotel for business travelers in Hilo. Just a few minutes from downtown and eight minutes from the Hilo airport, the eightstory, 286-room hotel has beautiful grounds, a restaurant and views of Mauna Kea and Coconut Island. It’s a bit dated — the Internet access is dial-up, which should give you a clue — but it has all the necessary amenities for a short stay. 71 Banyan Drive, Hilo, tel 808 935 9361, http://www.castleresorts.com $$
Good food with an ocean view and the opportunity for people-watching combine to make Huggo’s a popular spot. While the menu has something for everyone, since local fishermen deliver their catches directly to Huggo’s kitchen daily, it’s hard to pass up the grilled Ahi steak with limemint pesto, the macadamia-crusted mahi with guava butter sauce or the Kailua Bay cioppino with ono, mahi, clams, mussels and shrimp. Leave room for one of Huggo’s famously massive desserts. 75-5828 Kahakai Road, Kailua-Kona, tel 808 329 1493, http://www.huggos.com $$$$
Regularly rated one of the best restaurants on the island, if not in the state, Kaikodo occupies a former bank building and was renovated by a pair of Manhattan art-gallery owners, which accounts for its attractive décor — a black-and-white color scheme enlivened by art, Hawaiian woods and Murano glass chandeliers. “Asian fusion” was part of Hawaii’s culture before it became a culinary trend, so it’s been refined to an art form here. Try the chilled Kamuela tomato- mongrass gazpacho served with crab, avocado, and basil-garlic ice cream for an appetizer; the signature entree is sesame-crusted Ahi. 600 Keawe St., Hilo; tel 808 961 2558, http://www.restaurantkaikodo.com $$$$
BAMBOO RESTAURANT & GALLERY
An old department store and hotel on the island’s northwest coast has been transformed into a classic Hawaiian saloon; airy and charming. The menu is diverse; the service both efficient and friendly. The chicken satay potstickers — dough filled with chicken mixed with ginger, shallots and a peanut satay sauce, then boiled — always draw raves. Other noteworthy entrees include the macadamianut-encrusted chicken Cordon Bleu, and the luau pork. There’s also frequent live music. 54-3015 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapaau; tel 808 889 5555, http://www.bamboorestaurant.info
INFO TO GO
The Big Island has airports on its east and west coasts, Hilo International(ITO) and Kona International (KOA). Each has frequent service to and from Honolulu (HNL) as well as to other islands and each other, as well as some direct service from the mainland. A taxi into Hilo from its airport costs about $12; in Kona, you can take the SpeediShuttle (tel 808 329 0137, http://www.speedishuttle.com), which uses Mercedes vans and costs $20 and up on a shared basis, $80 and up private.
Several car rental agencies are available at each airport. The Big Island’s cities and towns are sprawling and expensive to reach by cab, so it’s best to have a car available. An alternative is the free island-wide bus service, Hele-On (tel 808 961 8744, http://www.hawaii-county.com/mass_transit/heleonbus.html), which connects just about every city and town with regularly scheduled service; there’s a $1 fee for luggage.
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