Tuesday | April 28, 2015
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So long, and thanks for the memories

For four decades, Kailua-Kona resident Diana Pai has worked at the Keauhou Beach Resort, where she enjoyed building long-lasting friendships with co-workers and guests. She values those relationships, believing they’ve helped carry her forward.

“I feel like I grew up here,” she said. “I will always feel like it’s part of my home. But the people are what make it really special.”

At age 13, Pai danced at the luau, which was consistently packed with at least 700 people. It was the 1970s and tourism was booming. Pai recalled the excitement she felt each time the buses arrived with hundreds of tourists at the busy hotel, then owned by Island Holidays, a division of Amfac. She also talked fondly about the Kona Lagoon Hotel, built in 1975 and demolished in 2004, a nearby location popular with kamaaina because of its lively restaurants, bars and disco.

A lot has changed since then, including Pai’s job situation. She will no longer be the revenue coordinator and a reservation services employee for the Keauhou Beach Resort come Wednesday, when the hotel closes. The owner, Kamehameha Schools, and its for-profit subsidiary Kamehameha Investment Corp. announced the closure in August, saying the decision came after the property had several years of declining revenues.

Pai is one of the 112 employees who will soon be without a job, but was celebrated Monday during a festive mahalo party funded by Kamehameha Schools, Kamehameha Investment Corp. and Outrigger Hotels, which managed the property.

“The nice part, over the past 11 years, has been managing what we do best, which is providing authentic Hawaii hospitality and a wonderful guest experience showcasing the Hawaiian culture,” said Charles Kelley, Outrigger Enterprises Group board chairman. “We’re proud of what the employees here have accomplished over the years. We hope all the employees progress smoothly and quickly through the transition. We also hope many can stay in the hospitality industry — the basis of our economy and a wonderful industry that helps support our culture and environment.”

Besides throwing a party for the employees, the resort’s owner and management held in September a job fair, featuring more than a dozen companies, mostly from the Big Island, which was “well attended.” Representatives from Kamehameha Schools, Outrigger and ILWU met, and were able to get the employees benefits that went beyond the contractual agreement, said Barry Wallace, Outrigger Enterprises Group executive vice president. He declined to provide the specifics of the benefits.

For the past seven years, Enoch Aana of Pele’s Wedding & Events has helped plan the parties for the resort’s employees. But he said Monday’s mahalo party was of utmost importance because it was a chance to really give back to those he’s grown so fond of. Several local businesses, resorts and schools donated to the event, which “is more like a graduation party than a goodbye party.” There were food stations, games, prizes, photos, live entertainment, prayer, lingering questions, goodbyes, the signing of memory books, and swapping of contact information.

Five years ago, assistant housekeeper Brandy Edsman began working at the resort because it was close to her home in Kailua-Kona and because she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother had worked as a housekeeper here in the 1970s. Edsman remembers playing in the hallways, as well as running up and down the stairs, passing by the Foxy Lady, Rib Lanai and a coffee shop, looking for her mother. “This is my second home,” she said.

Since the closure announcement, Edsman has searched for employment with no luck. However, she’s not worried and is keeping a positive attitude. She said all the employees have banded together, networking, sharing job postings and encouraging each other.

“If it wasn’t for them standing by me, through the ups and downs, the tears and laughs, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “All the employees are like a big ohana. Wherever we end up, I know we will remain close.”