A couple pioneers in neighbor island hospitality stand out in Hawaiʻi’s early fledgling visitor industry. At the time, emphasis and facilities were focused in Waikīkī. However, two locally-grown chains saw the opportunities and put their attention on the neighbor Islands.
Attention to the neighbor islands was not their only similarity. Each started as locally-owned and family-run. They grew to provide more than just a place to sleep and eat – their operations included tours and travel. Sadly, they are both gone.
The first, Inter-Island Resorts under the Child family, grew into a number of “Surf Resorts” on the neighbor islands; the other, Island Holidays, under the Guslanders, had several neighbor island “Palms Resorts.”
Here’s some background on each, as well as the connection that existed between them.
Walter Dudley Child, Sr. came to Hawaiʻi in the early-1920s; he first worked in the agriculture industry with the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters Association (HSPA.) After a decade, he left HSPA and entered the hotel industry, purchasing the Blaisdell Hotel in downtown Honolulu; he later bought the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo.
In the early-1950s, Child became a director of Inter-Island Resorts, Ltd and later acquired the controlling interest in the company.
The fortunes of the company rose along with the growth in the visitor industry, and Inter-Island Resorts began to grow into a chain, starting with the Naniloa, the Kona Inn and the Kauaʻi Inn (at Kalapakī Beach.) In those early days of Hawaiʻi tourism, Inter-Island Resorts became a pioneer in selling accommodations on the neighbor islands. (hawaii-edu)
When Walter Sr. suffered a debilitating stroke in 1955, Dudley Child succeeded his father as president. Dudley’s first big move came on July 1, 1960 with the opening of the Kauaʻi Surf on beachfront property on Kalapakī Beach. Child at the time called the Surf a “whole new philosophy in Neighbor Island hotels.”
This led to the Islands-wide “Surf Resorts” joining the Kona Inn under the Inter-Island banner. (The company later opened the Kona Surf (Keauhou) in 1960 and the Maui Surf (Kāʻanapali Beach in 1971.) In 1971, the company formed the “Islander Inns,” in a 3-way partnership of Inter-Island Resorts, Continental Airlines and Finance Factors.)
Dudley Child and Inter-Island Resorts understood and responded to the changing nature of the growing visitor industry. The company acquired/formed Trade-Wind Tours, Gray Line Tours and Island U-Drive, and developed close alliances with other major travel companies, providing a full range of travel services for Hawai‘i visitors. (hawaii-edu)
One of the significant contributions of Dudley Child and Inter-Island Resorts was the development of full service beach properties on the Neighbor Islands in the 1960s and 70s, which stimulated statewide tourism.
Inter-Island Resorts eventually sold its properties to other operators, but the vision of its founding family was instrumental in the development of Hawai‘i tourism. (hawaii-edu)
Lyle Lowell “Gus” Guslander, started in the hotel business as a bellhop and cook. After studying hotel operations at Cornell University, Guslander was in management at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, eventually working his way up to become assistant manager.
In 1947, Guslander came to Hawaiʻi and worked at the Niumalu Hotel for Walter Child, Sr. Both were characterized with short fuses and it didn’t take long for a disagreement to come between the two and Child “canned” him. Guslander moved to the Moana Hotel as assistant manager.
Then Guslander set out on his own; he initially leased, then purchased the 24-room Coco Palms Lodge on Kauaʻi – and later expanded it to nearly 400-rooms, naming it, simply, Coco Palms. He hired Grace Buscher to run it; he later married her.
Grace Guslander and Coco Palms are synonymous. She was an innovator – Hawaiians traditionally used torches as a light source when walking or fishing at night. But it wasn’t until the 1950s and Guslander that it became common to stick torches in the ground and pioneered the torch-lighting ceremony, which hotels throughout the islands eventually copied. (AP, Seattle Times, September 12, 2012)
Grace Guslander was later recognized for her accomplishments (she won a worldwide title of Hotel Manager of the Year in 1965 and in 1979 was the first woman to win the Man of the Year award at the International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant show in New York.)
Movies and television shows were filmed at the Coco Palms – Elvis Presley filmed the finale of his film “Blue Hawaiʻi” there in 1961, immortalizing its lush coconut groves and picturesque lagoons.
They also had closer ties with that industry – “Film stars John Wayne, Fed McMurray and Red Skelton have bought into a hotel company which operates three hotels in the outer Hawaiian Islands …”
“… the three own 18 percent of the Lyle Guslander Island Holiday Hotels Co. Hotels owned by the company are the Kona Palms, Maui Palms and Coco Palms.” (Independent Press-Telegram, July 24, 1955)
As the Coco Palms became successful, Gus expanded his operations eventually acquiring hotels on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaiʻi under the Island Holidays chain, with several of the hotels under the “Palms” brand.
Guslander also recognized, with his growing hotel operations, the need to expand in service and formed Island Holidays Tours. He had help from Myrtle Chun Lee.
In 1969, Guslander sold his operations to Amfac Inc and stayed on as an Amfac vice president until his retirement in 1978. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki severely damaged Coco Palms Hotel, several attempts have been made to repair and revive it. Gus died in 1984 at the age of 69, and Grace died in 2000 at 76.
In the 1950s and 60s, these two chains pioneered neighbor island hotel development – and for a while, competed head-to-head. Later, the mega-multi-national chains – Sheraton, Hilton, etc – entered the Hawaiʻi market.
A few other island hotel chains were/are also part of the Hawaiʻi hotel experience, i.e. Outrigger, Aston and others – (many were more Waikīkī focused) but I’ll save those for other stories.