Only four years have passed since Teri Orton traveled from Honolulu to the West Coast to attend a sports-event industry conference. Her mission: To determine whether organizers would like to host tournaments in Honolulu, the largest city in Hawai’i.
“I found the biggest common denominator prohibiting sports directors from bringing tournaments here was the shipping of the courts,” says Orton, general manager of the Hawai‘i Convention Center — a striking 1.1 million-square-foot facility on O'ahu with open-air public spaces surrounded by lush landscaping.
One tournament director told Orton it would cost $24,000 to ship 15 multi-purpose sport courts from Northern California to Hawai'i, an expense too great to recoup in tournament fees.
Soon after, the Center invested $1.1 million in portable tournament-ready sports flooring, accommodating up to 28 volleyball/badminton courts, 19 basketball courts or 11 futsal courts. The flooring can be set up in the 200,000-square-foot Kamehameha Exhibit Hall within days.
By 2017, the Hawai‘i Convention Center was hosting Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball tournaments, in which the majority of teams traveled from the mainland United States.
A year later, the Center and the Hawai’i Tourism Authority announced that three national sports organizations — AAU Basketball, AAU Volleyball and U.S. Futsal — would be hosting major tournaments there.
Last year, U.S. Futsal hosted the first of four annual Pacific Rim Futsal Cup tournaments on the courts.
“We are developing the sport of futsal throughout the Pacific Rim, and Hawaii’s central geographic location allows us to easily appeal to a wide variety of countries,” Alexander Para, president and CEO of U.S. Futsal, said at the time the deal was announced. “Great soccer superstars such as Pele, Zico and Sócrates credit futsal with developing their skills, and we are excited to welcome both new and experienced players to this dynamic and fast-paced tournament.”
The three-year agreement with AAU Basketball, from 2018 to 2020, brings the Jam on It Pacific Rim Championships to Hawaii. And AAU Volleyball, the first organization to host a tournament on the Center’s courts back in February 2017, created the Honolulu Grand Prix to celebrate its arrival in Hawaii.
All events are sanctioned by the governing bodies of the sport, allowing participants to qualify for national tournaments. As a result, participants come from all over North America, as well as Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and incorporate vacations into their stay.
“If these events weren’t sanctioned, I don’t know if we would have the turnout we have,” Orton says. “But because they are, some teams think it’s worthwhile not to participate in one of the tournaments on the mainland and save up to come for a tournament in Hawai’i. Additionally, our focus is to grow the attendance of organizations from Asia, primarily because of our convenient location between East and West.”
Even Orton was surprised at how popular the sports courts have become.
“Once I got the green light to purchase the courts, I freaked out,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. I have no business.’”
Several factors helped make the transition a smooth one, including the fact that the Hawai‘i Convention Center offers a turnkey approach for tournament directors. Facility officials provide not only the necessary equipment, but also marketing assistance to help organizations promote Hawai’i-based events to potential teams far enough in advance to effectively facilitate planning and fundraising.
“It’s nice for the organizers to know they don’t have to do a lot of extra work to host a tournament here,” Orton says.
In addition to volleyball, basketball, futsal and badminton tournaments, the versatile flooring can accommodate wrestling, gymnastics, martial arts, table tennis, dance, cheerleading and group fitness activities. The Center also partners with local suppliers for specialized sports equipment, such as gymnastics apparatus, to cut shipping costs.
The rich volleyball history of Hawai’i makes the sport a natural fit.
“Volleyball is so big here in Hawai’i, and it’s a sport that has been supported by locals for years,” Orton says. “A lot of it stems from beach volleyball, but we also have a strong volleyball team at the University of Hawai’i. Many of those players have gone on to play professionally, and a lot of the children are in local clubs that travel all over the U.S.”
The center now provides many of these Hawai’i youth teams with the ability to play qualifying tournaments right at home.
“This isn’t just about competing,” she says. “It’s about incorporating so much more.”
The Hawai‘i Convention Center hosts annual sports familiarization tours for sports directors to showcase the venue.
A dramatic promotional video intersperses action footage from volleyball, basketball and futsal competitions with stunning island scenery and leaves viewers with the promise that participants with be “surrounded by inspiration, on and off the courts.” Hawai’i is home to some of the world’s most wondrous landscapes, and temperatures average between 75º F and 85º F all year long.
What’s more, the Hawai‘i Convention Center recently received the 2019 Venue Excellence Award from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM); it was the facility’s first IAVM Venue Excellence Award. And earlier this year, the center was honored with the 2019 Smart Stars Readers’ Choice Award for Best Convention Center from Smart Meetings magazine.
The center offers ideal spaces for intimate or large gatherings, with a 20,000-square-foot production kitchen that incorporates Hawaiian traditions into dishes and sources farm-fresh ingredients. High-quality grab-and-go snacks and light meals also are available at the new pop-up 1801 Café + Bar in the convention center’s main lobby.
Other convenient enhancements added in the past year include an easily accessible business center, 12 luxurious massage chairs, secure charging station locker bays, an online interactive map with 3D floor plans, and a secure Mamava nursing pod to provide a comfortable and private lactation space for mothers.
Additionally, the convention center’s new Ho'omalu? conservation program offers community involvement opportunities and a variety of efforts tailored to making each event more responsible, efficient and sustainable.
There are more than 28,000 overnight hotel rooms within a 1.5-mile radius of the Hawai‘i Convention Center, along with the world-class shopping, dining and entertainment options in Honolulu’s resort area of Waik?k?.
Many tournament participants prefer to stay at beachfront hotels if they plan to remain on O'ahu for a vacation, Orton adds, while others opt for more economical hotels inland and then book beachfront properties when they visit other islands.
Hawaii’s four major islands — O'ahu, Kaua'i, Maui and the Island of Hawai’i — each host high-profile sporting events, including standup paddle boarding, surfing, golf tournaments and the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.
However, when it comes to indoor court sports, the only venue in the state that can accommodate multiple games in multiple sports under one roof is the Hawai‘i Convention Center.
“After I went to the mainland and saw how many families travel to events, sports just seemed like a no-brainer,” Orton says. “It’s been quite a journey for us. This was a home run – no pun intended. I knew we could be successful, but I had no idea it would take off like it has.”