Waikiki today is nothing like it was more than a hundred years ago. If we take a step back in time prior to the 1900’s, Waikiki mostly consisted of lots of swampland. There were no hotels, shops, or mass transit systems. About the only thing that did exist in Waikiki at that time were a few beach houses and bungalows. Most of the hotels only existed in the downtown Honolulu area. And so that meant that Waikiki was pretty much neglected by any tourists who came to Hawaii.
Tourism began to increase. And more and more foreign visitors were starting to visit Waikiki. Roads and trams were built. Hawaii was annexed as a territory into the United States in 1900. And so in anticipation of increased tourism, Waikiki’s first hotel opened it’s doors in March 1901: The Moana Hotel.
Today it is known as “The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa” and is located on the beach side of Kalakaua Avenue just past the Waikiki police station. It is known as “The First Lady of Waikiki” as it is the first hotel which marked the beginning of tourism in Waikiki. When it first opened, The Moana Hotel became the tallest building in Waikiki consisting of only four floors. It had 75 guest rooms and each one had its own private bathroom and telephone which was usually unheard of in hotels of this time period. The first-ever electric powered elevator on the islands was also installed at The Moana. The rooms at The Moana Hotel sold for a whopping $1.50 per night.
As frequent flights to Hawaii were not popular during this time period, most of the tourists came by ship. And so since they were coming from such long distances, they would stay for weeks and months at a time. Therefore, the hallways at The Moana Hotel were extra wide in order to accommodate for the large steamer trunks the guests brought off the ship.
Two decades went by and tourism was increasing. Two additional floors were added to The Moana now making it a 6-story building. The bungalows that were in the area before the hotel were still there and even became part of the Moana property. In the 1950’s and 60’s the bungalows were removed and two new hotels were built on either side of The Moana Hotel. The first one was the Surfrider Hotel but was later named the Diamond Head Wing as it became part of The Moana. And so the second hotel on the other side became the Surfrider Hotel.
In 1989, the hotels were closed for a brief time in order to do a restoration back to its original 1901 appearance. All three buildings were then joined together with one common lobby and the hotel re-opened under the new name of The Moana Surfrider. Now the hotel has over 700 guest rooms, restaurants, bars, and a swimming pool.
The Moana Hotel has come a long way in the past 100+ years and was the start of Waikiki tourism as many other hotels followed behind them. Now there are more than 50 hotels in Waikiki alone. And that’s not including the numerous condos, timeshares, and beach houses. There’s a number of shops and restaurants. And an estimated 8 million visitors or more come to Hawaii each year now.