Gary Perreira is like a guiding star. He’s easy to find, right there in the lobby of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. He’s consistent — he’s been at his job for six years as the Big Island Lead Concierge for Pleasant Holidays, working exclusively with Sheraton where he can help you chart your course for adventure.
Perreira knows Hawaii Island, also known as the “Big Island,” intimately. He was born and raised there, but his roots in the local community go even deeper: His family has resided on the island since the 1800s. Marriott TRAVELER spoke to Perreira about that local affinity and how he shares a sense of it with visitors.
How does the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa team help integrate guests into the community and its traditions?
“Rolinda Bean, our cultural ambassador, does fantastic work with ukulele, hula and beginning Hawaiian language lessons. We have local artisans coming in, doing demonstrations such as lauhala weaving. So I suggest to guests, do some snorkeling in the morning and then come back to the resort in the afternoon for the lessons.
After an early dinner, it’s time for the giant manta snorkel, which is what we are known for. Scuba divers and snorkelers come from around the world to do that. Even non-snorkelers can participate.
A local Hawaiian family, they have a double-hulled outrigger canoe, and people can go out in that: The [boat’s] light board shines down, and the mantas come swooping up and are only about two feet away.”
How about the off-property activities? What would you recommend to people who want to interact with locals or have a truly local experience?
“I like to send guests into the direction of South Kona, which is like a community unto itself; that’s where all the Kona coffee plantations are, and the Big Island Bees, a beautiful apiary. The Greenwell family is a pioneer in that area; they have been growing coffee for generations.
The Kona Historical Society and museum is actually on their [the Greenwell family’s] original family property. On Thursdays, the museum demonstrates the Portuguese sweet bread baking techniques. I tell people, go there, and go to the macadamia nut orchard. Stop at St. Benedict’s, the painted church.
These are things that weren’t made for the tourists; they are the local things we embrace every day. The guests really appreciate that. Sure, Hawaii Island has great zip lines and ATVs, but this is the real stuff.”
When guests are at the resort, what activity allows them to interact with other guests the most?
“The classes. They might be at hula, [tease] each other and laugh. They create relationships. They enter the property as strangers, and the next thing you know, there is a couple from Australia and a couple from Milan at my desk wanting to go out on the manta snorkel together. It’s amazing.
I’ve had a couple from Brazil and a couple from the U.S. want to do a luau with us. They will reschedule to all go together to accommodate these newfound friends. You see them coming on and off the property together. These are lifelong bonds that are created because they met here under these circumstances. I get such a kick out of that.”
In terms of dining and drinking on property, are there any communal experiences you’d recommend?
“People tend to gather at the Holua Pool Bar and Grill because it’s right by the pool. Then Rays on the Bay, it has fantastic entertainment and sunsets to die for
And you can see the manta rays from the viewing deck, Paakai Point, where the hotel shines light onto the water, and the manta boats are 100 to 200 yards offshore. As the boats leave, the mantas meander closer to the resort. It’s like a ballet in the ball of light. People have a great meal or drinks and pu-pus and hang out [on] the deck.
What are some of the more challenging requests you have helped accommodate as a concierge?
“I’ve worked on several proposals, arranging for a helicopter to make a special valley landing at the base of a 1,200-foot waterfall. I’ve had a bottle of champagne and two glasses in the storage bin of the helicopter, and the proposal takes place right there at the base of the waterfall. I haven’t had a situation where she says no! The logistics of that can be hard.
Another one was managing the details of having family members converge from around the world, and unbeknownst to them, Dad was setting up a family reunion. It feels really good being a part of that kind of thing.
Even the regular requests, though, like coordinating for people to see the lava flow via an air tour, I’ve had guests come back with tears in their eyes after that. It really gives me a sense of place and how minuscule we really are in the scope of things — and how lucky we are to be here.”