Aloha-to-go promoted, provided by Hawaii Visitors Bureau
WE often take for granted the stickers, pens and other tchotchkes given out at functions we attend as soon-to-be-forgotten trinkets, but the 9-and-under World Series Hawaii Warriors baseball team from Oahu made a huge impression on Charles City, Iowa, by handing out knickknacks.
The team went to corn country for the Continental Amateur Baseball Association 9-and-Under competition in late July. Just like when you go Aunty's house for a visit, they didn't go empty-handed: They took omiyage, or gifts.
The souvenirs were provided by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau through its Sharing Aloha program.
The gifts, and the aloha spirit with which they were shared, got ink in the local paper. The managing editor of the Charles City Press, Mark Wicks, wrote warmly about spending time with the Hawaii Warriors in a column on Aug. 4.
"What a joy it was to not only meet the players, coaches and their families and compare life in the Midwest to that on the islands, but to also share in the experience of their first real encounter with corn, cows and farm machinery," Wicks wrote.
What Wicks wrote about most was the message on a souvenir "Live Aloha" card he and his wife received in a gift bag from the Hawaii team.
He headlined his column, "Learning to live Aloha," and shared the card's explanation that beyond a salutation, "Aloha isn't just a saying, it's a way of life ... and one that we could all learn from."
One small thing was shared, then shared with the masses so that all might benefit. In itself, the giving of the card was an act of aloha.
Donna Kim, chairwoman of the state Senate Tourism Committee, gets credit for the official omiyage program, according to John Monahan, HVCB president and chief executive.
"She thought, since so many local people and organizations travel to the mainland, and there are so many groups living on the mainland that deal with Hawaiian culture, (such as) halau, to preserve the heritage ... it would be great to get them involved in the marketing efforts of Hawaii, sharing their aloha when they travel to the mainland as well as while they live on the mainland," Monahan said.
A Web site was developed for groups to list their events on a calendar of Hawaii-culture events around the globe.
Who knew there was a steel guitar festival in Joliet, Ill., or that the "Midwest Ukefest" was planned in Indianapolis? Both events are listed on the Sharing Aloha Travel Calendar.
The HVCB checks the groups to "make sure they're legit," and "we provide different kinds of gifts that they can take," Monahan said.
The annual budget for Sharing Aloha is $25,000, and "it's working pretty well," he said.
The program started with Kim wanting some way to track local groups that go to the mainland or elsewhere. The online directory makes it possible.
Different vendors looking to market local products in a new place also might give goodies to the groups, which not only provides them with cool swag or tasty snacks to give away, but also introduces a local company's product to a potential new market.
At a minimum, the groups should be seen as ambassadors of Hawaii, and "usually they want help with publicity or little giveaways." In exchange, the groups can give out brochures, pens or "See you in Hawaii" stickers, for instance.
It puts a face and a personal touch on a pro-Hawaii message that a traditional paid advertisement cannot do.
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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org