DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The state tourism industry is pushing to promote and preserve Hawaii culture with its Keep it Hawaii contest. The contest recognizes businesses that emphasize Hawaii as being more than just sun, sand and surf. Above, Lynn Cook (not in picture) taught, from left, Californians Linda Clifford, Tatiana Nicodemus and Crystal Clifford (Linda's daughter) in the Outrigger lobby how to make a card with Hawaiian types of stamps and designs.
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The state's visitor industry and the community are making more of an effort to offer visitors a Hawaii experience
A more sophisticated traveler base has created the need for Hawaii's visitor industry to partner with the community to offer more intimate and authentic tourism experiences that allow visitors to see, feel, touch, taste and smell the uniqueness of these islands.
Hawaii's visitors no longer have to go far to learn to hula, write their name in Hawaiian, play some notes on the ukulele or make three-finger poi, but the experiences must be authentic if Hawaii wants to maintain its competitive edge. The Keep it Hawaii Recognition Awards program has sparked needed creativity within the industry and inspired a slew of new cultural offerings ranging from Hawaiian healing and quilting classes to surfing, botany and native arts lessons.
The Keep it Hawaii Recognition Awards program, which is accepting nominations now through July 25, is one of several efforts by the Hawaii Tourism Authority to support its Hawaiian culture initiative. The program, which provides a showcase for sustainable development and sustainable practices, offers businesses a blueprint for connecting Hawaii's rich past with a more lucrative future.
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On his 10th trip to Hawaii, Scott Schirmer, a visitor from Phoenix, learned how to swallow the pungent smelling, but oh-so-good for you Hawaiian noni juice.
"You hold your nose," Schirmer said. "The taste is fine. We like the product, but it has a pungent smell."
Schirmer and his daughter Casey, who were staying at the Outrigger Waikiki, got a dose of good-old fashioned aloha and Hawaiian culture on Thursday from third-generation kumu laau lapaau Alapai Kahuena, a practitioner of Hawaiian healing.
Kahuena, who routinely leaves her Waianae home and travels two hours by bus to share her mana'o, or life's experience, for healing the many different sicknesses of the mind and body with Outrigger guests, is part of the state's efforts to improve the health of its visitor industry by showing the visitors who come to Hawaii that the islands are different from other sun, sand and surf destinations.
The educational program Kahuena has put together for guests is a prescription for success within the visitor industry because it introduces tourists to genuine aloha, the kind that can't be bought or sold. When visitors, like the Schirmers, really experience the islands of aloha, the state gets the benefit of word-of-mouth advertising, which has proven to be the cheapest, fastest and most effective method.
A more sophisticated traveler base has created the need for Hawaii's visitor industry to partner with the community to offer more intimate and authentic tourism experiences that allow visitors to see, feel, touch, taste and smell the uniqueness of these islands, said Rex Johnson, executive director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which was created in 1998 to oversee management and spending of the state's visitor industry.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Instructor Alapai Kahuena, left, talked about the laau lapaau (Hawaiian healing) class to Phoenix visitors Scott Schirmer and daughter Casey in the lobby of the Outrigger Waikiki.
"You come on vacation to get away from the normal things that you do. It's nice when you come to Hawaii to have an opportunity to step out of your bubble," said Crystal Clifford, who on her third family vacation to Hawaii made time to take a Ki I Pohaku Print class given by Lynn Kawaileleowaahila Cook, a kamaaina printmaker and cultural travel writer and photographer.
Increasingly more visitors to Hawaii want to soak in culture along with the sun and, as a result, a cultural resurgence is taking place that can be seen in the architecture and design reinvestment that the state's visitor industry is making in lodging, food and beverage, retail and infrastructure. In addition, the structural makeup of the organizations themselves and the activities and events they offer to visitors are changing.
The state is working along with nonprofit, industry and educational partners to integrate and support Hawaiian culture in tourism through work force development programs that increase participation from kamaaina and native Hawaiians in the visitor industry. There are educational initiatives that introduce the concept of a career in tourism to secondary school students and awards and grants for businesses that exemplify authenticity. Visitor events and programs also have been designed to perpetuate Hawaii's Polynesian heritage.
Cultural initiatives play a key role in the state's tourism strategic plan and Hawaiians are serving on the HTA board and in other advisory roles.
The state has talked of constructing a major cultural center in Waikiki that would showcase historic exhibits, dance, music, food, healing techniques, language and sports.
And, it also has discussed increasing funding for programs like the King Kamehameha Day Celebration and Aloha Festivals that perpetuate host culture values and provide quality education and employment for native Hawaiians.
In 2005, the HTA also revitalized their Keep it Hawaii Recognition Awards program to focus on fostering programs within the broader community -- a move that yielded dramatic results, said Keli'ihoalani Nawahine'elua Kamana Wilson, who was recently appointed as the first Hawaiian cultural coordinator for HTA.
Wilson, who was raised in a Big Island home where native Hawaiian was the primary spoken language, was part of the 1970s cultural movement that emphasized a return to host culture and now is a shining example of the state's efforts to unite its host culture with its lead visitor industry,
"In the 1970s, people started to get reconnected with the Hawaiian culture," Wilson said. "I was away at college for a time, but right now the visitor industry seems different than when I was younger. It was a lot more commercial than it is now."
Hawaii's visitors no longer have to go far to learn to hula, write their name in Hawaiian, play some notes on the ukulele or make three-finger poi, but the experiences must be authentic if Hawaii wants to maintain its competitive edge. The Keep it Hawaii Recognition Awards program, which is accepting nominations now through July 25, offers a standard for the industry, said Peter Apo, director of culture and education for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.
"It gives a chance for best practices to come forward and offers examples of ways that businesses can create a sense of place." Apo said. "I think that it provides a showcase for sustainable development and sustainable practices that help us keep our past connected to our future. The award provides little windows of how we can celebrate ourselves and at the same time supports our community."
Cultural authenticity is the foundation that Pacific Islands Institute has built its company on, said Leslie Pelton, program manager for the Pacific Islands Institute's domestic and international offerings.
The tour company, which has even hosted a Nobel prize-winning visitor, seeks to give visitors a true view of what it is really like to be in Hawaii, Pelton said.
"We don't want to show Diamond Head out of a bus window," she said. "We want to incorporate all five senses into every tour so that our visitors can immerse themselves in the experience."
Sharing the host culture with visitors is a natural extension of the concept of aloha, but until recently there has been a divide between the host community and the visitor industry, Apo said.
"There are a lot of companies that want to do the right thing, but they just don't know what to do," Apo said.
Last year, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts earned a Keep it Hawaii Recognition Award for its Laau Lapaau program as well as its Hawaiian quilting program. Other Oahu honorees included: the Hawaiian Convention Center, Hawaiian Airlines, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, the Pacific Islands Institute, Philpotts & Associates as well as Francis Oda from Group 70.
"This award recognizes those in our community who make a concerted effort to preserve the Hawaiian culture," said Muriel K. Anderson, vice president of product development for the HTA. "It doesn't need to be said how important that is to all of us in this community."
While Hawaiian culture is alive and well, it's still more accessible to kamaaina than to visitors, Apo said.
"Authentic Hawaiian culture, the kind that exists for it own sake and would exist even if there were no tourists, is still hard to find in the visitor industry," he said. "It's ironic that the culture that takes great pride in hosting strangers is so distant from the industry whose business it is to do that. For the tourists, what better experience is there than to be invited into a culture in and of itself as opposed to being entertained in a fabricated way."
Intimate programs such as the ones found at past Keep it Hawaii Award winners are beneficial to the health of Hawaii's visitor industry because they raise satisfaction levels for kamaaina and for visitors, he said.
Kahuena said she feels blessed to share knowledge of the Hawaii-based fruit and plant medicine that she learned from her grandmother Louisa Kaloha while growing up in Waiahole with the many visitors who come to Hawaii.
"At one time, this knowledge was underground," Kahuena said. "When the missionaries came, many things changed. The language couldn't be spoken and we didn't talk about healing."
Today, it's different, Kahuena said. Hawaii's kupuna are encouraged to share their knowledge with kamaaina and visitors alike.
"I like to help the visitors," she said. "Some of the medicines that we have here are found in their areas, too. They think it's just a weed, but it's not. If it has a name, it means something."
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is accepting Keep it Hawaii Recognition Award nominations until 4:30 p.m. on July 25. The award honors individuals, businesses and organizations across all islands that honor and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and community with creative and responsible efforts to provide visitors and residents with opportunities to experience authenticity.
Award recipients will be announced at a ceremony on Aug. 28 at the Hawaii Convention Center.
For more information about submitting a free entry, visit www.hawaiitourismauthority.org, contact Martin Schiller at 227-6002 or 531-1800, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.