DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marriott's summer high school internship program has placed 47 native Hawaiian students in hotels on Oahu and Maui with the goal of eventually increasing the percentage of native Hawaiians working in the hospitality industry. Above, Waianae High School graduate Cherrelle Leos, now employed in the culinary department at JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, holds a tray of macadamia nut tarts in the walk-in refrigerator.
Reclaiming the aloha
Marriott’s internship program for native Hawaiians is aimed at bridging the gap between the host culture and visitor industry
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f not for the native Hawaiian people, Hawaii could be just any other sun and sand visitor destination. Still, at times, the presence of the host culture has been noticeably absent.
The hospitality industry has spent millions bringing the Hawaiian language, art, music and traditions back to the visitor experience and now they are looking for ways to bring back the people.
Most of them understand that the presence of native Hawaiians in Waikiki and in every other part of Hawaii is critical to the survival of the state's lead hospitality industry as well as the community.
Marriott's summer high school internship program, which has placed 47 native Hawaiian students in hotels on Oahu and Maui, is just one example of the movement within Hawaii's visitor industry to bring the host community back to Waikiki and other tourist destinations.
Hotel companies like Outrigger Enterprises Group, Marriott Resorts Hawaii, Hilton Hawaii, Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Hawaii Hotels & Resorts, ResortQuest Hawaii and many others also have taken up the challenge.
Work force development programs that increase participation from native Hawaiians in the visitor industry, educational initiatives that introduce the concept of a career in tourism to secondary school students, and visitor events designed to perpetuate Hawaii's Polynesian heritage are all ways that Hawaii is trying to put the host culture back into its tourism product.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center interns Nalani Timas, left, and Davit Soo, center, listen to Lolena Aldosa introduce himself to the group at the Marriott in Waikiki.
The group of teenagers standing at the crosswalk outside of the Waikiki Beach Marriott could be from any small rural town in the mainland by the way that they crane they necks to look up at the large hotels and gaze in awe at the beauty of this place where the ocean meets the sky like some kind of surround sound for the senses.
Lamalama ‘o Waikiki tickets available
Tickets are still available for Lamalama 'o Waikiki, a fundraising event for the new Native Hawaiian Hookipa Scholarship that will support more Native Hawaiian cultural leaders in Hawaii's travel industry.
The benefit, which will take place July 24 at 5:30 p.m., will feature food, drinks, entertainment and a private showing of Waikiki Nei, the newest, high-tech, multimedia show in Waikiki.
Henry Kapono will perform music from his Grammy-nominated and award-winning "The Wild Hawaiian!" A portion of the proceeds from that night's sales of Kapono's music will go toward the Native Hawaiian Hookipa Scholarship.
To reserve a table or to book individual seats, visit www.Pauahi.org.
On their way to see the famed bronzed statute of Duke Kahanomoku, some of the teens tentatively pause at the crosswalk as if seeing traffic for the first time.
"Wow. This Waikiki, eh?" a few of them say of their first trip to Oahu's infamous tourist enclave that was once home to the kings and queens of Hawaii. The warm-toned skin and island features of these teens attract the gazes of other tourists who are searching for authenticity. However, as far as some of these kamaaiana students are concerned, Waikiki is as removed from their daily life as New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago.
"We are Hawaii. Don't forget that when you walking out there," said Waianuhea Ah Quin, a cultural tourism expert from the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA).
Ah Quin recently led the students, who come mostly from Oahu's west side, on a cultural discovery of Waikiki, a place few of them have ever considered part of their home.
"From a historical perspective when you think of Waikiki, it was always a thriving place for native Hawaiian culture in its many manifestations," said Lulani Arquette, executive director of NaHHA. "In recent times, a lot of Hawaiians have felt very disconnected from Waikiki because of what it had become. We're making progress, but there is still a long way to go."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Waianuhea Ah Quin, a culture tourism expert from the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, takes leis off of Prince Kuhio's statue. He was taking interns from Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center on a walking tour of Waikiki.
There ALWAYS have been degrees of separation between Hawaii's host culture and the state's lead visitor industry, but in recent times more efforts have been made to bridge the gap. Marriott's summer high school internship program, which has placed 47 native Hawaiian students in hotels on Oahu and Maui, is just one example of the movement within Hawaii's visitor industry to bring the host community back to Waikiki and other tourist destinations.
"We've completed the bridge and now we just need the two sides to go back and forth," said Ginger Fouta, who serves as a community building facilitator for the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center, which is in partnership with Marriott to provide high school internship opportunities in the hospitality industry to native Hawaiian children.
The hospitality industry has spent millions bringing the Hawaiian language, art, music and traditions back to the visitor experience, and now they are looking for ways to bring back the people, Arquette said. Work force development programs that increase participation from native Hawaiians in the visitor industry, educational initiatives that introduce the concept of a career in tourism to secondary school students, and visitor events designed to perpetuate Hawaii's Polynesian heritage are all ways that Hawaii is trying to put the host culture back into its tourism product, she said.
"The only way that you will get people there is to have more Hawaiians that are willing to work and share in the visitor industry and you create venues for them to come in and be who they are," Arquette said.
The presence of native Hawaiians in Waikiki and in every other part of Hawaii is critical to the survival of the state's lead hospitality industry and the community, said Chris Tatum, general manager of the Waikiki Beach Marriott, which sits on what was once Hamohamo, the summer home of Hawaii's Liliuokalani, whose legacy still today creates opportunities for native Hawaiian children.
"You are our future. I've lived here all my life, but I don't have the confidence of the culture," Tatum told a group of native Hawaiian high school interns during a recent job briefing. "You know more about Hawaii than I will ever know, even though I grew up here, because you have it in you."
Yet in Hawaii's visitor industry, the host culture is present in only about 11 percent of the general management and 13 percent of the line management positions, said Ramsay Taum, director of external relations and community partnerships at the University of Hawaii's School of Travel Industry Management (TIM). As few as 5 to 7 percent of the students enrolled at TIM School are of the host culture, he said.
"That's relatively small considering that 23 percent of the general population is native Hawaiian," Taum said. "One of our initiatives is to increase the number of native Hawaiians working in travel industry management, but if we aren't putting out more than 5 percent from the TIM School, what is the likelihood that we'll increase those numbers."
Hotel companies like Outrigger Enterprises Group, Marriott Resorts Hawaii, Hilton Hawaii, Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Hawaii Hotels & Resorts, ResortQuest Hawaii and many others also have taken up the challenge to embrace the culture and heritage of the host community. Many also have incorporated some of the host culture's traditions and ceremony into their corporate structure and into the facilities and amenities that they offer their employees and guests.
"At Outrigger, we believe that is important that we integrate Hawaiian culture and values with tourism," said Nancy Daniels, public relations manager for Outrigger Enterprises Group, Hawaii's largest kamaaina hotel company. "Our entire corporate culture, from how we treat our guests, to how we treat one another is shaped by native Hawaiian culture and values."
Kimberly Agas, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, worked her way up from a part-time clerk to vice president in charge of Outrigger's beachfront hotels where she is a strong proponent of incorporating the host culture into the hotel experience -both for the visitor as well as other employees.
"What is important to (native Hawaiians) is important to Outrigger," Agas said. "The culture and the community and the guest must all flow together."
Agas' alma mater is also taking a lead on this endeavor. On July 24 at the Royal Hawaiian Center's Waikiki Nei Showroom and Terrace, a benefit will be held to raise money for the Native Hawaiian Hookipa Scholarship. Administered by the Ke Alii Pauahi Foundation, the scholarship is designed to get more native Hawaiian cultural leaders in Hawaii's travel industry.
"With the decline in tourism, it's more important than ever that the cultural experience being offered is pure and 'authentic,'" said Ann Botticelli, the vice president for community relations and communications at Kamehameha Schools. "The industry has been talking about this for a long time, and this scholarship is a good start."
While efforts to bring the culture back into Hawaii's hospitality industry have been ongoing for some time, programs like Marriott's summer high school internship program serve as examples of the efforts that are now being made to bring the industry to the culture, too.
"There is a fair amount of job shadowing and scholarships within the industry, but Marriott has taken it another step in terms of establishing specific partnerships with native Hawaiian students," said Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hospitality and Lodging Association.
The internship program, which falls under Marriott's Spirit to Serve Our Communities, is part of a corporate program designed to foster goodwill in the communities where Marriott does business, said Ed Hubennette, vice president of North Asia, Hawaii and South Pacific for Marriott Resorts Hawaii. In addition to its native Hawaiian high school internship program, Marriott also provides internships, mentoring opportunities, scholarships and management training positions for students at the TIM School and the UH statewide system of community colleges; Hawaii Pacific University; and Brigham Young University -Hawaii, he said.
"Not all of these students will come into the hospitality industry, but some of them will," Hubennette said. "Regardless, they will all continue to live in this community and they need to understand tourism because it is an important part of the economy."
Though most of the students participating in Marriott's internship program live less than an hour from Waikiki in communities on the less-traveled western side of Oahu, it might as well be worlds apart, said Junior Ekau, who as one of the organizers of the program is known to most of these kids as simply "Uncle."
"They live in our local world and breathe our local air. Some of them never really leave their communities," Ekau said. "I wanted to change their environment, change the way that they think and speak. All they know of the hospitality industry is one-sided; I want them to get a bigger picture."
The experience already has been eye opening for 17-year-old Ashley Jordan, who is spending part of the summer working in loss prevention at JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa.
"Hospitality is not a very popular choice. People think that you have to work in Waikiki or that it will be bad, but it's not bad at all," said Jordan, who hopes her summer experience will lead to full-time employment in the industry.
Cherrelle Leos, 22, who interned with Marriott's high school program in the early 2000s, is one of the program's success stories. Leos worked her way up to a full-time job as a pastry cook at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa.
"As a result of the program, I knew that I wanted to work in the hospitality industry," Leos said. "I enjoy taking care of people and sharing my culture with them. It feels good when I am able to make them smile over a little dessert."
By getting involved in Hawaii's hospitality industry, where they are sought after for their host culture knowledge, Jordan and Leos and their peers will develop self-esteem and build more cultural awareness, Ekau said.
"The best place to feel that energy is in the hospitality industry where people are coming to see them for who they are," Ekau said. "It gives them a sense of pride."