'Show has to go on'


POSTED: Sunday, September 06, 2009

The World Invitational Hula Festival, launched in 1991, has helped students from at least 23 countries and 15 mainland states to return to the source of hula, said Jennings, the festival's executive producer.

It has sparked import and export business deals, bolstered state tourism revenue and has been the impetus for several international weddings.

And, the festival could launch a sister event with Paris in 2012 that would share hula—if it survives this year in Hawaii.

Like many other festivals and events worldwide, the troubled economy has resulted in lost sponsorships and funding for this international festival, which is perhaps better known outside of the islands than in them.


“;We need another $40,000 to make it this year,”; Jennings said.

Hula halau have been saving their money and training so they can participate in this year's festival, which is scheduled for Nov. 12-14, she said.

“;The show has to go on,”; Jennings said.

If the festival survives another run in Honolulu, there is a good chance that Hawaii in Paris will debut in 2012, said Kilohana Silve, who brought hula to France as a way of helping her young daughter stay connected to her Hawaiian roots while they lived far from home.

Last year, Silve's French halau competed in the festival for the first time, she said.

“;Even though we were very far from the source, the essence of the islands comes through the training,”; Silve said. “;As a result, they decided that they wanted to come to Hawaii.”;





Economic Impact of the World Invitational Hula Festival:

Rooms/hotel revenue$241,128
Car rentals$10,658
Hula supplies$71,100
Total revenue$1.076 million

        Source: DBEDT



Silve said there were 16 people in her party and that they stayed for three weeks.

“;After the festival we traveled throughout the islands,”; she said, adding that most members had to buy new suitcases to accommodate their purchases.

The event was so successful that Silve and her halau are hoping to share the excitement in Paris with halau throughout Europe.

“;We'll have a hula competition, a film festival, a fashion show and a market with local cuisine and products,”; she said. “;All of this is coming out of this event that Auntie Paulie has been taking care of all these years.”;

“;But while the festival's international presence is strengthening, in Hawaii it is seen as just another hula festival,”; Jennings said.

“;We're like the shoemaker's children who have no shoes,”; Jennings said. “;We have brought millions of dollars into our economy, but our mission is still not understood by people here as we are doing something unique in educating the world about us.”;

Now in its 18th year, the festival brings an average of 400 dancers from across the globe to Hawaii in November to share aloha and a chance for those studying hula from afar to return to the source and renew their commitment to this ancient art. The festival also offers workshops in Hawaiian art, culture, anthropology, history and biota. And, it provides a three-day market for Hawaiian-made products and crafts.

While many impressive members of the local Hawaiian and hula communities such as Nona Beamer, Frank K. Hewett, Kaliko Beamer Trapp and Ipolani Vaughn have supported this festival, it is still not well attended by local residents. But the World Invitational Hula Festival is vastly different from the Merrie Monarch, which gets the lion's share of local traffic, said Frank Haas, who is on Jennings' advisory board.

“;There's a place for this event,”; Haas said. “;It's not like the Merrie Monarch Festival. It uses culture as a medium for understanding and international good will.”;

That message has been slow to germinate, and even in the festival's 18th year, ticket and merchandise sales have not been able to turn a profit. Still, Jennings is undeterred.

“;It takes time for an event of this magnitude to come out in the black,”; she said.

The nonprofit event, like many of its kind in Hawaii, extensively relies on sponsors, underwriters, grants and tax-deductible gifts, she said. However, while some years have been lean, this year is the worst ever, Jennings said.

It's that way all over, said Steve Schmader, president and chief executive officer of the Boise, Idaho-based International Festival and Events Association.

“;Everybody in our business depends on the support of corporate sponsors, and they have been hit by the recession and the political ramifications of the recession,”; Schmader said.

The situation was made worse when Sen. John Kerry scolded banks that were receiving bailout money for sponsoring golf tournaments, he said.

“;You don't want to demonize good business, and a lot of sponsorship is about driving business and the economy,”; Schmader said, adding that the festival industry brings in trillions globally.

Festivals are one of the primary tools used in destination marketing, he said.

“;It drives tourism and improves the quality of life,”; Schmader said. “;Festivals and events serve as calling cards for the destinations that they represent. A lot of our bureaus have turned to events to fill their calendars when things are slow.”;

But while the Hawaii Tourism Authority has remained committed to festivals and events, funds have been diverted from product development to bolster emergency marketing campaigns in regions that are likely to produce short-term bookings to put heads on beds.

“;For 2010 we're level with 2009 funding, but festivals and events in general are having trouble,”; said Robbie Kane, HTA's product development manager. “;Sponsorship has gone down and it's happening across the nation.”;

While funding has always been an issue, Jennings said her “;main concern is in doing a good job in making certain that Hawaiian culture is understood and valued for its depth of meaning.”;

Hula should be thought of as a language of its own and not some “;hootchy-kootchy dance,”; she said.



Many countries and states have participated in the World Invitational Hula Festival since its inception in 1992 including:

Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Columbia, France, The Phillippines, Spain, Poland, Gaum, Mariana Islands, India, Holland, Africa, Iran, Korea, Easter Island, Japan, Sweden, Germany and The Netherlands

From the United States:
Alaska, California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, New York, Virginia, Rhode Island, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Maryland, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.