Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

May Day
flower organizers
lei an egg

Nearly half of the wreaths
used to promote the isles
came from Thailand

By Lyn Danninger

When the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau celebrated "May Day is Lei Day" yesterday to promote Hawaii in 17 cities around the world, it used lei made in Thailand.

As many as 40 percent of the 34,000 flower lei passed out yesterday were not from the state. The floral faux pas was created when local flower growers did not have enough lead time to prepare for such a massive event, said Gail Ann Chew, the visitors bureau's vice president of marketing.

"I wish we could have ensured every flower came from here but we actually started pulling the event together on about February 28," she said. "It just wasn't enough time."

Flower growers also wish they had been given more notice.

Part of the problem was that most flowers were already committed for local May Day celebrations, said Jody Jewell, a board member of the Hawaii Tropical Flower Council

"On any other day of the year, it wouldn't have been a problem, but with a local holiday like May Day, you can't expect to come up with 30,000 leis in one month," Jewell said.

But local flower grower Teena Rasmussen of Paradise Flower Farms Inc. in Kula, Maui, says she is concerned not only that local agriculture missed out on such a big event but also about the message it sends when non-local flowers are used for an event that is supposed to promote Hawaii.

"The lei is the most highly symbolic thing for Hawaii," Rasmussen said. "For the state to spend money on lei from Thailand, it just flies in the face of everything."

In one instance, dendrobian orchid lei passed out in downtown Portland, Ore., yesterday came directly from boxes which clearly indicated they came from Thailand, Rasmussen said.

Chew concedes such occurrences are unfortunate but says the bureau and local flower growers will be ready for next year's event.

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

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