Everyone is family in the ALOHA State

HAWAII — Examples of Hawaii's “spirit of aloha” include hotel associates inviting guests home for dinner, bell captains swapping grandchildren’s photos with visitors or an executive chef picking coffee beans with kids.

Executive chef Jayson Kanekoa, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa.

Executive chef Jayson Kanekoa, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa.

By
RoseMary MacVicar Elliott

Visitors hear a lot about the “spirit of aloha”
in Hawaii and how this concept, which some define as a way of life involving being
a part of “all” and “all” being part of the individual, keeps visitors coming
back. The spirit can materialize as hotel associates inviting guests home for
dinner, bell captains swapping grandchildren’s photos with visitors or an
executive chef picking coffee beans with youngsters.  

In the strong
Aloha State hotel business – the latest Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) statistics
show revenue per available room (RevPAR) grew 5.7 per cent to $208 and average daily
rate (ADR) increased 4.2 per cent to $259 for the first 11 months of 2017 – human
capital can be a big part of success. The people of Hawaii must be doing something right; for the same period, the HTA
found visitor spending climbed 6.6 per cent to $15.15 billion, bolstered by 4.9 per cent growth
in visitor arrivals of 8,502,545. This included a 10.5 per cent uptick in Canadian
visitor arrivals to 448,936. Tourism is also the largest single source of
private capital for the state economy and provided 190,000 jobs in 2016.  

The nature of
Hawaii’s people is conducive to embracing visitors. “Hawaiian culture teaches
you that everybody is family and (to) treat everyone like family … and give
them the shirt off your back if needed,” said Micah Kamohoali’i, Kumu Hula (leader), Hālau Nā Kīpuʻupuʻu,
a traditional Hawaiian dance school, during the recent Marriott International
Convention and Resort Network media tour. He said children are raised to call trusted
adults auntie and uncle even if they aren’t blood relatives, and many Hawaiians
are related.

Relationship Benefits

Nani Kupihe, Cultural Hookipa, shares aloha with Sheraton Kona guests.

Nani Kupihe, Cultural Hookipa, shares aloha with Sheraton Kona guests.

Family and community relationships benefit resort and hotel operations. At the
Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay on the island of Hawaii, Chris
Colvin, account director, group, said the team relies on “the big family here” to
deal with challenges like finding flowers to make 50 leis for guests on short
notice.  

Elsewhere on the
island, known as “The Big Island,” at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and
Spa, executive chef Jayson Kanekoa’s connection with local farmers keeps his kitchen
stocked with fresh produce.  “Every
Hawaiian chef believes in supporting the local economy, keeping the dollars in
our islands and keeping farmers on our islands going,” he said.

Jayson, who
started his career as a chef’s helper at the Waikoloa 31 years ago, attributes
his passion for fresh, locally influenced cuisine to his upbringing in
Kukuihaele on the island. He has built relationships with farmers, sometimes
through a farmers’ market, to source items such as Kekela Farms live greens for
salad.  Most ingredients for meals at the
Waikoloa’s Hawaii Calls and other eateries are grown, raised or caught on
island and Jayson turns to the other Hawaiin islands for the remainder. The Big
Island climate, encompassing many of the world’s climate zones, means farmers
can grow crops like tomatoes and strawberries year-round. “Tomatoes are just as
sweet in December,” Jayson noted.

Sourcing Locally

Local sourcing, when possible, is essential in
Hawaii, an isolated volcanic archipelago in the Central Pacific. Shipping
supplies, such as furniture, adds up for properties. Alvin Wong, director of marketing, Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui, said ships transporting orders
from Singapore are required by shipping laws to bypass Hawaii and travel to
Long Beach, CA. Then the ships must backtrack to Honolulu on Oahu and, finally,
the order is transported from Honolulu to the island where it is required.

At the Waikoloa,
the importance of the biological and larger workplace family is evident.
Jayson’s relatives at the operation include his daughter Jaydene Kanekoa, group sales manager. Then, there are workplace family projects, like the mini grove
of coffee trees planted on the property outside Hawaii Calls. Longtime employee
Oren Yamagata, whose family owns a coffee farm in Kealakekua, south of Kona on
the island, came up with the idea and helped the landscaping staff understand
how to prune and care for the trees.

 Although the grove doesn’t produce enough
for the Waikoloa’s coffee supply, it has been a hit with guests. “The beans are
ready to pick in November,” Jayson said. “Guests – particularly kids – enjoy
picking them, learning about the drying and roasting process, and tasting the
menu items that use the rub we make from the beans.”

Kehaulani Kam leads the sunrise Ho'ala purification ceremony as Cultural Services Director for the Marriott Waikiki Complex.

Kehaulani Kam leads the sunrise Ho'ala purification ceremony as Cultural Services Director for the Marriott Waikiki Complex.

Jaydene said
family values go hand-in-hand with the Hawaii travel experience:  “People get out of their comfort zones,
explore and feel that connection…feel like you’re family.”

Many properties
offer activities such as lei exchanges, ukulele lessons, cliff diving and a traditional
sunrise purification ceremony to help guests experience Hawaiin culture. They
can often be incorporated in packages for incentive, conference and other group
visitors. Properties promote the culture through wide-ranging initiatives, from
employing cultural ambassadors to circulating a Hawaiian word of the day on the
housekeeper’s note.