A Quest for Authenticity

Crater with trails, Haleakala National Park, Maui

Meeting groups are seeking traditional Hawaiian experiences

Hawaii continues to be a major destination for meeting groups throughout the world, but in the past few years, attendees and other visitors have been seeking more traditional Hawaiian experiences.

“They still expect sun, surf and sand from Hawaii, but want something deeper than that—an experience that is unique to the destination and a feeling that they retain long after the trip is finished,” says Marie Watanabe, director of sales for the Oahu Visitors Bureau. “The Hawaiian culture is what differentiates us from any other destination in the world, but also connects us to the people of the world.”

The desire for more authentic and traditional Hawaiian experiences should not be seen merely as fashionable or a feel-good trend. Rather, for many visitors it is rooted in a desire to learn lessons that can be applied in their daily lives. This coincides with a deliberate effort by Hawaiians to more actively live in a manner in tune with the wisdom of their ancestors.

In the 1970s, residents started becoming more invested in Hawaiian cultural practices, and in the 1980s, Hawaiian language immersion schools cropped up. The students who are the products of these schools now are active members of communities who are promoting and practicing Hawaiian culture in their personal and professional lives.

“Businesses are returning to appreciate and incorporate more culture in response to the desires of travelers,” Watanabe says. “But more importantly, they acknowledge their responsibility to the community, including employees, and the people of Hawaii to perpetuate the story of Hawaii and sustain what makes it a truly special place.

“Incorporating Hawaiian culture is a win-win for all stakeholders in the travel industry, including guests, management, employees and the community.”

All the major Hawaiian Islands have accelerated efforts to provide meeting groups and other visitors with deeper and additional ways to experience traditional Hawaiian culture. Smart Meetings decided to focus on some of the top opportunities for groups, ranging from attending cultural events to learning Hawaiian crafts and helping to restore native habitats.

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