Relaxing in the warm weather and enjoying the surrounding
natural beauty may be foremost on the minds of vacationers arriving
in Hawaii. But many visitors also want to get a sense of the
islands to experience the culture of Hawaii, which can begin right
at the resort.
Hotels feature some of Hawaii’s best artwork in their lobbies.
Other resorts offer daily and weekly cultural programs that are
free and open to the public, while still others sponsor
high-profile annual events that aim to connect visitors to Hawaii’s
ancient and contemporary culture.
Some resorts are especially dedicated to promoting an authentic
understanding of Hawaii. Aside from the marketing strategy, the
purpose is to respect Hawaii’s host culture.
Fifteen years ago, for instance, Maui’s Kaanapali Beach Hotel
named Lori Sablas its director of pookela (meaning excellence).
Sab-las is charged with leading Hawaiian cultural education
programs for resort employees.
“We position ourselves as Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” she
said. “Now how do you deliver this? You do that through your
The Northwest Maui hotel strives to have knowledgeable employees
at all levels of its business, from activities to bell service to
Many of its workers are immigrants, so the hotel assumed the
mandate of teaching them about the culture to encourage a sense of
belonging. As a result, employees become more comfortable and open
“It is our hotel’s way of respecting the host culture and its
preservation,” Sablas said.
In turn, employees deliver all of the Hawaiian cultural classes
offered to guests on a daily basis, welcome hotel guests by singing
and serenade them again upon departure.
Employees also take time to share with guests their personal
insights and stories about growing up on Maui.
“It’s not an ordinary hotel experience,” Sablas said. “Coming to
our property, there is a distinct difference.”
Each year Kaanapali Beach Hotel sets aside one weekend to honor
the next generation of practitioners of local culture.
Residents and resort guests alike are invited to the hotel’s
Hula O Na Keiki, a solo hula competition for children ages 5 to
Since 1990, the event has grown from a daylong into a
weekend-long cultural celebration of Hawaiian arts and music,
highlighted by the most talented young hula dancers around.
The 15th celebration of Hula O Na Keiki takes place this year
Up the Maui coast, Kapalua Resort is doing its part to provide
clients with a real sense of place.
As cultural advisor to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Clifford Naeole
said he aims “to prevent the reinventing or dilution of the culture
through half truths.”
Naeole’s position was created seven years ago after he noted
instances when inaccurate or “totally wrong” information had been
communicated to visitors, he said.
“At one end of the rainbow are mai tais, surf and sand,” he
said. “At the other end is Hawaii heart and soul.”
The roster of cultural programs that Naeole now oversees
includes a twice-weekly screening of the film “Then There Were
None,” about the demise of the Hawaiian people and culture.
And on the last Friday of every month, the resort invites elders
from the community to speak on a particular topic, drawing from
their personal experiences.
Performances held at the Ritz-Carlton include “Slack Key
Masters,” a Hawaiian music concert on Tuesday evenings, and the
“Legend of Kaululaau,” a one-man play of Hawaii storytelling which
shows twice on Sundays.
The Ritz-Carlton is probably most famed locally for its annual
Celebration of the Arts.
For more than a decade, the Ritz has hosted a three-day event
honoring Hawaiian arts.
The free, family-oriented festival features art displays, films,
workshops and a children’s program (March 24-27), and this year’s
ecological-based theme is The Land, the Ocean and Man: Partners for
Asked to sum up Ritz’s aims, Naeole put it this way: “We want
our guests to come to Hawaii and continue to come to Hawaii, but we
want them to know who the host is.”
Kaanapali Beach Hotel
2525 Kaanapali Pkwy.
Lahaina, HI 96761
1 Ritz-Carlton Dr.
Kapalua, HI 96761