Pick a date, any date. Then, check the online calendar for the Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB) and see what’s going on. Chances are very good that you’ll find at least one special event with cultural overtones. In fact, the island presents more festivals than anywhere else in the state, with offerings that range from Hawaiian music and dance to celebrations of international food and fashion.
Stacey Alford, OVB travel industry sales director, traces the island’s abundance of cultural events back to its plantation days. Beginning in the 19th century, a diverse spectrum of ethnic groups came to Hawaii to provide much-needed low-cost labor in its fields and factories.
Prince Lot Hula Festival is the largest non-competitive hula event in Hawaii.
// © 2010 Moanalua Gardens Foundation
“While some of these workers returned to their homeland after their contract was up, many stayed and called Oahu their home,” said Alford. “As such, the fabric of our local community is a rich blend of different cultures that are woven into a unique and harmonious society. You see this diversity when looking at our calendar.”
Travel agents who are interested in selling Oahu vacations timed with special events should spend some time learning about the destination’s vibrant cultural past, advised Alford.
“With historical knowledge as a foundation, modern-day Oahu takes on a new dimension for agents,” she said. “This depth of cultural enrichment enables agents to steer the visitor experience to one-of-a-kind, mom-and-pop restaurants, docent-led museum tours, hobbyist clubs, outdoor adventures and, last but not least, festivals.”
Gatherings Gone Global
In the coming months, clients can make their way to a number of Oahu events that expose them to Hawaii’s cultural melting pot.
In June, for instance, the King Kamehameha Celebration floral parade honors the warrior who united the islands in 1795. Crowds line the streets of Honolulu and cheer for the brightly decorated floats and pau riders — women in horseback wearing ornate dresses and leis — representing the Hawaiian royal court.
June also brings the Pan Pacific Festival, highlighting cultural diversity through shared interests. Clients can enjoy an eclectic assortment of arts, crafts and stage performances ranging from Japanese taiko drummers to hula dancers from Hawaii and Japan. Its Friday night hoolaulea (block party) transforms Waikiki’s Kalakaua Avenue with an array of ethnic food booths, local wares and free live entertainment.
The July calendar is equally full of cultural fare. The Prince Lot Hula Festival, holding forth at Moanalua Gardens, is the largest non-competitive hula event in Hawaii, regaling visitors and residents with crafts, martial arts demonstrations and mesmerizing performances by halau (hula troupes). The Ukulele Festival, honoring Hawaii’s uniquely plucky instrument, culminates in a free concert in the Kapiolani Park bandstand. The Korean Festival, also in July, takes place in Honolulu’s Ala Moana Park with music, dance, food, displays, family activities and products from the Land of the Morning Calm.
Come August, the Made in Hawaii Festival fills the Neal Blaisdell Center’s exhibition hall and arena in Honolulu. There, clients can peruse and purchase island-produced items such as edibles, books, gifts, fashions, arts, crafts and produce; hear music by award-winning local entertainers; and watch the state’s top chefs work their culinary magic. September’s Okinawan Festival, running over Labor Day weekend, enlivens Kapiolani Park with food, music and workshops covering such topics as kimono dressing, calligraphy and tracing genealogical roots.
From Marching Bands to Hula Dancers
Perhaps the best known of Oahu’s cultural events is the Aloha Festivals, a longtime showcase of Hawaii’s music, dance and history. Taking place during the month of September, it lays claim to such visitor favorites as the Waikiki hoolaulea, spread along 12 city blocks of Kalakaua Avenue with three stages of entertainment and lots of food and lei vendors. Another big draw, the Aloha Festivals floral parade, brightens Honolulu with its flower-studded floats, marching bands, hula dancers and pau riders.
Looking ahead to 2011, agents should mark their clients’ calendars with the annual Honolulu Festival in March, a three-day jubilee of art, music and dance topped off with a vibrant parade through Waikiki; Oahu’s Lei Day celebration on May 1, with remarkable garlands of tropical flowers on display and for sale; and the Samoan World Fireknife Championships at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a May event where daring and athletic performers thrill audiences by spinning and twirling batons of fire.
“Oahu is a refreshing example of a harmonious multiethnic society where the local lifestyle is rich in distinct cultural traditions,” Alford said. “We encourage visitors to help us celebrate that diversity.”