The Aloha Festival features horses decked out in flowers from each Hawaiian island. // © 2013 Hawaii Tourism Authority
For Teri Young of DreamCatcher Vacations in Sacramento, Calif., the September 2012 Honolulu Food and Wine Festival wasn’t just about eating and drinking. It turned out to be a meaningful immersion into local history and culture, highlighted by a tour to 800-year-old agricultural sites.
“We learned how the ancient Hawaiians harvested, cleaned and prepared their food,” said Young. “I felt as if I had been transported to another time. Throughout the festival, I not only tasted some of the most amazing food, but my passion for Hawaii doubled, which is saying a lot.”
Young’s anecdote exemplifies how travel agents and their clients can benefit from visiting Oahu during one of its annual festivals and special events, said Stacey Martin Alford, Oahu Visitors Bureau’s director of travel industry sales.
“Agents can use their firsthand information as conversation-builders with clients,” said Alford. “Also, adding a festival to an itinerary can enhance the experiential value of a vacation. Since the majority of Oahu’s events are free, it is a cost-effective option that can have a strong impact on clients.”
Each year, OVB offers agents several opportunities to join fam trips timed with Oahu festivals. For instance, it invited a group of Oahu Master Specialists to attend the March 2012 Honolulu Festival, which promotes harmony between Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. Among many activities, participants enjoyed a fireworks extravaganza provided by Japan in appreciation for the millions of dollars that Hawaii’s people donated after the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
“Visiting travel agents experienced a special East-meets-West camaraderie,” said Alford. “It represented a global community connecting with one another through celebration.”
Maureen Dinnocenzo of Above and Beyond Travel in Arnold, Calif., took part in the bureau’s Aloha Festivals fam, which treated agents to the time-honored September event. One of Dinnocenzo’s many happy memories was watching the annual floral parade.
“This was more than just a typical parade,” she said. “Each Hawaiian island had its own float, which was decorated in tropical flowers representing that island. Local schools took part, and even the famous Leonard’s Bakery malasada (Portuguese doughnut) van was decked out for the occasion.”
Across the calendar, Oahu’s events showcase the diversity of the island. Consider the distinctive Waikiki Spam Jam, coming up on April 27. One of Waikiki’s biggest street parties, it transforms the main thoroughfare of Kalakaua Avenue into a pedestrian-only spree where Honolulu restaurants serve eats featuring Spam and retailers roll out Spam-themed merchandise and island crafts. Free entertainment rounds out this benefit for the Hawaii Foodbank.
Visitors to Oahu in May can check out the annual Mele Mei, a month-long celebration that pays homage to Hawaii’s music scene. The event consists of workshops on the music industry; a lifetime achievement luncheon; live performances, including a ukulele, slack-key and steel guitar jam; and the yearly Na Hoku Hanohano Awards show.
Since 1871, islanders have designated June 11 as a public holiday to pay tribute to Kamehameha the Great, Hawaii’s famed warrior king. The King Kamehameha Celebration regales residents and visitors with pageantry, sports, hula, a parade and hoolaulea (outdoor party). The king’s statue in downtown Honolulu is draped in long strands of tropical blossoms.
Then there’s the Prince Lot Hula Festival, named after the 19th-century prince credited with reviving the once-forbidden Hawaiian dance in Moanalua. Some 10,000 people gather in Moanalua Gardens to witness what has become the state’s largest non-competitive hula event, scheduled this year for July 20.
Dozens more festivals take place on Oahu throughout the year, each with its own singular focus and flavor. No matter which one a traveler chooses, it’s bound to enrich an island visit.
“Any agent who takes the time to experience Oahu in new and different ways during a festival doesn’t just enjoy the personal benefits,” said Young. “Taking part in these events separates you professionally and gives you something completely unique to offer your clients.”