Iolani Palace is the only official state residence of royalty in the U.S. // © 2014 HTA/Joe Solem
On a recent travel agent fam to Oahu, Michael Hennes of AskAboutTravel.com in San Diego was captivated by Hawaii’s Plantation Village. Restored buildings and replicas tell tales of the island’s sugar plantation life from 1850-1950.
“I was amazed by how various ethnic groups were brought to Hawaii and how they lived and worked,” said Hennes. “This is a perfect attraction for clients who want to step back in time and see what life was like for early settlers in Hawaii.”
Such is the allure of Oahu’s museums, which often reach beyond the traditional gallery format to offer vibrant examples of what makes Hawaii special. Clients who spend time at the island’s museums can delve into the fascinating history and culture of the destination.
“Oahu is home to some of Hawaii’s largest and most extensive museums and collections featuring art, artifacts and heirlooms from Hawaii and the Pacific,” said Oahu Visitors Bureau’s director of travel industry sales Stacey Martin Alford. “Travel agents can add significant value to their clients’ itineraries by telling them about the richness of these gems.”
Martin Alford noted that Oahu’s visitors might even discover exhibits they didn’t expect to find in Hawaii.
“For example, Shangri La, the 1937 Honolulu estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke, houses an impressive collection of Islamic art,” she said. “And Spalding House is the only museum in Hawaii devoted exclusively to contemporary artwork.”
Along with Hennes, Marilyn Clark of Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, Calif., took part in OVB’s cultural heritage fam. While Clark has visited exhibits in many other destinations, she praised Oahu’s museums for their staff.
“Our museum guides took enormous pride in their culture and heritage,” said Clark. “Their willingness to ‘talk story’ and their respect for their ancestors made it a very unique experience.”
A case in point was Queen Emma Summer Palace, a cool upcountry oasis for the 19th-century monarch and her family.
“What made the palace tour really special was the docent who led it,” Clark recalled. “She carefully explained each room’s contents, talking about the history of the house and the people who lived there. I felt like I was back in that era experiencing it all first-hand.”
For Tracey Gilbert of Cruise Holidays in Woodinville, Wash., the Honolulu Museum of Art was a fam trip standout.
“Honolulu Museum of Art presents a wonderful contrast to busy Waikiki and a nice break from the beach,” said Gilbert. “It has a terrific Hawaiian art collection, taking visitors well beyond the touristy Polynesian art seen in some souvenir shops.”
Also on the fam trip was Brian Harris of Destination Site Selection in Aspen, Colo. Harris was particularly inspired by downtown Honolulu’s Iolani Palace, the only official state residence of royalty in the U.S.
“Touring Iolani Palace shows you how it would feel to rule a kingdom,” he said. “As you put on protective booties to preserve the floors, you know the tour is going to be special even before it begins. When you go into the king’s bedroom, you can imagine what it would be like to wake up as your window shutters are opened and your praises are gloriously sung.”
Oahu visitors can find additional treasures at the Army Museum, Bishop Museum, Hawaii State Art Museum, Japanese Cultural Museum, Mission Houses Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Agents on the fam agreed that Oahu’s museums gave them a deeper appreciation for the island than beaches and mai tais could provide.
“I strongly recommend visiting a museum for anyone going to Oahu, especially early on in their trip or during their first visit to the islands,” said Harris. “Their experiences will have greater meaning and they will want to go back again and again.”
Clark concurred, encouraging not only clients but travel agents to visit Oahu’s museums.
“Cultural and heritage tourism are rapidly growing markets, and it is much easier to sell what you know,” she said.