Celebration of the Arts teaches visitors ancient Hawaiian pastimes such as kapa (i.e., pounding bark into cloth). // © 2014 The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua
At last month’s Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, Terryl Vencl enjoyed interacting with visitors as much as she enjoyed the wine and food itself.
“I relish opportunities to personally showcase Maui to our visitors,” said Vencl, Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau executive director and a Michigan-to-Maui transplant since 1987. “You see that a lot with people who were born and raised on the island, as well as people like me, who want to share why they decided to move here.”
Maui’s festivals provide a perfect way for clients to meet locals and get an insider’s take on life in the 50th State. While enjoying activities, demonstrations, meals and entertainment, strangers often become friends.
“Any time a conversation strikes up between a resident and traveler, there is opportunity for learning on both sides,” said Vencl. “Our festivals bring together chefs, vendors, performers and other island partners whom visitors would not necessarily encounter otherwise.”
For 2014, Maui is urging travelers to time their island vacations to coincide with one of its 15 major festivals. Among them is Kaanapali Fresh, on Labor Day weekend, during which local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and culinarians mingle with hungry guests. At the event’s Saturday morning farmers market, for instance, clients can hobnob with vendors such as Chuck and Lily Boerner, owners of Ono Organic Farm, and taste the lilikoi, lychee and other exotic fruits that they grow.
“At the farmers market, the displays of colorful produce and flowers really knock people’s socks off,” said Kaanapali Beach Resort Association executive director Shelley Kekuna. “Just discovering jackfruit or dragon fruit and drinking coconut water out of a whole coconut start conversations with everyone in the immediate area.”
Clients eager to immerse themselves in Maui’s heritage will have a rewarding experience at Celebration of Arts, held each year at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Emphasizing the island’s culture, the weekend’s presentations, ceremonies, hands-on activities, films, live performances and meals bring guests and locals together in a meaningful and memorable fashion.
“We welcome our visitors to communicate with the native practitioners, artists, musicians and presenters,” said Clifford Naeole, the hotel’s Hawaiian cultural advisor. “The cuisine, music, dance, art, camaraderie and intellectual interaction serve as the glue to bring all people together, especially for the love of Hawaiian culture.”
Food and drink often take center stage at major celebrations such as the Maui County Agricultural Festival, East Maui Taro Festival, Maui Onion Festival and the Maui Brewers Festival. Movie buffs socialize during the Maui Film Festival at Wailea, and ocean-loving visitors enjoy whale-watching and other marine activities at the Maui Whale Festival.
Even on Maui’s smaller sister islands, clients can meet kindred spirits at annual events such as the Ka Hula Piko Festival on Molokai and the Pineapple Festival on Lanai. Maui proper also features lesser-known celebrations, such as Maui Matsuri, Maui Barrio Fiesta and Portuguese Festa, which celebrate Maui’s various ethnic communities.
“While our larger festivals are designed to encourage visitors to book a vacation to Maui, our smaller festivals add depth and flavor to the Maui experience,” Vencl said.
Maui attracts a savvy clientele that craves more than just sand and surf during their travels, according to Vencl.
“Our visitors want to learn about the places they visit,” she said. “What better way to do that than to mix and mingle with locals at an event?”