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Cultivating Culture

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Brittni Au, a graduate of Roosevelt High School, participated in Marriot's student internship program.

The consensus in tourism is that Hawaii’s No. 1 competitive advantage is its host culture. With that in mind, Marriott International has partnered with Hawaiian cultural practitioner Ramsay Taum in an initiative to teach nearly 5,000 Marriott employees, including senior management, about Native Hawaiian culture and values. The program, called “Host Culture Sense of Place Training,” is aimed at realigning those values with the corporate values of the hotel.

Ed Hubennette, vice president of Marriott’s North Asia, Hawaii and South Pacific markets, says the training is intended to reestablish a sense of place for employees and reinforce their roles as hosts, creating a more authentic and meaningful visitor experience.

Taum, who is director of External Relations and Community Partnerships at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management (TIM), explains that visitors want to experience the true aloha spirit, not something that feels contrived or forced by its hosts. “Needless to say, this is hard to do if you don’t feel welcome in your own home or no longer recognize your place as being your own,” Taum says. Hubennette says more than $300,000 has been invested in the training, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

In addition, Marriott’s Na Pua O Liliuokalani Ma Hamohamo internship program, now in its second year, offers Native Hawaiian students ages 16 through 18 the opportunity to learn about the hotel industry in a six-week program. Participants undergo training from cultural and employment skills experts before working in various hotel departments. “Contrary to what many might believe, Native Hawaiians are underrepresented in the visitor industry workforce, especially among its leadership,” Taum says. He says 11 percent of the hotel general managers are Native Hawaiians.

So far, the internship program has placed 47 Native Hawaiian students in Marriott hotels on Oahu and Maui.

Hubennette expects Marriott’s progressive cultural programs will serve the company well in the future. “Are 25-year-olds who have no idea about World War II going to care about Pearl Harbor 10 years from now?” he asks. “I doubt it. That’s why what we do now will be so important to the future of the tourism industry.”
- Shara Enay

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