Even during the worst economy in decades, guests at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel can still enjoy a free hula show seven nights a week. There are also free lei-making and hula classes. And five times a day, staff gather in the lobby to enact a lei ceremony for departing guests. Perhaps more remarkable, the hotel says it continues with its Pookela program, mandatory training for all employees that, four times a year, immerses them in Hawaiian history and tradition.
Lori Sablas, director of Pookela, says the program is part of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel’s commitment to bringing Hawaiian culture and Island values into the industry. “For us,” she says, “it’s not for money that we do this. It’s something that we believe in.” General manager Mike White agrees. White, who founded the Pookela program with Hawaiian cultural authority George Kanahele more than 20 years ago, says, “We truly feel it’s our responsibility.”
Those words were probably easier to say two years ago, when the visitor industry was soaring on Maui. Revenue per available room in 2009 was off an average of 22 percent from the previous year for Maui hotels. Nonetheless, other
Maui hotels are also holding on to their Hawaiian programs. The Ritz-Carlton, for example, still has mandatory cultural training. It still offers its Sense of Place program and guests can still enjoy Hui Mele, its Hawaiian choir. Clifford Naeole, cultural adviser at the hotel, points out, “All our cultural programs are still intact. And that includes Hawaiian entertainment in the evenings; that’s usually the first thing to get cut.”