Honolulu - for Hawaiians, the "White House Luau on the Lawn" this week shows a deep respect for Congress. Luau's are reserved for great family occasions, such as "baby luau's" for the birth of a child.
"President Obama is really a loyal Hawaii boy," said John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau here. He said the Congressional celebration shows respect and says "you are important to me."
Local Hawaiians understand the symbolism better than the rest of America. Monahan says it "means a lot that he chose traditional foods from James Beard Chef Alan Wong and our authentic Hawaiian entertainers." The visitor's bureau also shares key Obama childhood sites like Zippy's diner, and attractions like best surfing beaches. Obama's first job was at a Baskin-Robbins and shave ice was a favorite.
John Conching from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which spent over $10K to transport its own luau native dance performers through the largest production company on the island of Oahu, added: "The president has spent a significant time here in Hawaii and we look for every opportunity to promote his affinity. We're flying staff (including Chef Jeffrey Vigilla) over to the White House just to help and cover those expenses. We don't expect any ROI back." The Hilton Hawaiian Village General Manager Jerry Gibson was "delighted" and "immediately said 'yes' to the luau," said the 21-year Hilton vet and VP of Sales and Marketing at the Waikiki beach property.
A luau is about food, it's about entertainment, and about meeting expectations of the guests at the Hilton property, he said. Many of the White House performers came directly from the Hilton's nightly Luau - which was added to the hotel less than six months ago. The hotel now runs at 93 percent occupancy and has both a convention business and global tourism. Fancy stores like Louis Vitton, a Benihana, and the high-end Mandara spa are on-property. Still, there are surfing lessons, lei making classes, and family friendly fare. In spending over a week here, our family found little reason to venture far from Hawaiian Village.
Conching said they try to create a sense of theater in an open rooftop space. "We wanted to offer a different experience of a luau with the convenience of being right here at the entrance to Waikiki," he said. The in-the-round theater and trusses with lighting for fire dancers and hulu girls is best for audience members who are sometimes called upon to swing their hips.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village has 2,860 guest rooms - a massive complex. The hotel also spent $11 million upgrading its Tropics night club which formally reopens this weekend, according to PR Director Dara Young. There are 40 people on the sales and marketing team ready to bring international tour groups and association or meetings business to the islands.
Because of the luau and Obama's native "Shaka Sign" that says "only good things" to Americans and especially Hawaiians, the hotel business here is quite willing to overlook President Obama's earlier statements about business travel junkets! Hawaii is a cost-effective destination. Oracle is coming to the Hilton next week for its international sales and performance awards meetings.