Deals versus the Aloha Spirit

Still groggy from 12 hours in the air, after two weeks in Hawaii, I wade through my E-mail to find a message from a news organization, Dow Jones Interactive, with the pitch that I will get the most “Return on Vacation” (which I suppose refers to the Return on Investment of accountants’ balance sheets) with a trip to Hawaii.

Hawaii, proclaims this advertorial, offers the “all-too-rare opportunity to truly relax; to replenish your spirit, reunite with family and friends, renew your sense of adventure, and explore the natural wonders of our planet.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, even if I’d been paid the big bucks to write it. “Hawai`i’s six major islands,” it goes on, “are green-capped mountains lifted from the bottom of the sea, decorated with rainbows, surrounded by blissfully clear waters, and rimmed by sun-swept, sugary sand beaches.”

Good stuff. I was going to try to write about our trip, but now I’m a mite intimidated. Maybe I should just stop there and link to

Naah. I’ll take a chance that I can say something that doesn’t gush but that is sufficiently interesting to divert attention from the worrisome national scene.

In so many ways our patch of earth is like Hawaii, and so many ways different. Mainlanders may snicker about the “Spirit of Aloha,” but it is not a joke. In places where westerners have not prevailed, we found the people to be really much nicer. Nice may not be quite the right word, but add friendly and helpful, and it’ll do. It’s similar to the friendliness vibes you get when you leave the notoriously unfriendly northeast to travel south or to the Midwest, but there is also a “spirit” part to it, a resonance with the earth and sky, and sometimes this is underlined by organized religion. Those natives who turned over their souls to the Christian missionaries loved their new deity with a devotion derived from total dependence on the land. Some are now Buddhists, some Shinto, but they do seem to possess a certain warmth of spirit.

And surely the weather and geography contribute to the Aloha spirit. How can you feel sad or angry or bitter when your skin is being softly touched by a warm breeze (the difference between winter and summer is about 4 degrees), and you are surrounded by beautiful flowers. A lei costs $8 and a $70 bouquet here costs $10 there. A native Hawaiian woman who grew up on Niihau (the island where native culture is preserved) taught us the chant to help the sun rise, and that we should pick any flowers that we see, and put them in our hair to make ourselves beautiful. Pluck them alive, she said, and leave flowers that have fallen on the ground. Her audience, tourists at the Kauai Marriott, protested that would be considered stealing on the mainland. Blossoms belong to everyone, she insisted.

It’s beyond gender. One of the men checking us in at the airport sported a flower in his uniform lapel.

Yet I kept thinking about this unusual E-mail from Dow Jones. It was all over the newspapers that tourism, the state’s major industry, was down by more than 17 percent in August, and our Honolulu hotel, which was about to go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, voluntarily dropped its price by $20 a night.

The Hawaiian Convention & Visitor’s Bureau spends $20 million on marketing, according to a PR rep, often adding $1 million for an off-season campaign. (An intriguing comparison to Princeton’s CVB,, but that’s for another time.) Generally that can be leveraged, with partnerships from airlines and tour agencies, to about $3 million. This year, with everyone so worried about fuel prices and the looming recession, the HVCB was able to bump the $1 million up to about $12 million. I guess that helped pay for the E-mail that directs me to the “two for one” offers. But side by side with the “deals” are the videos on hula dancing and swimming with manta rays. That’s deliberate, because discounts alone won’t get anybody on a plane for 12 hours. “People want to go to someplace that they want to go to” says the PR rep, Jay Talwar, “and they want to get a deal while they are there.”

The campaign targets eight markets, and New York is the only one on the East Coast. I guess everybody further south will just go to Florida or the Caribbean and be done with it. But I bet you won’t find much “Aloha Spirit” in Florida.

2 thoughts on “Deals versus the Aloha Spirit

  1. Thank you for putting a picture of our church and me on your weblog. It was nice to have you visit, and I hope you have taken a lot of aloha back with you. Of course, you can always come back any time to get another batch of it when needed. Aloha ke Akua, Pastor Olaf

  2. Wonderful story! Yes, that’s how Hawaii is different. Actually there is yet much more that is different: The population of Hawaii represents a true mixture of cultures, not that of a typical American town but rather a very much international venue, somewhat like Manhattan with many languages spoken and understood by many people, a great variety of genuine ethnic foods being enjoyed, and people living here having an outlook beyond the immediate surroundings, actually much connected to the Pacific rim community. Vs New York, though, the Hawaiian difference is the individuals’ interest in and connection to nature. Yes, everybody knows when the surf is up and why, which flowers bloom where and whether they are good for you to smell, wear, or eat. The University of Hawaii is one of the world’s leaders in two areas of research: oceanograpy and astronomy. People here are much more connected to this particular part of the universe as well as to the universe itself. As a result, and because many more are actively doing something in this regard, by and large they are a lot healthier too than mainlanders. No question, Hawaii is a special place. Which, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t make ANY place your special place by applying similar values and pursuing similar endeavors in whatever place you happen to be in.

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