The importance of connecting with the land and each other
Prior to taking my daughter to Hawaii for the first time, I gushed to her all of my knowledge and love for the island where I once lived. Alex, 9 at the time, had her own agenda: making leis, dancing hula and learning more about “saving the reefs.”
In another tourist town far away, my daughter’s to-do list could become gimmicky. In Hawaii, though, I knew something deeper would be conveyed.
Luana was able to use her time teaching my daughter how to make a kukui nut bracelet as a means of weaving in the culture of Hawaii. What struck me further was Luana’s ability to meet my daughter at her own tween level. While it was clear Luana has a strong connection to the land, when she spoke about nature she was able to really captivate Alex.
The education was hidden so well into Luana’s stories that Alex didn’t know she was learning, but her attention was front and center. That’s the sign of a genuine teacher. There was no tourist script here. Luana shared the music of her heart and my daughter memorized every lyric.
Because I am intrigued by rituals and ceremonies, especially when these things are so entwined with a culture like Hawaii’s, I asked Luana about the vow renewals the Outrigger offers its guests.
To share a sacred part of Hawaiian culture and be able to watch the connection that unfolds is something Luana considers a blessing. She told me about times when one person would be bashful about the traditional Hawaiian “honi” where couples meet forehead to forehead, nose to nose and exchange breath, but would be crying tears of joy by the ceremony’s end.
I had to witness a vow renewal for myself so my daughter and I ate breakfast at Duke’s Waikiki to have a prime seat for watching the ceremony below on Waikiki Beach. I couldn’t help but think of the ripple effect of Luana’s role, as Alex and I observed this special moment between other travelers we did not even know.
I met again with Luana in February 2021 because there is no way I’ll ever travel to Hawaii and not see this woman. She greeted me with a ginger lei, so beautifully fragrant that even as it sits in its dried state now at my home in Maine, the scent lingers and brings me back to our time together. We caught up on new happenings at the various Outrigger properties in Waikiki. She was particularly excited about the expansion of her “Hale” at the newly renovated Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach, where there will be more opportunities to connect with guests in a larger space.
But I also learned how Luana met her husband, a charming and romantic tale that dates back to her high school days. As a writer, I admired her storytelling. There’s a vulnerability about Luana that creates a warm energy people are drawn to.
During quarantine, Luana was able to share her deep appreciation of the land’s bounty with her granddaughter, teaching her how to weave together the pikake flower to make a lei. I’m guessing Luana captivated her beloved as she did my daughter, since the toddler patiently sat there stringing together the delicate jasmine.
The more I travel the more I learn that outstanding service isn’t linked to efficiency or an abundance of “Yes, ma’am” or a customer-is-always-right mentality. It’s being able to share a piece of yourself. In doing so, you are creating a guest experience that could never be offered on an itinerary because it’s unique to every traveler who passes through. Connection is the real service.
The seed for The Heart of the Hotel started after my first meeting with Aunty Luana. I remember asking her, in lieu of a traditional souvenir, what she hopes people take away from their time in Hawaii. And she told me, “The desire to talk story.” She hopes people leave the islands, feeling more compelled to connect. With family. With friends. With the land.
Mahalo, Aunty, for being the heart that inspired this project.