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They saw rare native sandalwood trees, heard a Lanai legend about a man who was banished there because he didn’t listen to his father and learned about the long-lost art of using stars, waves, birds and other cues from nature to travel between islands.
Some corporate executives might question the investment return on such classes. But Sablas said employees give better, more confident service when they understand Hawaii.
"If our employees really get the connection of what a special place they live in and a special place they work at, they, in turn, will convey it to every guest," she said.
The Walt Disney Co., a master of creating make-believe worlds, has taken the concept farther. The global entertainment giant chose Hawaii as the location for its first major stand-alone resort that isn’t a theme park.
Instead of building a Cinderella castle, Disney designed the hotel Aulani around the idea of telling guests about Native Hawaiian culture. One of the hotel’s bars — the Olelo Room — has Hawaiian words on the wall, and its bartenders and wait staff speak Hawaiian.
At night, a storyteller regales guests with Hawaiian legends around a fire pit.
In Waikiki, the century-old Moana Surfrider, now a Westin hotel and part of the Starwood chain, last year started inviting guests to a sunrise ceremony to greet the new moon.
A kahu, or caretaker, says a prayer and leads guests to wade into the ocean from the beach in front of the hotel. The act cleanses them of the pilikia, or problems, they have from the previous month and they ask for strength to take on what’s to come.
Sometimes, 100 people show up at 5:30 a.m., general manager Craig Anderson said.
"These people are on vacation. They don’t have to wake up early but they choose to because they want to experience that," he said. "It’s not a helicopter ride. It’s not a surf lesson. It’s a cultural experience."
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