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The Spirit Hawaiian Hospitality

Adopt some Hawaiian Hospitality for your Guests

Hawaiian Hospitality Starts Upon Arrival

People who have been to Hawaii on vacation perhaps experienced receiving a lei and cheerful ‘Aloha” upon arrival at the airport in Honolulu. More than just a PR stunt encouraged by the The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, however, this simple touch of Hawaiian Hospitality has deep and genuine cultural meaning. More complex than just an offering of a word and a wreath of flowers, it is a traditional and historic greeting of warmth that reflects a sincere welcome to the community. The greeting upon arrival is a reflection of what is known as Ho’Okipa, the institutionalized ritual of hospitality and meaningful care for a visitor.
Ho’Okipa – An Expectation to “Do the Right Thing”

This kind of ceremony has always been an important part of Hawaiian culture. (One might recognize that similar rites are a part of other related regional cultures, including the Maori of New Zealand, too). At the essence of Ho’Okipa, welcoming guests (known and unknown alike) into one’s home and village without any expectation of reciprocity is standard and expected civil custom and social etiquette. The host has a responsibility and obligation to look after one’s guest, including preparing food. Likewise, the visitor would be expected to bring and offer a gift to show one’s appreciation and thanks. The visit would also follow an expected agenda, as well, with the meeting always starting with small talk prior to discussing any specific reasons for the visit.

Aloha – Deeper Than Just Steps in a Ritual

Despite this understanding of a pre-defined behavior of host and guest, however, the spirit of welcome is not just a conscientious decision to act a certain way. It is deeper than just welcoming a passing traveler or guest into their community with a preordained ritual and ceremony. Rather, it is the state of mind that is projected through this behavior. It is a belief that the responsibility of a host is to take care of that visitor’s wellness, and that includes addressing that person’s entire well-being. It is offering them something to quench their thirst, food to quell their hunger, and even providing a place to rest, too, if necessary.

A host doesn’t first ponder, “Why is this person here?” or What does this visitor want?”. Nor do they think, ”What can this visitor do for me?” to determine how much effort they should give. The expectation is clear. There is a visitor at their doorstep, and their obligation is to make that guest feel welcome. Furthermore, that duty implies the expectation to offer the guest whatever they need in order that they feel settled, both physically and emotionally.

Hawaiian Hospitality Connects to the Heart

In the case of the arriving travelers, the recall of the event is not about the string of flowers (beyond the wonderful smell), nor is it the name or face of the person from whom they received it. Instead, they remember the feeling they had and the surprise they got in the moving and heartfelt welcome to the Islands. Frazzled from the hours of travel, sore from sitting cramped on a plane seat, wobbly with sea legs, or disoriented from the hour change, all was forgotten for that moment when they realize that they are “here” .Their vacation has started. They are in a special place. These are the enchanted islands of Hawaii. They are in somebody’s “home”.

Greetings are Meaningless When They Have No Meaning

Contrast this genuine and meaningful reception to the greeting someone frequently gets when visiting most ‘houses’ of businesses. The customer might hear a “Hello” or “Can I help You?” (sometimes without even the “Hello”!), but staff generally project very little warmth or sincerity in their welcome to visitors to their establishment. Their generic salutations mean nothing, and, thus, leave no lasting impression in the mind of visitors.

With these “welcomes”, the staff doesn’t offer any really spirit of welcome. Instead, offering a greeting is merely one task preceding what is really important (to the business) – identifying what this person will give us, i.e. how much money will they contribute to the till. There is little to no genuine interest in the guest’s emotional and physical well-being. These visitors are customers first, individual second (if at all). This is a complete reversal to the Island greeting and protocol. Again, Hawaiian hospitality is not focused on what that visitor can do for the host, but instead represents the priority of making them feel welcome and offering them a heartfelt inclusion to the community.

Adopt the Spirit of Aloha

The focus at many businesses is on following processes, and staff typically greet customers in a method outlined in their company’s Operations Manual. Obviously, common sense dictates that it’s not possible for staff behind the counter to delve into the minutia of how every customer is really feeling. However, there is opportunity to create a more meaningful and more genuine emotional bond with everyone who visits your house (of business).

  1. Greet each guest with meaning. While the phrases each employee greet guests may be the same, it is HOW something is said that matters. A one-on-one exchange while looking into the guest’s eyes projects a much more sincere and emotional offer of inclusion than just a ‘shout out’ or sing-along from every staff behind the counter. Those greetings are just noise.
  2. Take a Moment with each Guest to Connect – While not giving them a lei of flowers, there is opportunity to connect with each guest personally in a way that makes them feel they are that day’s most important visitor. Within the personal interaction, take advantage of the chance to express how honored you are (perhaps a little ‘extreme’ if taken literally, but certainly reflecting appreciation) that they have come to YOUR home (of business). Talk WITH guests, not AT guests.
  3. Offer Them What They Need – Every guest’s expectation for a visit is different, and staff, serving as host, must be aware of how best to cater to it. Some like solitude, and others crave social interaction. Some guests expect to be pampered and be constantly looked after. Other guests prefer to be left alone. It is important to recognize and acknowledge that individuality, and, as best as possible, offer them the environment and support that they are looking for. The goal is for that guest to think, ‘This is my kind of place. They understand me here. I’ll be back’.

Adopt the Spirit of Ho’Okipa

Hospitality in Hawaii is special, and its encompassing spirit is always listed as one of the reasons people visit Hawaii or return time and time again. The common refrain is that people in Hawaii are really friendly, and that they make visitors feel so welcome that all are keen to return.

Now isn’t that a reputation that you would love to have among your (business) visitors, as well? Well, you can…… Offer them a similar level of Ho’Okipa and warmth, and create that feeling for them, as well. Strive to connect with them as individuals and place priority on addressing their emotional well-being first. Make them really feel cared for. As in the spirit of Hawaiian Hospitality, make your visitors truly feel happy to be there. Get them also to think ‘Wow! This place is really special’.


Two Words on Which to Build Your Business – We Care

Three Key Elements of Hospitality

An Academic (Univ. of Hawaii) Paper (R.K. Fong, 1994) on Ho’Okipa


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