Hilton Cultural Programming Manager & Leadership Educator Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani About Hawaiian Culture
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and it’s a great time to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. . Hilton properties around the world offer amenities and activities that can help guests better understand and appreciate the heritage of the surrounding destination, and Hilton has team members around the world who help make the world a better place. inclusive, welcoming and friendly.
Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani, cultural programming manager and leadership educator at the Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, educates team members on local culture and develops programs and guest experiences to showcase its heritage Hawaiian. To celebrate AAPI Month, Kalei shares a bit of her history with Hilton, the work she does at Grand Wailea, and what guests can expect when they dive into the resort’s lineup.
How long have you worked for Hilton? What has you professional path been ?
This is my ninth year working for Hilton. I started my career at Hilton in Grand Wailea in 2006, where I started as a Camp Counselor in the Recreation Department. We were responsible for welcoming children staying at our resort and providing a fun, safe and encouraging environment through cultural activities, games, crafts and more. During my tenure in the recreation department, I had the opportunity to cross-train in several jobs, including office attendant, cabana attendant, beach and pool attendant, and supervisor. I remained in this role at Grand Wailea until 2010, then returned to ownership in 2017. In 2018 I took on a new role as Hawaiian Cultural Ambassador and in 2021 I was promoted to Head of cultural and educational leadership programming.
What does your job as Grand Wailea’s Cultural Programming Manager and Leadership Educator involve?
My title allows for some flexibility and it sets a standard to follow while giving me room to grow. I support the hotel and each of its respective departments to raise the level of cultural competence, consistency and sensitivity. I create, facilitate and strategically execute cultivation opportunities to the highest standards befitting the Grand Wailea and Waldorf Astoria brands. I also engage with the community to develop, nurture and strengthen relationships as a representative of Grand Wailea.
How does this role help introduce your heritage to travellers? How does that make you feel?
Hawaiian culture is arguably one of the strongest remaining cultures in the world, and Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places. We are passionate, kind and caring people, rich in our traditions. This role allows my Hawaiian heritage to be presented to guests without restriction. This is often seen through our enhanced cultural experiences and annual cultural events, as well as VIP hospitality, discovery tours, pre-conference meetings and group clients.
In the Hawaiian language we have many words to convey emotions, each of them having a different level of the same English understanding of the word. If I had to choose just one “feelings,” that would be what Hawaiians call haʻaheo (ha-AH-hey-OH). Haʻaheo can be loosely translated to “proud.” Although there are many words that we can translate from Hawaiian to English to mean proud or the idea behind this word, haʻaheo is the feeling of accomplishment. It’s the feeling of hitting a grand slam or finishing your college degree. It’s haʻaheo. I take pride in what I do and I am proud of my team as we help educate guests about Hawaiian culture and share our Hawaiian customs, values and traditions with them.
How do you feel supported by the property – and the Hilton brand – in celebrating your culture every day?
When it comes to my culture, I feel unconditional and endless love and support from the team at Grand Wailea – each of the respective departments and especially Sales and Marketing. I am passionate about my culture and seek to explore opportunities to bring my passion, drive and creative ideas to fruition. Everyone on the Grand Wailea team helps bring these ideas to life. One of the many ways they support me is by using the in-house training I deliver weekly and monthly to educate themselves and share it with their families and our guests. They help me celebrate my culture by asking questions, offering support, and taking the time to learn and grow with me. We celebrate together through visual representations of our internal Heart of House labels and also through digital signage around our property.
What can travelers expect from the activities you offer? What is their reaction?
Grand Wailea offers a wide range of Hawaiian cultural activities and experiences each month. Some of our traditional activities cannot be found at any other resort in Hawaii. Working with some of Hawaii’s finest cultural practitioners and our best team members, we can create lasting memories for our guests through these unique experiences. When guests book a place for one of our cultural activities or experiences, they can expect to take home a greater understanding of the culture and a deeper appreciation of our islands. In addition to entertaining our guests, we also educate them about the meaning and importance of what we do at the Grand Wailea and the cultural vision we have.
“When guests book a place for one of our cultural activities or experiences, they can expect to take home a deeper understanding of the culture and a deeper appreciation of our islands”, – Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani, Cultural Programming Manager and Leadership Educator, Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
We have found that many of our customers are very surprised to learn the correct pronunciation of words or the amount of history of that particular area of Wailea. We also have guests who come year after year who look forward to the activities and experiences we continue to offer. My favorite reactions are those speechless, amazed moments.
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