Hawaii What's old is new: Waikiki Beach Walk stresses native culture By Shane Nelson / September 17, 2007 Share 1 -- The culture of Hawaii's indigenous population is playing an increasingly influential role in the development of Waikiki. The impact of native culture on two of the destination's newest multimillion-dollar retail developments is calling attention to a growing movement within the state's tourism industry. Outrigger Enterprises' $535 million Waikiki Beach Walk redevelopment project comprises nearly 2 million square feet of hotels, restaurants and retail shops that have brought renewed energy to the area. But Outrigger officials said they hoped that visitors and kama'aina, or Hawaii residents, will appreciate the project's commitment to native Hawaiian culture, as well.The landscaping at Waikiki Beach Walk incorporates a variety of native plants and flowers along with prominent displays of Hawaiian language and traditional island imagery. Architecture is inspired by outrigger canoes and waves, and Hawaiian music plays an important role in the central plaza. "Waikiki has always been associated with music, but that had sort of died along the way somewhere," said Pila Kikuchi, Outrigger's manager of organizational development. "Outrigger wanted to ... welcome music back to Waikiki, and we're proud to be providing free monthly concerts."In partnership with the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame and the Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists, Outrigger has created a music heritage program titled "Na Mele No Na Pua," or "Music for the Generations." The program features performances by prominent local artists and exhibits at Waikiki Beach Walk. These include a corridor with a brightly colored time line of native music.The Outrigger development is also home to Mana Hawaii, an outlet selling locally made and traditional Hawaiian merchandise. The 1,600-square-foot shop, selling artwork, woodwork, clothing, hula accessories and ukuleles, is a joint venture by five locally owned businesses.The owners of the five businesses -- Native Books, Na Mea Hawaii, Original Hawaiian Traders/Hula Supply Center, Raku International/Ukulele House and the Lomi Shop -- also plan to offer visitors lessons in Hawaiian culture through hands-on classes led by local artists and experts in pursuits such as surfing, hula and ukulele-playing."We're not such hot retailers," said Maile Meyer, a woman of native Hawaiian ancestry and owner of two of the five businesses. "We're more like resource people. So anyone can come into Mana Hawaii, and we'll find the answer to anything they want to know as it relates to the Hawaiian culture."The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, next door to Waikiki Beach Walk, is undergoing an $84 million renovation of its own. The 310,000-square-foot, four-story mall has occupied three blocks of Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue for nearly 25 years, but its original architecture often prompted comparisons to medieval strongholds."It was like a big, concrete fortress," said Manu Boyd, Royal Hawaiian's cultural director. "A lot of effort has been made to break things up and to make it more inviting."The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, set for completion in the first quarter of 2008, is incorporating meaningful aspects of the native heritage wherever possible."I think the opportunity here is to restore a cultural presence," Boyd said. "Not only programmatically and aesthetically but also in a way that's reflective of some of the elements that were here long before the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center."The site was once a vast grove of coconut palms. Known as Helumoa, it was an early capital of the Hawaiian kingdom and a favorite residence of Hawaii's nobles.Today, many palms have been planted, and the center of the mall has been redesignated the Royal Grove. It will host interactive cultural activities such as hula; lei making; lauhala, or hala leaf weaving; and kapa (tree bark) pounding demonstrations."You want to create an environment where people can learn and experience new things, but you don't want to hit them over the head with it," Boyd said.Offering the right mix of sand, sunshine and indigenous culture is something the Hawaii Tourism Authority has been working on for several years.HTA Chairman Douglas Kahikina Chang noted said more visitors are looking for an authentic Hawaiian encounter and that hospitality companies realize the positive impact on bottom lines.He pointed out, however, that for native culture to play a larger role in tourism, the HTA must do more than just promote and market cultural tourism. In 2008, a large part of the organization's $2.5 million budget for cultural initiatives will be used to help preserve Hawaiian culture."Our obligation goes beyond our tourist-related activities in that those things that make up the very essence of our culture are the practitioners," Chang said.To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.