When Kalikolehua Storer was growing up on Maui, her mother worked two jobs: pineapple truck driver by day and luau performer by night. When Storer turned 14, she was offered a choice to help the family out, start picking pineapples on a plantation or dance on stage.
"I grew up in a family of hula dancers, and that was an easy choice," said Storer. "I really was born into the hospitality industry. My mom is a cultural advisor still today, and I try to bring the concept of family, ohana, into everything we do."
Storer was recently appointed Hawaiian culture and training specialist for both the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort and Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, after more than two decades in various roles at Hyatt Maui properties, including reservations manager, front office manager, guest services manager, executive housekeeper and, most recently, Hawaiian cultural manager for Andaz Maui.
Hawaiian cultural programming has come a long way since she started dancing at luaus, Storer said, when a hotel with lei making classes and hula lessons was considered "awesome."
"Dancing hula, making a lei -- now that's the basic stuff. Every hotel would have those services today," Storer said. "Now we are telling people about wayfinding, celestial navigation, from the Hawaiian perspective. We are talking about how the taro farmers cultivated the land and people in the mountains cared for the natural resources."
Overseeing the Hawaiian cultural programming and staff training for both properties, Storer bases her initiatives on a foundation of treating guests and employees alike as family and fostering deeper, more nuanced connections to Hawaiian culture and the Valley Isle.
Storer has established a network around the island, bringing in experts and Hawaii cultural practitioners for presentations and activities while also fostering hotel partnerships with environmental organizations and other preservation groups, such as Puu Kukui Watershed preservation, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens and Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.
"Everything is about community," she said. "We physically take our associates into the community during onboarding. It helps them understand the spirit and concept of aloha, what the values look like in life and practice. We work with the Puu Kukui Watershed because that is where all of our water comes from. Without taking care of our water source, we can't be here."
Storer helped develop the new luau storyline for the Feast at Mokapu at Andaz Maui, which shifted from a broader Polynesian revue to focus on Hawaii and the slice of the island where the hotel sits.
"I wanted it to be about more than just attending a luau and the image of a girl in a grass skirt," Storer said. "We wanted to not just entertain but educate, as well. I wanted the production to create a better understanding of Hawaiian culture and how we came to this place."
Her latest initiative is "getting beyond just 'aloha' and 'mahalo,'" and encouraging more Hawaiian language use at the resorts and bringing in more experts in the area.
"I'd like to normalize the Hawaiian language more, and we have a Hawaiian word of the day program that we launched and I think it's important to reclaim the Hawaiian names for places and other things," Storer said.
Moving forward, she said she would like to continue to grow the resorts' links to the larger Maui community, with more partnerships that contribute to the preservation of the ecosystem and culture.
"Aloha does not stand alone," she said. "It's a collective effort."