OUTRIGGER’s Luana Maitland is PBN’s Career Achievement Honoree for 2023 Pineapple Awards
Pacific Business News’ Career Achievement Honoree in this year’s Pineapple Awards is Luana Maitland, director of cultural events and activities with Outrigger. Below article by A. Kam Napier – Editor-in-Chief, Pacific Business News.
With 40 years of experience in the industry, Maitland’s career has spanned from reservationist to customer service to now leading cultural programs at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and Kani Ka Pila Grille.
She spoke with PBN about the changes she’s seen in the industry and about how she, and Outrigger, strive to present visitors with an authentic Hawaii experience. Here are highlights of her insights on a range of questions and topics. See the full interview with Maitland here.
“Starting off, I knew nothing of the industry,” said Maitland. “I started in being a reservationist with one company and learning what people wanted and where they wanted to go here in Hawaii. It was a local management company, and so I got to know a lot of properties on all of our islands. [That’s when I knew] I want to be in travel, whether that was going to be my career [or not]. But it was a start and I ended up working for that company for eight years.[My next job was with] more of a wholesale company — still in travel to Hawaii and it was the customer service department. It was my job to take care of the problem and then also research why it happened, so I learned that side of the industry as well, and I ended up with that company for 11 years.”
After September 11 disrupted travel, that company wanted to move Maitland to its Mainland headquarters, but she preferred to stay in the Islands and accepted a job with Outrigger.
“I started off as senior sales manager, [working] to get people to come back to Hawaii after September 11, [when] people were not traveling,” she said. “When I was hired by the general manager at the time, he asked me to just be who I am. ‘You know, we have all the collaterals. We have all the clients, our travel agents, our travel wholesalers that we need you to go and visit, but be you.’”
For Maitland, just being herself meant sharing the Hawaiian culture she grew up with in Kalihi, then Pacific Palisades. She traveled to trade shows for Outrigger and began sharing the hula and the lei-making she had learned from her grandmother.
“I can tell you that I was married at the age 18. I had a baby at 19. I did not go to college. But I was raised by a large family. My dad was the eldest of 14 children and so I was the eldest granddaughter. So that meant, in Native Hawaiian tradition, my grandma raised me, you know, Mom and Dad were working. We lived in that same house with 14 people until I was 8 years old. My parents finally … bought a house for us. And long story short, it was the best thing that they did. But it was hard for me to leave my grandma. And so up until eight years old, she raised me and everything I learned was learned by sitting on her lap and watching and listening. And so when I was told to just, ‘be you,’ that’s all I knew, is what she taught me.”
Outrigger liked what it saw and offered her a choice — stay on the road, selling Hawaii and the Outrigger brand, or stay home in the Islands and develop Outrigger’s cultural program. She chose the latter and, “For the past little over 10 years, that’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s just been here just sharing our culture and lessons and to build memories for people who come. And the great part of all of this for me was that Outrigger wanted it too, and never questioned it and provided me with more budget.”
World events shook travel again during the Covid-19 pandemic, which coincided with Outrigger’s plans to remodel the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, an $80 million investment. To Maitland’s surprise, the remodel included the creation of the A‘o Cultural Center, which opened March 2022, at twice the size of Maitland’s original area in a former retail space in the lobby.
“When Covid shut us down and with no visitors coming in, I did not know what I was going to have. When we finally went to the final stages [of the renovations] and now they’re going to open and I’m in the back part of the hotel, my GM calls me, ‘Luana you want to meet me in the back lobby? They’re going to bring the [construction] wall down.’ … I go down there, the wall comes down and there is my cultural center. My heart stopped and he looked at me and he says, ‘Your wish came true.’ And I said. ‘All of this?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’”
The new center includes museum-grade displays with guidance from Bishop Museum to better display cultural artifacts. The center partners with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “Outrigger had supported their first world worldwide voyage and we’re going to do the same for the next one, that’s coming up this month,” said Maitland. At the A‘o Cultural Center, guests will be able to track the voyaging canoe Hokulea on its journey, in an environment filled with exhibits on voyaging and with replica canoes. “So when my guests come to do a hula lesson or they meet me in this cultural center … whatever the class is, they’re feeling it. They’re feeling more of Hawaii than just preparing their lei.”
Another big change for Maitland was back in 2016 when the Kelley family sold its Outrigger hotels to Denver-based KSL Capital Partners. She was curious, would the new owners embrace the culture? “Sure enough, when they walked through on their first day, they said that the culture was one of the reasons they purchased the company and from that moment on, I have not had to ask for anything.”
In addition to such investments as the A‘o Cultural Center, and the expanded and improved Kani Ka Pila Grille that reopened in November 2021, KSL is supporting a culture-first approach as it expands its beachfront footprint globally.
“Meaning our properties in Fiji, our properties in Thailand, Mauritius, the Maldives,” said Maitland. “They all have the opportunity to share their culture because of what they see us doing here in Hawaii. It allows them, just like it did me, to share who they are. And that’s important. That’s why people travel.”
Because culture doesn’t sit still, Maitland is always on the lookout for new practitioners for her cultural programs, new performers to showcase in the Kani Ka Pila Grille.
“I’ve had 20 years of doing this and some of our legends have passed, but there’s the next generation that’s coming, so I look for the next generation that has the same values of the culture and the past.”
One thing she’s especially proud of is that kamaaina have embraced these programs, especially the live Hawaiian music of Kani Ka Pila Grille. Guests sit beside locals and share stories and memories until they feel they’re part of a family.
“And that is what I do in this industry. It’s not a ‘work’ thing, right? It is the right thing. And that is what makes me enjoy my day, every day. Every day is another different reason that I love today.”
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