Farm-to-table Tourism Takes Off

Mufi Hannemann
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October 12, 2011 | Hawaiian Airlines Discount Share

One of my favorite movies is Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii. In its picturesque depiction of early 1960s Hawaii, you can see the dominance of sugar and pineapple and a nascent tourism industry on the island landscape. The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, which concluded Oct. 1, again brought together these two historic mainstays of our island economy in a way that demonstrated the modernday synergy between the two.

The festival was chaired by noted chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, and starred 30 internationally renowned chefs and their local peers in a celebration of their culinary creations and their use of the wealth of farm products and seafood found in Hawaii.

Our agricultural industry, customarily low-key about its contributions, did a remarkable job in helping to contribute the bulk of the products used by the chefs: local beef, abalone, shrimp, tilapia, greens, tomatoes, onions, mangoes, passion fruit and even quail found their way to the plates of foodies.

Yamaguchi and Wong saw fit to designate beneficiaries for the festival’s proceeds that have contributed to the growth of Hawaii’s food scene and to tourism. The first is the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, which promotes agriculture through research, education and outreach. The second is the culinary program at Kapiolani Community College, which continues to produce chefs and travel-related professionals who fill the ranks of the industry. The college is turning the abandoned Cannon Club, on the slopes of Diamond Head, into real-world training site for its students.

As the emcee at the festival’s closing night, I posed this question to the 1,000-plus in attendance on the Great Lawn of Hilton Hawaiian Village, “Hana hou?” The resounding “yes” told me this could become an annual tradition and a terrific means of showcasing our locally grown and produced commodities and foods, solidifying our reputation for exceptional cuisine and strengthening our appeal to visitors.

On the heels of the festival, Royal Hawaiian Center’s farmers market kicked off Oct. 4. Held on the rooftop of the center’s parking garage, the weekly market features vendors of locally grown produce, prepared food, cut flowers and specialty food gifts. Like the Saturday market at Kapiolani Community College, the city’s event on Blaisdell Center grounds and others, this addition will provide another opportunity for visitors and residents to be introduced to the farm products, foods and goods grown and produced in the Islands in an urban setting.

Similarly, Garden Island foodies and visitors were exposed to the farm-totable flavors of Kauai at “It’s A Wrap,” which was held Sept. 21 at Kauai Marriott. Organized by Sandi Kato-Klutke, head of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association’s Kauai chapter, it featured Garden Isle farmers, Kauai Marriott Chef Guy Higa and others in a showcase of locally grown products and mediums to demonstrate the strong link between the visitor industry and agriculture.

The aforementioned events succeed because they’re promoted and publicized. That’s why it was good to see Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. hitting the road to promote the Garden Island.

The mayor made a whirlwind trip to Japan to cement relations with sister-city Iwaki City and to promote tourism. In addition to a full slate of ceremonial events, the mayor’s packed agenda included stops at the Japan Association of Travel Agents’ huge exhibition, talks with news media representatives, presentations of donations from Kauai to disaster victims and a number of tourism-promotion activities.

Having traveled with Mayor Carvalho on previous promotions, I can attest to the importance of public officials representing their cities or nations. Hawaii officials are always welcome in Asia, and we’ve done our best to represent our state and the visitor industry during these tours, as I know Mayor Carvalho did during his sojourn (maybe even singing a song or two to woo the audience). These trips bolster existing markets and open new ones, and it’s vital that we continue to show our appreciation and our faces to our overseas partners.

Viewed separately, these events were all successful.

But taken together, each is like another stone in the solid rock wall that is our tourism industry, each one supporting and building, in its own way, an industry that continues to succeed in one of the toughest and most competitive industries in the world.

Sherrie Smith

Position: Reservation Clerk
Location: Waikiki Resort Hotel

Guests at the Waikiki Resort Hotel have found a friend in reservationist Sherrie Smith.

Sherrie began her career as a cashier at the hotel’s Korean restaurant before making the move to reservations. She’s gone the extra mile for guests, such as the time she and a co-worker created an unforgettable experience for an elderly woman traveling with three grandchildren and a limited budget. Another time, Sherrie took a reservation from a Korean traveler who struggled with English. Sherrie took it upon herself to call the visitors in Korea before their departure to remind them of their itinerary, follow up with another call upon their arrival, and even notify the car rental company to make sure their car was ready. The guests were overwhelmed with the exceptional service, and so were many others, to judge by the numerous compliments Sherrie receives.

A single mother of two, Sherrie Smith volunteers for many school activities and is actively involved with her church.

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