Hawai‘i’s Primary Recession-Proof Strategy is Ho‘okipa

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 9, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Hawai‘i’s Primary Recession-Proof Strategy is Ho‘okipa

This past Tuesday I read Robbie Dingman’s business section article with interest, eager to hear about more of what incoming chairman of the board of the Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau Mark Dunkerley had to say: HVCB chairman asks industry to improve tourism product.

Her headline had caught my attention, for long before this recession sharpened our focus on different financial variables, another variable (also undeniably financial) had been a dramatic and much too prevalent stand-out for me for quite some time now: A lack of Mea Ho‘okipa-inspired service.

We need to get Ho‘okipa [the Hawaiian value of hospitality] back into every single nook and cranny of our tourism “product,” for our Aloha-branded service delivery IS our product. Hawai‘i is a place where service and product are NOT two separate things requiring separate strategies. Not in tourism, and not in any other business that claims Hawai‘i as part of its community.

I did not attend the event, nor have I seen the full text of the speech given: Solely on the merits of Ms. Dingman’s article, I applaud Mr. Dunkerley in using his leadership pulpit as the new HVCB chairman as he did, for not many of us have such a forum and can make similarly financial requests of our peers in the market as weighted as his experience as president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines.

“And he said that community commitment will be sought at a time when other priorities are competing in areas that range from education and healthcare to other businesses.

“Helping businesses improve the quality of the tourism infrastructure of our state is an investment that will be paid back to this community many times over,” he said.”

I agree with him. My post today is more in the vein of “AND as we speak of the supporting cast right now, let’s please not forget THE most critical component of all.”

“Dunkerley said private investment in the tourism industry already has helped.

“Hotels of all sizes, as well as many companies throughout the state, have renovated, expanded, added new products and otherwise invested in Hawai’i,” he said.

Better places to stay, bigger variety, new activities “all contribute to keeping the visitors who are looking for a vacation out of the maw of the destinations against which we compete,” he said. And that includes Central and South America, Asia and even other Mainland resorts.”

Wonderful as that is, our good work is not done folks. Without our Ho‘okipa presentation of our Aloha Spirit, those “better places to stay, bigger variety, new activities” are fancy shells devoid of warmth and the rejuvenation our visitors look for in Hawai‘i —and that we look for in each other.

We all can learn more of what the Mea Ho‘okipa can teach

I hold Mea Ho‘okipa [the people who live Ho‘okipa daily] in very high esteem, for I greatly admire their capacity palena ‘ole [without limits or boundaries] in giving ”“ in LIVING ”“ the art of hospitality in everything they say and do. They draw from the unconditional acceptance of Aloha constantly. The practice Lokomaika‘i [the generosity of good heart] for the pure joy of it.

I believe that Mea Ho‘okipa are born that way; I wish I could be more like them. However that is not going to stop me from trying, and if you are a manager and leader in business, you better not let it stop you either!

This is the advice I still give: Market conditions do not really matter.

Personally, I do not believe that you can teach someone to be Mea Ho‘okipa: Either they are or they aren’t. You can’t fake a genuine sincerity for giving that you simply don’t have in you. The good news is that many people have it.

Learn to interview in a way that reveals those naturally born Mea Ho‘okipa. Hire them on the spot. You can then better devote your time toward creating the best possible environment for them to deliver their art of Ho‘okipa without shackles, boundaries, or inhibitions. You discard any rules that get in the way of them doing what they feel the guest needs—not always what that customer may think they want, but what they really need to be satisfied. When it comes to their guest—your customer—Mea Ho‘okipa are extremely intuitive: They inherently possess the instinct to know the difference and they proceed accordingly, giving them perfect delivery of service. Mea Ho‘okipa are dripping with caring, that marvelous ability to instinctively know what their guest needs to be happy; they can feel it.

~ from Managing with Aloha

Are you Mea Ho‘okipa? Do you have that instinct that I believe to be “extremely intuitive?” Interestingly enough, most Mea Ho‘okipa do not feel that the customer is always right. Instead, they feel very confident that they know what will ultimately make a customer happiest and most contented and satisfied, even when that customer might not know for themselves. Big difference.

Are Mea Ho‘okipa better people than you and me?

Not necessarily. They just find certain things easier, that empathetic service intuition chief among those things which come so naturally to them. However I also believe that we can all learn to be more like them, practicing to deliberately and purposely do what is akin to breathing for them. We can work harder at it, and for the sake of our Hawai‘i right now, we need to.

We serve each other too. While we all may never BE Mea Ho‘okipa completely, the improvements we will achieve in the striving to learn and practice our learning are bountiful and undeniable. They directly impact the bottom line of every single workplace which exists, for every business has ‘internal customers’ who want to receive the Aloha-branded service of the Mea Ho‘okipa too: Ho‘okipa feels that good, and Ho‘okipa feels so right.

Where to start?

A Management Strategy for Better Service: Expect and Practice

We’ll talk about Aloha-inspired Ho‘okipa-service much more here on Say “Alaka‘i.” To start, I would suggest that leaders and managers adopt a two-word mantra: Expect and Practice. Turn it into a promise: We will expect and practice Ho‘okipa. Say it out loud and do it: Make it happen.

I call it a management strategy in alignment with our vocabulary here:

Great leadership creates positive energy.
Great management channels that energy into the best possible results, delivering healthy, meaningful and fulfilling work to people in the process.

Leaders champion ideas.
Managers champion people.
Their partnership can be profound.

EXPECT exceptional service delivery from every single person who works for you and with you (yes, vendors and partners too.) No ifs, ands, or buts; no exceptions. Expect it to happen all the time, and do not accept compromise, justifications or excuses. Exceptional service delivery must be non-negotiable; it must be Job One.

PRACTICE on each other, and talk story constantly about when it’s good for you, and when it needs to be improved. Give your YOU-branded personal service to the customer, give it to each other, give it to everyone. Then, celebrate wildly when it happens; reward those service behaviors you want to see more of.

Enjoy the giving and the receiving. We can have the same thing we give to our visitors, and we can share in the goodness of it; there is a lot to go around, and more than enough for everybody. As said so succinctly in one of my all-time favorite quotes, “One of life’s greatest laws is that you cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening your own as well.”

Ho‘okipa is like Aloha: To get it into your own life, you have to be obsessed with giving it. Start with you.

Here are my main points as they appear via a Wordle:

A Ho‘okipa Flying Fish Wordle