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Pasifika Foundation Hawaii: Ka Welina Network Unveiled

Ka Welina Network Unveiled

01/24/10

HAWAII – Ka Welina Network, a new web-based system for connecting visitors to Hawai‘i with Native Hawaiian communities, has launched an 8-month pilot test project. Six kanaka Maoli communities – on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island – are participating in Ka Welina Network, designed to offer genuine people-to-people cultural experiences to visitors, while creating benefits for Hawaiian communities, as defined by those communities.

Making several leaps beyond the principles of ecotourism, voluntourism, and cultural tourism, Pasifika Foundation Hawai‘i and its project partners today unveiled the new web interface, Ka Welina Network. Three years in development, Ka Welina Network is a milestone contribution to creating a truly sustainable, community-based model for hosting visitors in Hawai‘i, as well as in other locales worldwide where indigenous communities may wish to share their culture with visitors. Pilot project organizations include: Waipa Foundation, Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, Papakolea Community Development Corporation, Kipahulu ‘Ohana, Kawaiokalehua Foundation and Ho‘oulu Lahui/Pu‘ala‘a Cultural Center.

Tourism means different things to different people in Hawai‘i. To some, it is the state’s leading economic driver, providing nearly 30% of the State’s revenue. To others it represents a development tool that favors the needs and desires of the visitor over the needs of the resident and exploits Hawaii’s natural resources, its host community and their culture.

This fundamental disconnect between the tourism industry and the Native Hawaiian culture and community is a longstanding issue and has been formally acknowledged by the industry itself, as described the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) in its 2005 State Tourism Strategic Plan.

In response to this and other fundamental flaws in the current tourism model, Pasifika Foundation Hawai‘i (PFH), a non-profit organization guided by a board of Maoli and Pacific Island cultural practitioners and educators, decided to develop a Community-Based, Host-Visitor (CBHV) model as an alternative approach. This new approach converts tourism from a process aimed at only serving the visitor’s needs to one that is mutually beneficial for both host and guest, and where visitors can begin to understand life in Hawai‘i from the lens of kanaka Maoli and where kanaka Maoli can set the parameters for inviting and hosting guests.

The Ka Welina Network project seeks to turn the way Hawaii looks at “tourism” on its head, focusing not on ever-increasing growth, filling more seats on planes and beds in hotels, and creating tourism experiences geared to the visitor’s vacation fantasies, but on Maoli communities and their own community goals and objectives.

“This concept, this project, is not about making tourism sustainable,” says Ramsay Taum, PFH board president. “It’s about creating sustainable communities that may choose to share their culture with visitors as part of the model for sustainability.”

The new web interface welcomes visitors and invites them to explore the various areas of the site, which includes background information on the CBHV concepts as well as an in-depth look at each host community and its ‘aina (place), ‘ohana (people), mo‘olelo (stories), and e pa‘alula mai (protocols). The site also features a social networking area, where visitors can interact with the host communities both before and after their visit.

“The goal,” explains Taum, “is for visitors to become part of a host community’s extended family. That way, the mutually beneficial relationship can continue long after the initial visit.”

Ka Welina Network is also a valuable resource for Hawai‘i residents wanting to learn more about local Maoli communities and organizations, and armchair travelers from around the world can gain new perspectives on the “real Hawai‘i” that exists behind the tourism industry marketing veneer of a carefree paradise.

The 8-month beta test will be followed by an analysis and modification process before being opened to broader implementation, with more community hosts, in late 2010. Currently, 12 additional host communities are working on developing their projects in preparation for that time.

The web interface development, and the community-based process leading up to the site launch, was funded by the Administration for Native Americans (ANA).

One unique aspect of Ka Welina Network is that instead of simply making a reservation, visitors must be invited by the hosts. And the form of exchange isn’t necessarily money, either – labor, expertise, and various other kinds of exchange may be requested by the host in lieu of or in addition to any monetary donation. It’s all about communities defining their own needs and desired benefits and designing their programs of hosting visitors in a way that helps to meet those needs.

This focus on community is a distinct departure from Hawaii’s mainstream tourism efforts, which are designed to attract people to the place, rather than to supporting and developing Maoli communities to act as hosts to share aspects of their culture with visitors. Once the visitor arrives, they usually find that they are separated – by a wall of commerce and a lack of information – from kanaka Maoli and all of the rich aspects of Hawaiian culture. Instead, they discover staged experiences and inaccurate cultural portrayals.

Ka Welina Network was created to offer an entirely different way to engage visitors to Hawaii. The most compelling feature of the CBHV project and its possibilities for the future is that it is a holistic approach, with a vision of a entirely new paradigm for empowered and sustainable Maoli communities interacting, in ways that they design and plan for themselves, with visitors. This is not a program for one or a few organizations, but the creation of a new Hawai‘i-wide model that seeks to restore pono (balance) to the relationship between hosts and visitors. The potential is enormous.

To visit the Ka Welina Network site:: http://www.kawelina.net