Diversity, Equity & InclusionCategory|

Q&A: Hilton Cultural Programming Manager & Leadership Educator Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani On Hawaiian Culture for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Hawaiian Culture
Cultural programming manager & leadership educator at Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort tells her story as Hilton celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and it’s an excellent time to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions and influence of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Hilton properties around the world offer amenities and activities that can help guests better understand and appreciate the heritage of the surrounding destination, and Hilton has team members across the globe that are contributing to making the world a more inclusive, welcoming and friendly place.

Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani, cultural programming manager & leadership educator at Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, educates team members on the local culture and develops guest programs and experiences to showcase her Hawaiian heritage. To celebrate AAPI month, Kalei shares a bit about her history with Hilton, the work she does at Grand Wailea and what guests can expect when diving into programming at the resort.

How long have you worked for Hilton? What was your career path like?

This is my ninth year working for Hilton. I began my career path with Hilton at Grand Wailea in 2006, where I started as a camp counselor in the Recreation Department. We were responsible for hosting the children staying at our resort and providing a fun, safe and encouraging environment through cultural activities, games, crafts and more. During my tenure in the Recreation Department, I was given the opportunity to cross-train in several jobs, including desk agent, cabana attendant, beach & pool attendant, and supervisor. I stayed in that role at Grand Wailea until 2010, then returned to the property again in 2017 . In 2018, I took on a new role of Hawaiian cultural ambassador and in 2021, I was promoted to cultural programming manager & leadership educator.

What does your job as a Grand Wailea’s cultural programming manager & leadership educator entail?

My title allows for some flexibility, and it sets a standard for me to follow while also allowing room for growth. I support the hotel and each of its respective departments to elevate the level of cultural competency, consistency, and sensitivity. I strategically create, facilitate, and execute opportunities to practice culture at the highest standards befitting the Grand Wailea and Waldorf Astoria brands. I also engage with the community to develop, maintain, and strengthen relationships as a representative of Grand Wailea.

Kalei  Uwēkoolani on Q&A about Hawaiian Culture for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month
Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani shares Hawaiian culture with guests

How does this role help showcase your heritage to guests? How does that make you feel?

Hawaiian culture is arguably one of the strongest remaining cultures in the world, and Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places. We are passionate, kind and caring people who are rich in our traditions. This role helps showcase my Hawaiian heritage to guests without restriction. This is often seen through our enhanced cultural experiences and annual cultural events, as well as the welcoming of VIPs, Discovery Visits, Pre-Conference Meetings and Group Clients.

In the Hawaiian language, we have many words to convey emotions, each of them having a different level of the same English understanding of the word. If I had to choose just one of these "feelings," it would be what Hawaiian people call haʻaheo (ha-AH-hey-OH). Haʻaheo can be loosely translated to “proud.” Although there are many words we can translate from Hawaiian to English to mean proud or the idea behind that word, haʻaheo is the feeling of accomplishment. It is the feeling of hitting a grand slam or when you complete your college degree. THAT is haʻaheo. I am proud of what I do and am proud of my team because we help educate guests on Hawaiian culture and share our Hawaiian customs, values and traditions with them.

How do you feel supported by the property – and the Hilton brand – in celebrating your culture every day?

When it comes to my culture, I feel such unconditional and never-ending love and support from the team at Grand Wailea – each of the respective departments and especially Sales & Marketing. I am passionate about my culture and seek to explore opportunities to make the passion, drive and creative ideas I have into a reality. Everyone on the Grand Wailea team helps bring these ideas to life. One of the many ways they support me is by using the internal training I provide both weekly and monthly to educate themselves and sharing it with their families and our guests. They help celebrate my culture by asking questions, offering support, and taking time to learn from and grow with me. We celebrate together through visual representations of our internal Heart of House labels and also through the digital signage around our property.

What can guests expect from the activities you offer? What’s their reaction?

Grand Wailea offers a wide range of Hawaiian cultural activities and experiences each month. Some of our traditional activities cannot be found at any other resort in Hawaii. In collaboration with some of the best Hawaiian cultural practitioners and our finest team members, we can create lifelong memories for our guests through these one-of-a-kind experiences. When guests reserve a spot for any of our cultural activities or experiences, they can expect to take home a better understanding of the culture and a deeper appreciation for our islands. Along with entertaining our guests, we also educate them on the significance and importance of what we do at the Grand Wailea and the cultural vision we have.

"When guests reserve a spot for any of our cultural activities or experiences, they can expect to take home a better understanding of the culture and a deeper appreciation for our islands."

Kalei ʻUwēko ʻolani

Cultural programming manager and leadership educator, Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

We have found that many of our guests are very surprised to learn the correct pronunciation of words or the amount of history this particular area of Wailea has. We also have guests come year after year who look forward to the activities and experiences we continue to offer. My favorite reactions are those speechless and awe moments.