Four Seasons Maui at Wailea Brings Hawaiian Island Culture to Guests: Travel Weekly

WAILEA, Hawaii – Although I didn’t venture outside the resort once during a recent two-night stay at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, the feeling of FOMO I expected to feel around of this decision never materialized.

Of course, there’s little pressure to leave the 15-acre, 383-room beachfront property when the alternative is to relax in an ocean-view cabana with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice or enjoy cocktails and appetizers of fresh ahi tuna at Spago Maui, one of the resort’s many excellent restaurants.

Still, I expected a little voice in the back of my brain to surface at some point, chiding me for not experiencing more of the island.

I finally realized, however, that at Four Seasons Resort Maui, the island comes to you. In fact, it’s nearly impossible not to encounter Hawaii’s famous “aloha spirit” somehow on the property, even during the shortest stays.

That’s largely because, throughout the pandemic, the Four Seasons Resort Maui has transformed itself into something of a cultural hub, offering everything from traditional fire knife dances to ukulele performances “walking “on a weekly basis.

Wendy “Aunty Wendy” Tuivaioge, director of Hawaiian programs at Four Seasons Resort Maui. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Maui

Leading this effort is the property’s Hawaiian Programs Director, Wendy Tuivaioge, or “Aunty Wendy,” as she is colloquially known.

“As we came back from the pandemic, we had to take a hard look at what we were offering our customers,” Tuivaioge said. “They were coming here, but they weren’t leaving. [the resort]because they wanted to stay in their own bubble.”

And because shows and activities across Maui were operating at limited capacity during the early phases of Hawaii’s tourism rebound, even those willing to venture out found it difficult to book off-property experiences.

As a result, Tuivaioge began looking for ways to bring some of the best experiences Maui had to offer to the resort, launching what became known as the property’s Live Aloha initiative last fall.

For Tuivaioge, no moment was too small to turn into an opportunity for cultural exposure.

“One of the first things we did was bring in buskers,” she said. “A lot of our guests were arriving before their room was ready, so they were in the lobby, sitting by the pool, or having lunch, so we hired musicians to play Hawaiian music. [while guests waited].”

The resort’s popular Live Aloha Market also grew out of the program, where local vendors sell wares in an on-site open-air bazaar.

Dancers practice as part of the Four Seasons Resort Maui's

The dancers train as part of Four Seasons Resort Maui’s “Behind the Scenes of Hula” experience. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Maui

A boon for the community

Tuivaioge said programs such as these have had the added benefit of giving the community an economic boost.

“A lot of our musicians have been hit hard because they weren’t working [during the pandemic]”, she says. “And as for the sellers, we do not charge them for their place. We set the tables, but everything they make belongs to them.”

Although Live Aloha was originally scheduled to run for six weeks, overwhelmingly positive feedback led management to extend the program. The initiative, which is currently running until at least the end of 2022, continues to evolve.

Earlier this year, Tuivaioge, who is a haumana (hula student), worked to bring her competitive hula group, Halau o Ka Hanu Lehua, to the station as part of a “Behind the Scenes of Hula” experience. Guests are invited to watch the group practices, led by kumu hula (Hula teacher) Kamaka Kukona.

Tuivaioge describes this particular offering as particularly rare.

“We practice at halawhich is our dance school, and if you’re not a dancer and you’re not part of the halau, you’re not allowed in,” Tuivaioge said. “What the guests see is not a show is a real practice.”

Even more programming, such as a “Teatime with Aunty Wendy” session featuring local tea producer Polipoli Farms, is in development.

Meanwhile, with Live Aloha layered on top of an already robust lineup of complementary activities and experiences – including outrigger canoe trips, lei-making sessions in the lobby and torch-lighting ceremonies – the Cultural touchpoints have become an increasingly important part of the Four Seasons Maui Resort Experience.

Tuivaioge said this surge is a major differentiator for the property, especially as competition for pent-up tourist demand intensifies.

“We have a beautiful resort and a beautiful beach, but so does Mexico, so does Costa Rica. But what we have that they don’t have is our aloha spirit and Hawaiian culture,” he said. she declared.

“It’s very important that our customers feel that, because that’s what will make them want to come back.”

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