- Special Projects
Chad Blair: Aloha everybody. Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. And yet another installment of the Pod Squad. Today we’re talking about what I’d almost call a landmark moment in Hawaii’s visitor industry. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has a new six-minute video featuring a same-sex couple. Two young men who got married here, had their friends and family come for the wedding. And it’s gone viral.
To join me to talk about that is Todd Simmons our…I forget your title, I always call you Todd…
Todd Simmons: Always forget it. It’s opinion editor.
Blair: How could I not remember that you’re the opinion editor, because when I think of you Todd, I think of opinions.
Blair: Todd Simmons is the author of this piece and he’s going to talk more about that. And our guest today is Jack Law. He’s going to to turn off his cell phone and make sure that it doesn’t accidentally go off like it just did, but that’s okay, that’s life. Jack Law is the owner of Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand in Waikiki. He’s a long time activist in the LGBT community. And Jack, you had mentioned some other things about your background that I think we should share with our audience.
Jack Law: Yes, I was one of the founding board members of The Life Foundation, which is well over 30 years old. The Life Foundation is the Aids Foundation of Hawaii on Oahu. I also am the founder of the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, which is 27 years old, and been active all this time.
Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand is been in business for 41 years, 24 years in its location down in the corner of Kuhio and Kalaimoku, and then for the last 17 years we’ve been in our present location which is across from the zoo on the second floor of the Waikiki Grand Hotel.
Blair: With an ocean view folks. So, that’s a good plug for Hula’s.
Finally gentlemen, after two years of marriage, gay marriage legalized in Hawaii, six months or so after the Supreme Court, finally we have Hawaii’s visitor industry actually, from the very top, pushing out a same-sex marriage video to promote, to actually try and encourage other gay and lesbian couples to have their wedding’s here. Todd, this is a pretty amazing thing.
Simmons: Sure, and it’s something that Jack, of course, and others have pushed for for many years. They’ve come out with such a strong video that within the first 36 hours or so, we were tracking 6 and a half million views of the video and teasers for it. And that’s been significantly exceeded now over the night. I think it’s more in the 10 million view category.
These are two young guys, Christian and Shane, now Alarid, their married name, who are both military service men. Christian is in the Air Force. Shane has just finished his haul in the Marines and is now a full time student. But they had such a great story, and obviously such a wonderful relationship, that HVCB secretly plotted with Christian to do a surprise wedding for the both of them.
Blair: And it’s all caught on the video. It’s amazing
Simmons: All caught on the video. And the video could not be a sweeter piece for anybody to watch.
Law: To be clear, the wedding was suppose to be a staged wedding, as these guys were recruited to be models. And then it turned out to be a real wedding.
Simmons: Right, exactly. They had agreed to be models on a photoshoot, and then they sort of secretly plotted the actual wedding part just with Christian. So Shane was on the surprise end of all of that. But it all turned out beautifully as you can see in this gorgeous six minute video.
Blair: Can I use the word viral? Does that qualify?
Simmons: I think it qualifies, yeah.
Blair: Jack, you’ve been involved for so long in the movement here for gay civil rights, what does this mean to you to have the HVCB, which after all is contracted with the Hawaii Tourism Industry Authority, which of course is funded by the tourism hotel tax, finally pushing for something like this.
Law: Well I think LGBT tourism has been reborn. You know, when Hula’s first opened up 41 years ago, Waikiki was a gay destination, very much so. People would come here from, especially the West Coast. And it was very popular. But then time moved on. Evey body else was doing it. A lot of other places was doing it. And there was the ships, the gay cruises, the circuit parties, and Palm Springs, Provincetown, Manhattan, Philadelphia…
Simmons: Key West, Miami…
Law: So we were sort of left in the dust. And I noticed that my business wasn’t as robust as it was before. And also there was competition that came and go over the period of time. There wasn’t even enough business to support this competition and they sort of opened in a flash and then dwindled out, you know…
Blair: Yeah, it took us a while to even get civil unions going, even though our own Hawaii Supreme Court really in many ways started the gay civil rights movement back with that landmark ruling in what…1993, is that when it was?
Simmons: It was 1992 I think when the ruling came down. You know, we really started, not only the movement here in the United States, but around the world, to recognize marriage equality. So this is a great sort of, full circle moment here now with the release of this video that shows Hawaii now in its current state as a very welcoming place. Great place for gays and lesbians. Wonderfully accepting and progressive on issues that are important to them. So HVCB, it seems to me, to have finally hit the right note here. And I would guess from the success that they’re experiencing from it, it won’t be the last thing that they do to try to reach out to the LGBT community.
Law: When they did go against…there was different entities that went against this gay marriage thing, it was so against the way we do things in Hawaii. The spirit of aloha is really true and it really exist. Most of this opposition really came from out of state. There was a lot of out of state money that came in to fight it. They felt like they had to snip it in the bud in Hawaii because Hawaii was the first. So, they didn’t want it to get a toehold, gay marriage to get a toehold, in the country. And they fought, and they brought a lot of money in. But if we were left to our own devices, it would have happened and it would have been organic.
Blair: Yeah, and now it’s the law of the land.
Todd, other folks besides HVCB are involved in promoting the video of this young couple. Who else is helping out here?
Simmons: Sure, there were a lot of partners the HVCB brought in to this from the tourism industry – Kahala Resorts and Hotels, certainly Alaska Airlines that flew in a lot of the family members and friends that took part in this – but there were about a dozen partners on this, who really made this gorgeous wedding happen. And so, it really is one of those things where everybody but their best foot forward on this project. And the proof of it is in this gorgeous video. If anybody listening hasn’t seen it yet, you really owe it to yourself to spend the six minutes to watch it.
Blair: It’s on our website.
Simmons: On our website. Certainly it’s available on Youtube and a lot of different walls on Facebook now. But it will be hard to avoid over the next few days. And these two particular guys, Christian and Shane, are just such great representatives of everything that you would want to see in this kind of a video.
Blair: You actually see their friends and family on the airline as it’s coming in, and then they’re going to get their luggage at the airport. It’s really covers sort of the tourism experience. It makes you want to get on the plane and come to…well I hope it does…but I guess that’s the whole idea, to come here to Hawaii.
Pretty big segment of the tourism industry is the wedding destination. There’s big money to be had here.
Simmons: It is sure. So I was talking about this with Jay Talwar, who is the chief marketing officer, and Michael Ni, who’s the digital strategist for HVCB. They were talking about how this particular video fits right within the brand messaging that they’re trying to do, which is “Let Hawaii Happen”. Really emphasizing authenticity of the Hawaii experience and just the realness of what it’s like out here. And that really shows up in this video. It’s very emotional. Very authentic. There’s nothing sort of staged or schmaltzy or canned here. You really see what happened with these guy’s wedding. So I think they’ll find a lot of opportunity…
Law: Two people really in love, it really came across that way.
Simmons: It really does, so I think there won’t be any shortage of ways to show similarly the LGBT community in that kind of a context I think.
Blair: Jack, how’s business? How have things been for gay owned and operated industries, business here in town, particularly in Waikiki? Have things picked up a little bit?
Law: Things have picked up a little bit. I mean, we’ve had a very serious downturn when it came to the great recession. And you know, when you’re in a recession, the first thing people cut out is the luxuries, and coming to Hawaii for vacation is a big luxury. And, you know, when it became the law of the land, with the supreme court, but even before, when our legislature had a special session to make this happen, it really made a big difference.
Simmons: I will tell you, you see that reflected in the numbers. Over the last two years since marriage became legal in Hawaii, a little bit over 10 and a half percent of all of the marriages that have been performed have been for same-sex couples. And in fact, we’re closing in at about 5 thousand total marriages that have been performed over that 2 year period…
Simmons: LGBT marriages. And so, that’s quite a lot of business. There’s some analysis out there that show that just same-sex marriage could have about a 27 million dollar a year economic impact on the state. So from a dollars and cents standpoint, it certainly makes a lot of sense to pursue this market sector within an industry where Hawaii already dominates.
Blair: I mean we’re coming off of what’s looking like another record year here for the industry. We survived the recession and we’re looking at growing it as well.
Simmons: Well I looked at some of those tourism numbers. We’re up four percent this year, but where we’re up more specifically is East Coast mainland and other parts of the mainland United Sates. So you think, what’s different out here. What really could be driving that. And I would suspect that if we dig deeply enough, we’d find that marriage destination weddings here for people who are coming from the mainland, are part of that uptick now in tourism for us this year. And with a video, such as the one we’re talking about this morning, there’s capacity to drive that even further.
Blair: Alright, any final points, Jack?
Law: Well I just want to say that everybody, every place that has made this a gay destination, it is increased their branding. The LGBT part of the tourism market has really made the brand stronger.
Blair: Todd, final words.
Simmons: Sure, I would agree with that. I think there’s so many examples around the country, some of which we’ve pointed to a few minutes ago. This would be good for Hawaii and certainly good for the LGBT community here so it’s a great step in the right direction for the visitors and convention bureau to go down this path.
Blair: Well Jack Law from Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand in Waikiki, thanks for joining us on the Pod Squad.
Law: It was my pleasure.
Blair: And Todd, mister opinion editor, good topic and good story…
Simmons: Thank you for having me.
Blair: Absolutely. Good story that’s up on our website.
I do want to say that we encourage you to subscribe to our iTunes and Stitcher for the podcast, the Pod Squad in particular (thank you). You can also visit us at civilbeat.com. And you can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
For another Pod Squad at Honolulu Civil Beat, I’m Chad Blair. Take care and aloha.