When her best friend got engaged, Sydney Lee-Manzano excitedly scoured Instagram to find the perfect wedding venue.
She stumbled across a gorgeous wedding photo, and after some digging discovered the beautiful Makana at Mokuleia venue on Oahu’s North Shore.
But after sending an email inquiring about the venue’s availability next September, Lee-Manzano received this reply: “We only do small 125 people destination weddings — NO local weddings and we require that you use our wedding planner Karisa.”
Lee-Manzano says she bit her tongue as her eyes teared up.
“This is the Hawaii that we work so hard to remain living in,” she wrote on Facebook. “A Hawaii that would rather rent their property to destination weddings rather than to local couples who work hard for their money and who save their entire paychecks, live with their parents, in order to afford a wedding of their dreams — only to be turned away because we are LOCAL!”
Some Hawaii venues only host destination weddings.
Judy Pietsch, the owner of the venue, says the limitation is meant to cap the size of the weddings.
“What I meant is that we only do people from the mainland, destination weddings, so that they’re tiny,” she says. “My own children didn’t get married there.”
Hawaii wedding planners say rules barring local weddings are rare but do exist at some private estates. Sandra Williams from Finishing Touch says sometimes estates want to sell bundles by renting out a vacation rental plus hosting an event on site.
“Destination weddings are a lot smaller,” she says.
“Some properties really want to be mindful of their neighbors,” echoes Mona Hirata of Neu Events.
Pietsch says the North Shore property is historic and family-owned. She lives there for about a fifth of the year and only hosts a handful of weddings each year out of respect for her neighbors.
“It’s more to control noise and scale and traffic than it is to try to keep locals out,” she says, adding that she herself is part of a large local family.
Bill Hoshijo, who heads the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, says there’s no law against discriminating against locals, unless you can prove that’s a proxy for racial or ancestry discrimination.
The bride-to-be, Ashlyn Rosa, says it’s already hard to find affordable venues and barring Oahu residents makes it worse.
“That one was mind-blowing to me,” she says.
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