Lee Cataluna: Can Maui Find Economic Success Online? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Maui is a place where you always know where you are. The West Maui Mountains anchor one side, Haleakala rises up dramatically on the other, and from the lower levels of each rise, you can see the ocean on both shores. It’s hard to get lost when the horizon is so dramatic.

Pamela Tumpap has this Maui perspective on the pandemic. She sees the mountain of economic damage from the coronavirus on one side, but a breathtaking rise of opportunity on the other.

“We never dreamed of doing marketing on this level,” she said.

Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, has definitely had to pivot, but instead of scaling down, she’s determined to ramp up exponentially.

The November event known as the Annual Hawaiian Airlines Made in Maui County Festival is a shopper’s delight of handcrafted, locally made gifts, art and gourmet food items. This year, the event’s seventh, the popular festival could not responsibly be held in person. But Tumpap saw that taking the event online would be an opportunity for growth.

“Our whole focus shifted. We realized we can reach a greatly expanded group of buyers and wholesalers from out of state. We’re now hitting a worldwide audience. This is our chance to leverage our social media contacts, our friends and family, our business partners and grow our economy,” she said.

In the six years since the festival’s beginning in 2014, there have been close to 60,000 attendees, almost 10,000 a year. Of that total, 29.7% were visitors to Maui. The event brought more than $3 million in retail sales, and, also very important to local vendors, led to 1,443 new wholesale accounts.

This is what the largest product show in Maui looked like in years past. Online, it will be different, but it will also be bigger. Courtesy: Maui Chamber of Commerce

This year, everything had to be re-thought and re-packaged. Instead of renting tent space on the lawn or buying vinyl banners, vendors chose what interactive features their online booth will have and whether they want a short video made of their product and their process.

“This also solves an ongoing problem for us,” Tumpap said. The festival was growing too big for the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, where it had been held the last six years. Organizers didn’t want to leave the venue, but the wait-list for vendors to get space on the lawn was growing every year. Taking the event online makes space for more vendors and more products.

A live online event also opens up a whole new way of thinking about customers.

Pamela Tumpap is President of the Maui Chamber of Commerce. Maui COC

“There is this massive community of people who love Hawaii but who can’t come visit right now,” Tumpap said.

The Maui Chamber of Commerce is working with hotels, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the title sponsor, Hawaiian Airlines, to promote the festival on social media and in the major cities Hawaiian serves. This is so different from trying to figure out if there’s enough parking outside the rows of vendor tents.

“We’re now hitting a worldwide audience. This is our chance to leverage our friends and family to grow our economy,” she said.

Tumpap set a goal of reaching a million followers on social media and through email promotions. “We’re working on it,” she said, half joking about the audacity of that goal but also very focused on making it happen.

The Made in Maui County Festival is scheduled for Nov. 7 and 8 both as a livestream with live music and emcees broadcasting from a closed set, and as a virtual marketplace. The event is juried, meaning that a panel of people look over each product offered for sale to decide whether it meets the requirements of having at least 51% “value added” on Maui (meaning it was mostly made on the island) and is of high quality.

The vendors are required to be present in their virtual booths to interact with buyers, demonstrate the product, and answer questions live or in a chat.

“The thing that people really care about when they’re looking for handmade items is the passion that the maker has for the item, hearing about what makes it unique, learning about how it’s made. It means the world to them to have that interaction,” Tumpap said.

Kala`e Tangonan of Kupu A`e Moloka`i is one of hundreds of vendors who have connected with customers and wholesalers during the annual Made in Maui County Festival. Courtesy: Maui Chamber of Commerce

The vendors will be streaming from home or from their workspace, which works aesthetically, as most of the products are crafted at home or in small studios. 

Even after the pandemic, the festival will continue a live online component. It’s a way to not only carry on during the pandemic, but to reshape Maui’s economy by connecting local makers with new customers from far-away places.

“Afterward, we’ll be willing to share what we’ve learned with other organizations trying to do similar things,” Tumpap said. “We can set new models for how things are done, think beyond the box, but we have to work together and help each other.”

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

I hope that the Kauai tourism industry reads this article and implements the same thing for this island. As with Maui, there is an abundance of creative artists here.

Scotty_Poppins · 2 years ago

I have been saying for years that the Aloha spirit could be spread worldwide and do a lot of good, but many persons of native extract insisted that Aloha belongs in Hawaii to Native Hawaiians, and is not for sale. I really don't know if it's so good anymore. Pray tell.

KawikaHaole · 2 years ago

The Made in Hawaii Festival staged at Blaisdell Center in years past tied a version of this approach in August.  Maybe I missed it, but I haven't seen any follow up about successes / failures / learning experiences.  Anyone know how vendors did?

mahalo808 · 2 years ago

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