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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 18, 2005

Merrie Monarch tickets on eBay? Auwe!

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

The Merrie Monarch Festival is famous for honoring tradition: The annual celebration of Hawaiian culture and hula in Hilo didn't even build a Web site until last year, and you still can't buy tickets or even programs and souvenirs over the Internet.

Now, as festival planners prepare for the 42nd annual hula competition, they are deeply concerned about the intrusion of 21st century commerce into their tightly controlled system: tickets being resold on eBay, sometimes for many times the original price.

"It's against the spirit of the festival," said Luana Kawelu, Merrie Monarch assistant director in charge of the ticket committee. The event is March 31-April 2.

Ticket prices have remained unchanged for several years, selling for $20 to $25 a set for three nights, $15 a set for only the Friday and Saturday night group competition and $5 apiece for the Thursday night Miss Aloha Hula competition.

Earlier this month, two tickets for three nights each of Merrie Monarch hula competition sold for $440. Three other tickets for three nights each sold for $295. As this is written, four three-night tickets are posted on eBay with the current bid at $90, $10 over the original sales price.

"We don't like this at all. That's not what we're about," Kawelu said of the online ticket auctions. Once before, the festival became aware of someone selling tickets via a newspaper ad — $10 worth of tickets for $40 — and that was bad enough, she said.

But in this case, because the specific seats were identified in the eBay listings, she may be able to identify the original ticket buyer — "and that person would not get tickets from me again."

At eBay, spokesman Hani Durzy said resale of tickets is legal if the bearer legally owns the tickets, no state scalping laws are being violated, and eBay's own policies are being followed.

"We actually have a tool on the site that allows you to pick a state and tells you whether there are ticket regulations that apply. Hawai'i is not one of those states," he said. "So in this case, if someone legally owns the ticket, and it isn't illegal to resell it in that state, we're not going to take the listing down. They're completely within their rights to sell it."

Tickets are keenly sought after and the festival could charge a great deal more for them. But Kawelu said the Merrie Monarch committee is committed to keeping the cost of attending the hula competition affordable and the ticket system as unbiased as possible.

The all-volunteer organization has consistently resisted efforts to extend the event beyond its original intent: a homegrown celebration meant to draw attention, and business, to Hilo.

The festival employs an arcane box office system for its prestigious hula competition that requires ticket-buyers to mail in money orders or cashier's checks during a very narrow selling window. Buyers may purchase only two full sets of tickets.

Tickets are processed by hand, first-come, first-served, and dispatched through the mail.

There are about 5,000 seats in the Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium when it is in Merrie Monarch configuration. However, seating space for competing halau, family of halau members and VIPs leaves a scant 2,700 or so seats for the public.

Attempts to discuss the matter with eBay sellers and buyers were unsuccessful.

Reach Wanda Adams at 535-2412 or at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.