Cruise line removes ad that angered Hawaiians
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
Miami-based Celebrity Cruises will no longer use a controversial advertisement depicting King Kamehameha's statue holding a glass of champagne to promote its cruises to Hawai'i, the company said yesterday.
The ad, which appeared in a recent issue of Travel Weekly, enraged Hawaiian groups and shocked local tourism officials.
"We are terribly sorry that we have offended anyone," said Lynn Martenstein, spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises, a brand of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "We're horrified that we've been insensitive. ... It was never our intention. We have pulled the ad. It will never run again."
It was not clear yesterday if Celebrity's apology would satisfy those who were offended by the ad.
It's good that Celebrity is pulling the ad, but the company's apology should be as public as the ad was, said Ramsey Taum, community outreach director for the University of Hawai'i School of Travel Industry Management and contractor with the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.
"To their credit, if they're going to pull it, then great, but the ultimate apology is going to be the same-size ad that they used in the publication as well as a local publication," he said. Travel Weekly is a trade publication for travel agents.
'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, a group of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, has scheduled a news conference Monday to publicly object to the ad.
"When I saw it, I was appalled to think that any company would have the audacity to use our culture in that fashion and especially our icon, King Kamehameha," said 'Ilio'ulaokalani executive director Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke, who said the ad offended non-Hawaiians as well.
"This has got to stop. Agencies like the Hawai'i Tourism Authority have got to assist us in stopping this kind of disrespect of our culture. ... We will no longer sit back and allow this kind of malice to happen to our culture. ... I know everybody wants business, but are we going to continue to bastardize our culture so that all these other companies can make millions of dollars?"
Celebrity's Martenstein said the ad was part of a series created by Boston-based agency Arnold Communications that featured icons from various tourist destinations. She said an official of a Hawai'i resort e-mailed Celebrity yesterday and said he was "deeply offended," she said. Within minutes of "learning of the impact," Celebrity pulled the ad, she said.
"We took it very seriously," she said. "There was no question, there was no debate. We pulled the ad."
The ad also shocked Hawai'i tourism leaders.
State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert gasped when she was told about the ad.
"You've got to be kidding me," she said.
Wienert said it underscores the need for more efforts to educate tourism companies.
"I'm saddened by it, that we have not made more inroads into this outreach where our sellers of Hawai'i are concerned," she said. "And this definitely has gone to the top of my to-do list to put more emphasis on this.
"Knowing the folks at Celebrity, they are good people. And I'm sure that this was not their intention to degrade the Hawaiian culture or Kamehameha in any way," Wienert said.
"It falls to us to be the educators, and we are the ones who have to step up our efforts in ensuring that all of those that sell our destination do it with cultural sensitivity and in a way that's pono," she said.
Hawai'i Tourism Authority President and CEO Rex Johnson said the ad is "clearly inappropriate."
"I'm sure Celebrity didn't intend to offend people, but the ad is inappropriate," Johnson said via e-mail from Japan. "We currently have a consultant reviewing all of our advertising materials, to protect against incidents like this. I expect this ad was done by a Mainland firm who has no understanding of Hawai'i and its people."
Johnson said HTA plans to develop "a style guide that will give guidance to people who want or need to know what is the correct protocol for Hawaiian issues."
George Chalekian, executive creative director at Honolulu advertising agency Milici Valenti Ng Pak, likened the ad to "vandalism."
"There's plenty of bad advertising that goes out, but nothing that I have seen that in any way attacks or belittles or demeans the host culture, not in the overt fashion that this particular ad does," he said.
"In the age of the Internet and constant communications ... as connected as we think we are, this shows a real big disconnect is certainly possible. It makes me wonder what the heck people are thinking."
Celebrity has been cruising in Hawai'i since at least the late 1990s, Martenstein said.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.