Tradition and Travel: How the Honolulu International Airport Honors Its Culture 

As one of the most racially and ethnically diverse states in the US, Hawaii has a rich culture and heritage. Customs and traditions from the islands’ indigenous roots continue to flourish, and Hawaii has also become home to immigrant populations from countries like China, Japan, and the Philippines. This openness has highlighted the importance of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in preventing prejudice against Asian Americans and better empowering them to embrace their identities.

 Since Hawaii also welcomes millions of tourists annually, it is equally essential that travelers take part in honoring the state’s multicultural background. Among the sites contributing to this worthwhile effort is the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, also known as the Honolulu International Airport. Read on to learn more about the airport’s cultural and historical initiatives and how the Honolulu airport honors its culture.

Welcoming guests with lei greetings

As soon as tourists arrive in Honolulu, they get to experience the Hawaiian hospitality embodied by the lei greeting. Greeters are ready to welcome guests at the airport gate with a fresh Hawaiian lei, a garland usually made of local foliage that can be worn on the head or around the neck. The ornament was traditionally bestowed to high-ranking chiefs but has since evolved into a local welcoming practice. Since leis symbolize affection and the spirit of aloha, guests must practice proper etiquette by never refusing the lei.

Providing a taste of Hawaiian cuisine

Travelers also don’t have to stray far to get an authentic taste of Hawaiian cuisine. The Honolulu airport recently unveiled the 92-seat restaurant Mauka Market, which offers a variety of local favorites from pupus (starters) like street fries to contemporary dishes like loco moco, tonkotsu ramen, and paniolo steak and eggs. The airport concourse also has other dining options like Lahaina Chicken Company for roasted chicken, Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill for tropical-inspired burgers and desserts, and Kona Brewery for local brews and cold beverages.

Honoring Hawaii in artistic works

Visitors can also explore artistic works depicting Hawaiian culture and history on the airport grounds and terminals. Travelers can do more than just store baggage or rent cars in Honolulu Airport — they can also do some art appreciation too. As part of the Art in Public Places program by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the Honolulu International Airport displays artwork ranging from paintings and sculptures to mosaics and murals. The Statehood Mosaic, for instance, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood in 1959 through 8,000 unique images created by students nationwide. After visiting this mural found on the Diamond Head Breezeway, tourists can head to the Gallery of Legends at the E Gates to learn about the significant contributions to travel and tourism by leaders and members of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

In recognition of the Native and Asian cultures that continue to influence island living, several cultural gardens surround the Honolulu airport’s Terminal 2 and E Gates. The Chinese Garden boasts a red resting pavilion, a man-made koi pond, and an array of bamboo and native flowering trees, while the serene Japanese Garden is characterized by a commemorative pagoda, ponds surrounded by pine and willow trees, and stone lanterns. Lastly, the Hawaiian Garden is reminiscent of the tropical islands with its lagoons and waterfalls, exotic plants and flowers, and numerous trees like banana, coconut, and kukui (candlenut).

 It goes without saying that cultural immersion can be extended beyond the airport. Travelers can drive around and explore free museums all over Oahu like the Bishop Museum, which is only about 10-15 minutes away from HNL and houses cultural exhibits, artifacts, and a planetarium. Other cultural highlights in Oahu include the wartime site Pearl Harbor and the botanical wonder Waimea Valley. In essence, honoring Hawaii’s culture and history only starts at the Honolulu International Airport, with a much longer journey ahead.

A note from History Unboxed®

We acknowledge that tourism in Hawaii is a controversial topic. Many people in Hawaii have asked tourists to consider other destinations. Others have asked tourists to think about more ethical ways to visit Hawaii. Here are some links with information about ethical tourism in Hawaii:

Travel Pono

Responsible Tourism


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