Celebrity Pulls Offensive Hawaii Ad, Heads to Cultural Training

October 3, 2006

Celebrity Cruises has found itself in the midst of a major mess in America's 50th state and, as a result, its marketing staff is required to head back to school -- for Hawaiian Culture 101.

The controversy? Celebrity ran a print advertisement for its Hawaii itineraries in travel agent publications containing a photo of the revered King Kamehameha holding a glass of Champagne (check it out here).

Numerous folks expressed offense, incensed that the cruise line had made light of one of the most prestigious symbols, if not the premier symbol, of Hawaiian history and culture -- in an advertisement of all places (the glass of Champagne, which typically signals a light-hearted celebratory ambience, didn't help).

Vicky Holt Takamine, president of Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, a grassroots group committed to cultural and political activism, told the Honolulu Advertiser that the ad "belittles our entire culture and says, 'Come here and have a drink with the Hawaiians' and that's not what we're all about ... this was never intended to market and sell a cruise ship."

Indeed, Kamehameha, the first King of Hawaii, is considered a powerful and significant icon of Hawaiian culture. He unified the islands and established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810, and also instituted the Mamalahoe, or "law of the splintered paddle," which remains in the state constitution today.

Even folks whose job it is to communicate the loveliness of a Hawaiian vacation balked at the ad. In a letter to Celebrity executives, John Monahan, the president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau, wrote: "It's likely that this advertisement may have been creative and approved by Celebrity Cruises due to a lack of understanding of Hawaii's society, history and traditions. If so, HVCB will be pleased to make arrangements to help educate your marketing staff about our islands."

In addition to canceling the offensive advertisement, members of the cruise line's marketing team will indeed attend some sort of cultural workshop. "There hasn't yet been dialogue as to specifically where or when the cultural training will take place," Celebrity Cruises' spokesperson Liz Jakeway tells Cruise Critic. "Our assumption is that one of their experts will visit our marketing team here to conduct that."

Celebrity will also publish an apology to Hawaiians via an advertisement in the state's major newspapers.

This isn't actually the first time Hawaiians have fought media output from mainland U.S.A. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, lyrics from a song in Disney's "Lilo and Stitch" were lifted "word for word" from two chants dedicated to Queen Lili'uokalani and King David Kalakaua.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor