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by William Ng | November 29, 2011
A $3 million nightly theater show, new hands-on activities, and a reimagined 1,000-guest restaurant are leading a multiyear, $35-million investment initiative at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), which has long been a group attraction and off-site teambuilding destination for Hawaiian incentive and meeting groups gathered on the island of Oahu. 

The first-phase enhancements to the 42-acre, theme-park-like attraction on Oahu’s North Shore, featuring recreated villages representing South Pacific islands such as Fiji, Tahiti, and Samoa—from which Hawaiian ancestors originated—are designed to ramp up its offerings for both groups and leisure visitors, according to the PCC’s director of marketing, Raymond K. Magalei, during a recent visit to Incentive’s New York offices. The PCC is about one hour’s drive from Waikiki.

In Ha: Breath of Life, groups can glean business lessons like perseverance and teamwork from the 90-minute production, performed nightly at the PCC’s 2,675-seat Pacific Theater. Brought to life by 100 performers, Ha (which means “breath” in Hawaiian) tells the story of a Polynesian man, named Mana, who was born out of turmoil, from a capsized canoe. His lifelong journey takes him through Tonga, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, and Fiji, with each destination represented by an act in the show that presents life’s lessons, such as community, love, war, and death.

The $3 million production features animation, water sprays and volcanic and other special effects, and elaborate sets and costumes, in addition to music, singing, dance, and firedancing. “The story is about the main character achieving his ‘ha,’ ” Magalei notes. He adds that the extravaganza was created with input from leaders of the local community around the PCC who wanted the revue to reflect and celebrate the rich cultures of Polynesia.

Cultural learning and activities are requisites of Hawaii incentives and meetings, and the PCC’s eight Go Native! activities bring incentive participants and meeting attendees closer to Hawaii and each other. The hands-on activities, available to all PCC guests but which can be modified for groups, include cooking demonstrations of traditional Polynesian foods, Hawaiian quilt making, and paddling on outrigger canoes (especially fit for team competitions). “We also have fire-building, coconut tree-climbing and coconut husking, and spear throwing,” adds Magalei. The latter has group guests trying their hand at an ancient game and test of skill for young warriors that involves spearing a coconut set atop a six-foot pole.

Magalei says groups can gain a still-deeper connection with Hawaii and Polynesia from an assigned cultural ambassador. Plus, “we’ll bus groups in from the North Shore and Honolulu, and they can get a presentation during the transfer—which is a very beautiful drive—and get some culture even before arriving at the PCC,” says Magalei.

This month, the PCC celebrates the grand opening of its remade Gateway restaurant, a 1,000-guest venue featuring a wide-ranging buffet amid a décor composed of a 360-degree “cultural mural,” 40-foot representations of the famous mo’ai sculptures on Easter Island, and 60-foot images of Maori manaia (birdman) figures. Magalei says the Gateway is suitable for group off-site dining experiences and can be completely bought out, in which case the restaurant can serve the more upscale Ambassador Fine Dining menu, which encompasses shrimp cocktail and prime rib au jus, among other selections. Banquets, with tailored sound and lighting, can be set up in the venue.

Magalei hints at additional new features at the PCC, such as the IMAX presentation Hawaiian Journey, which will be a 45-minute, “4-D” experience at the Hukilau Theater, with sensory effects like mists and scents. “It will be very interactive,” he notes. Meanwhile, coming in 2013 will be a new outdoor food and art marketplace showcasing local growers and artisans. Located at the front of the PCC, and with an on-site ukulele factory, the Polynesian Market Place will also spotlight local musicians and entertainment. “We want the locals to come to the PCC, too,” says Magalei.

For groups, the PCC allows buyouts of any of the six villages that make up the center. A man-made lagoon—on which the outrigger canoe races take place—winds through the villages and is flanked by tropical foliage and authentic native scenery. Groups also can buy out the Ali’I Lu’au for up to 700 attendees at the Hale Aloha Theater. Attendees can dine on luau staples amid a backdrop of waterfalls as well as live entertainment performances.