USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii
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USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii

Summer reflections – from San Antonio to the Hawaiian Monarchy and Pearl Harbor

A Hui Hou. Until we meet again. This was written on my coffee cup at a food truck on Maui, just before I started a beautiful hike on the Haleakala Volcano, last week. As with many cultures around the world, Native Hawaiians use their language to measure respect. In Hawaii, saying “goodbye” may seem to be bad manners. This English farewell implies you won’t see each other again. On the other hand, a hui hou lets your friend, client, guest or one you love know you will look forward to seeing them again. Consider how sad parting ways with friends or loved ones can feel. Implying the hope that you’ll see each other again adds positivity to the departure.

For myself, ‘until we meet again’, has a special connotation as well. Two months ago, after 3.5 years, I said goodbye to the National Committee for 4 and 5 May in Amsterdam. The National Committee helps determine how meaning is given to commemorating and celebrating and to how the memory of the Second World War is kept alive. It organises the national observance of Remembrance Day on 4 May and the national celebration of Liberation Day on 5 May. The yearly closure of Liberation Day in the Netherlands is an open-air concert along the famous Amsterdam canals and bridges and the traditional finale of the concert is Dame Vera Lynn’s famous song during the Second World War: We’ll Meet Again! Over the past two unprecedented years of the pandemic, this song could not have been more appropriate.

Back to Hawaii and to another song. Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee) is a folk song written circa 1878 by Liliʻuokalani, who was then Princess of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It is her most famous song and still is a common cultural symbol for Hawaii. ‘Until we meet again’ is it’s last sentence and it is only one of two lines in English throughout the song. How fascinating! But what fascinates me most, is that Hawaii used to be a Monarchy…  

“The Kingdom of Hawaii, was a sovereign state located in the Hawaiian Islands. The country was formed in 1795, when the warrior chief Kamehameha the Great, of the independent island of Hawai'i, conquered the independent islands of O’ahu, Maui, Molokaí and Lānaʻi and unified them under one government. In 1810, the whole Hawaiian archipelago became unified when Kaua'i and Niʻihau joined the Hawaiian Kingdom voluntarily. Two major dynastic families ruled the kingdom: the House of Kamehameha and the House of Kalākaua. The kingdom won recognition from the major European powers. The United States became its chief trading partner and watched over it to prevent other powers (such as Britain and Japan) from asserting hegemony. In 1887 King Kalākaua was forced to accept a new constitution in a coup by the Honolulu Rifles, an antimonarchist militia. Queen Liliʻuokalani, who succeeded Kalākaua in 1891, tried to abrogate the new constitution. She was overthrown in 1893, largely at the hands of the Committee of Safety, a group including Hawaiian subjects and resident foreign nationals of American, British and German descent, many educated in the US. Hawaiʻi was briefly an independent republic until the U.S. annexed it through the Newlands Resolution on July 4, 1898, which created the Territory of Hawaii. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States of America. United States Public Law 103-150 of 1993 (known as the Apology Resolution), acknowledged that "the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States" and also "that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum."

Even though the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown almost 130 years ago, signs of the Monarchy can still be found anywhere on the islands; streets, highways, hotels, schools, hospitals, museums, National Park visitor centers, black and golden statutes, and so on; many of them are named after or dedicated to members of the former Royal Families and showcase their truly historical significance.

During my recent visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, I also realised that a Royal reference is made as part of the annual commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December, 1941. On that day, Japanese planes bombed the military base on the island of Oahu. The surprise attack killed more than 2,000 people and damaged or destroyed 19 Navy ships. The bombing thrust the U.S. into the Second World War. On 7 December 2021, the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack took place, but due to severe weather conditions (including a hurricane warning…), as well as limitations related to the pandemic, the ceremony was attended by way less attendees as was anticipated and it was livestreamed for the ones who could not be there in person. Despite the restrictive measures, more than 100 veterans and their family were in attendance (some of them hadn’t been back since that infamous day), as well as the US Secretary of the Navy, the Governor of Hawaii, military officials, members of the consular corps and community leaders. Next to several speeches of the dignitaries in attendance, there was an audio message by President Biden, as well as an audio message from a veteran to all the veterans who couldn’t make it to Pearl Harbor anymore. Specific military rituals such as the entrance and departure of the official party, a rifle salute, benedictions, as well as a wreath presentation by active members of each branch of the military were incorporated in the programme. Servicemen and servicewomen from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard, each placed one white chrysanthemum with their service seal amidst the green leaves of the wreath. The Hawai’ian National Guard, however, placed a red and yellow lei (floral garland) on top of the wreath; in the traditional Royal colours of Hawaii, which was specifically referenced to by the MC. At the conclusion of the wreath presentation, the active servicemen and servicewomen saluted the WWII veterans and afterwards, guests were are asked to stand up to applaud them, which resulted in a memorable standing ovation. And even though I was visiting the site on a regular summer day many months later, I could truly feel the emotions and personal memories of all these veterans amidst this impressive war memorial.

Prior to my visit to Hawaii, it was great to participate at the PDI-POA Annual Forum in San Antonio, Texas. I really enjoyed to reconnect again with fellow protocol professionals from around the world and to share best practices and inspiring experiences after more than two challenging years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though we all have been in this together, a one-size fits all solution didn’t exist. In that sense, it was great to realise that the truly global (post-)pandemic chapter in our book “An Experts’ Guide to International Protocol – Best Practice in Diplomatic and Corporate Relations” is still very relevant. The 4th edition of our book, which appeared in April 2021, contains additional contributions of professionals from over 25 cities around the world: ranging from Accra, Beijing, Dubai and Geneva, to Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and Washington, D.C. A multitude of examples, struggles and creative solutions related to protocol, high-level event management and stakeholder engagement after the first heavily affected year by Covid-19 are shared. Whether the experiences came from a national chief of protocol, a chef de cabinet of an international organisation, a CEO of a renowned hotel chain, a board member of a large protocol association, a seasoned business consultant, an associate professor at a leading university or a youthful trainee at a diplomatic mission, they all provide valuable insights in how their organisations arranged effective pivots to keep their network in shape. Based on the many personal encounters in San Antonio, I’m delighted to share 10 lessons learned, as well as predictions and recommendations for the near future, taken from our book, that are still of great value:

- Embrace the new world of virtual and hybrid events. That new world is not going to disappear with the end of the pandemic. Protocol is a frame of mind. It is the way we meticulously approach our work: the way we negotiate every detail and clarify expectations between visitors and hosts, the way we are able to step back from the substance of a meeting to focus on the overall run of show, the look and feel, the interstitial moments where relationships are built. Applying all those concepts to making one’s organisation’s virtual events shine is where we will find a new niche.

- The metaverse is here to stay, so keep investing in and researching how to make online events an unforgettable experience for your attendees. They could include such elements as break-out rooms, voting systems, virtual reality glasses for brainstorms, polls, text chats, pre-recorded messages, exhibitions, remote interpreting in various languages, games, simulations, videos, avatars, networking rooms, and reception halls. These approaches can ensure good engagement with your audience. Include some warmth and find ways to personalise experiences to show that an online event can be as soulful as a traditional one (e.g. online events can also include an ‘in-person touch’, for example by sending a food & beverage box beforehand or a handwritten thank-you note via post afterwards).

- The world will need to adjust to and adopt the best of both worlds: a new ‘hybrid diplomacy’ that combines face-to-face and online meetings. Highly delicate negotiations will continue to require the gathering of real people in actual rooms, but many other more routine meetings can and should shift to online formats. 

- Preparation is key to maintaining levels of quality. During the pandemic, errors in production were often overlooked as the audience was more forgiving than before. Since a level of normalcy returns, the forgiveness may not be there or last long.

- While preparing for events, use for example three different scenarios related to numbers of attendees and start planning for the maximum capacity scenario, since downscaling is easier in the process than upscaling. While adjusting your guestlist to smaller numbers, determine the most appropriate reflection of the traditional version, perhaps using specific percentages per guest category or prioritising certain groups specifically for the purpose of the event.  

- Host small-scale meetings for your most valuable stakeholders to give them high-level personal attention. A lot of small-scale is the new large-scale!

- Quite some anti-virus transmission measures will remain in place for a while. Try to be able to quickly implement them again in the event of other possible pandemics.

- Our planet needed a break. Climate is an issue that event planners have been dealing with for quite a while now, and the pandemic has given us a move in the right direction. We were forced to organise online events, which have a very low carbon footprint. Not only that, but the planning stage was also through virtual advance meetings and so proved to have zero to none impact on the environment. It was possible to design events without the need for hardcopy invitations or printed programmes, for instance. No paper was wasted. Keep working in this direction; the goal could be zero paper waste in events through the use of QR codes, online documents, etc.

- Adapt and align rites, ceremonial elements, and processes that were established decades or centuries ago. This brand-new moment requires other methods and procedures for protocol rituals, but try to maintain the essence and purpose of them as much as possible.

- Protocol is more important than ever. Our job as protocol officers in this kind of global crisis is to be as creative as we always have been, applying that creativity to a constant re-imagining of the methods we use to achieve our organisation’s goals. It falls to us, then, to apply our meticulous event planning skills to these new scenarios and to the new adapted methods of connecting so that our organisations can continue to build relationships and advance their agendas across cultural and international lines.

While keeping all of this in mind: let us meet again!

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