The theme of this year’s Lead, Expose and Inspire Program, LEI, April 16-17 on Hawaii Island was the wind of the Hawaiian Islands, and like the makani of the Hawaiian Islands, each person’s wind sets them on a different journey — one that consists of their dreams and aspirations.

In school, we are often asked, “What do you want to be when you are older?” With hard work and dedication, I was accepted into Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where I will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in government and hope to pursue a graduate degree in international relations, enabling me to learn and prepare for my goal of earning a seat in Congress, and this desire is my wind. As a congressman, I hope to make tourism bigger in Hawaii by investing in efforts to clean up our beaches and the National Parks in Hawaii that bring millions to the state.

However, sometimes the direction of the wind changes and as people with huge dreams and aspirations, we must adapt to these changes and continue to sail until we reach our destination.

And like all things, the hospitality industry is susceptible to these changes, including a shortage in hotel and resort employees, competing hotels, and a decline in visitor counts to the islands.

Sitting with Brad from the sales department, I learned numerous ways in which a hotel like the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel can adapt to these changes to successfully provide effective and customer-friendly service to their visitors such as packages and seasonal discounts. Additionally, talking with Connie, I learned about the hiring process and how the hospitality industry can provide residents of Hawaii work opportunities in a broad spectrum of fields including culinary arts, engineering, customer service, management, and accounting. There is literally a job available for everyone regardless of their interests.

In all, while these destinations may be great, the question many high school students like me are asking is, “How do I know what my wind is?” Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to that question and only as individuals can we answer it, but the biggest thing that I’ve learned from both my past experiences and from this LEI Program is to expose myself to different industries and different opportunities.

Only then can a person determine if that industry is the right one for him/her or whether he/she should attempt something different. The manager of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Mr. Kansas Henderson, didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school and only determined his interest in hospitality after listening to several speakers during his senior year. We have a head start and for that, I thank ClimbHI for planning this event. Likewise, I didn’t find my passion in government and promoting social justice until I found myself participating in Youth and Government, and later the Conference on National Affairs.

The hospitality industry works 24/7 every day of the year to provide an unmatchable service that will keep Hawaii’s strongest economic industry alive both culturally and physically with their hard work. ClimbHI and the Hawaii Tourism Authority put an utmost importance on the concepts of customer service, environmental sustainability, and infrastructure investment to ensure that visitors come back to Hawaii and continue to provide our people with opportunities.

I hope that this program brings light to the beauty of Hawaii and the desire of millions of people to visit our islands annually, enough to encourage all generations, including future ones, that Hawaii should always be part of their wind, whether it be in the hospitality industry or elsewhere.

Rowlie John Flores is a senior at Ka’u High School.

By Rowlie John Flores, West Hawaii Today