A new audio tour of International Market Place offers an immersive cultural journey into Waikīkī’s storied past.
✏️ LINDSEY KESEL
📸 JOHN HOOK & SKYE YONAMINE
When International Market Place (IMP) hired Nāpali Souza of local brand strategy firm DTL Hawaiʻi to develop an audio tour for its Waikīkī shopping center visitors, Souza saw an opportunity to spin something original and impactful.
Initially, the tour was intended to be a straightforward audio version of the center’s existing Cultural Journey—a series of 25 plaques featuring interesting historical tidbits, located at landmarks throughout the center—but Souza instead envisioned an immersive auditory experience that would spark listeners’ imagination and deliver a richer understanding of the colorful history of Waikīkī, IMP, and Native Hawaiian history.
For the GPS-enabled audio tour, IMP teamed up with TravelStorys, a mobile app that provides hands-free, location-based audio prompts without the need for cell service or Wi-Fi. When visitors walk through the center, geotags will automatically initiate descriptive soundbites on their mobile devices as they encounter 20 stops along the tour, each focused on an architectural feature that recalls specific people, places, or practices of Waikīkī past.
The soundbites cover a medley of local trivia spanning pre-contact Hawaiʻi to contemporary times, dishing on such topics as the crucial role of local streams, legendary Hawaiian musicians including Don Ho who once played at the original center, and the backstory of the 60-foot banyan tree which used to house a radio station in IMP’s heyday.
Listeners will also enjoy an earful of the life of Queen Emma Na‘ea Rooke—wife of King Kamehameha IV and queen of Hawaiʻi from 1855 to 1863—who bequeathed much of her land in trust, including the IMP site, to support the Queen’s Hospital, which she co-founded along with her husband.
In curating the content for the audio tour, Souza set out to establish a strong sense of place to underscore the bite-sized stories. To help with context and nuance, he consulted texts from trusted authors in the Hawaiian history and culture genre—including In Haste with Aloha: Letters and Diaries of Queen Emma by David W. Forbes, and Waikīkī 100 B.C. to 1900 A.D.: An Untold Story by George Kanahele.
Though Souza had many years under his belt researching Hawaiian history and culture, the part-Hawaiian producer learned on the fly for the technical side of the audio tour design. To create the soundbites, he used the TravelStorys recording kit, which included a tri-fold foam-buffered mic, to capture himself narrating. Then he layered in two additional tracks—music and soundscapes—to support the narrative flow.
“As a long-time podcast listener, I knew there needed to be sound effects to give the audio tour that immersive quality,” says Souza. “Even with a short clip, the background sound signals a transition in the narrative. That’s something you can visually see with a paragraph break, but with the ear, you need to hear it.”
In the center’s Queens Court area, the audio stop entitled “The Queen’s Garden: A Legacy of Care” features Souza’s mom, musician and entertainer Mihana Souza, as the voice of Queen Emma. At other locations, listeners will hear traces of bubbling water that mimic the freshwater springs of Waikīkī, birdsongs symbolizing the Manu-o-Kū seabirds that make their nest in the central Banyan tree today, and Souza’s voice reciting a rendition of “Welina Mānoa,” a welcome chant composed by Keawe and Tracie Lopes. In addition to traditional Hawaiian melodies marked by steel guitar and ʻukulele, orchestral and ethereal ambient music further enhance the aural experience.
With its novel approach to making Hawaiian culture and history engaging and entertaining, the IMP audio tour offers a pleasurable jaunt into Waikīkī’s past, full of intrigue, Hawaiian legends, and even a touch of romance. When the tour launched on May 1, Souza hoped listeners would walk away feeling a sense of connection with the land under their feet.
“It’s a source of pride for me to live in a place where my ancestors are from,” he says. “With this audio tour, the idea is not to change people’s understanding completely of what Hawaiʻi is and its history, but at least to bring awareness to its roots.”