AT&T has been in Hawaii for more than 10 years. During that time, the company has always shown strong support for the local community and its multi-ethnic heritage. For 1996, the company was looking for a signature event that would highlight a culture of Hawaii, the performing arts and create an additional visitor attraction. Stryker Weiner & Yokota Public Relations, Inc. (SWAY) recognized the potential of a Dragon Boat Festival and the opportunity it presented for AT&T when the City and County of Honolulu and the Chinese Merchants Association approached AT&T to sponsor this event that had never been done in Hawaii before.
The origin of dragon boat racing can be traced to the fourth century B.C., when Chinese fishermen would host festival ceremonies to ensure plentiful crops. Dragon boat racing is similar to outrigger canoe racing in that paddling teams compete against each other in timed heats. Dragon boat crews consist of 16 paddlers, a drummer, a steersperson and a flag catcher. Competitors race to a central finish line where the flag catcher retrieves a flag from a buoy and carries it to the finish line.
This 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition came to life June 15, 1996 in Honolulu at Ala Moana Beach Park during the first annual AT&T Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival. The festival, which is popular worldwide, featured races between traditional, multicolored boats decorated with fierce dragon heads, tails and scaly bodies. Crews of 19 entered the races to compete in a sport that was virtually unknown in Hawaii.
At the same time the races were taking place, there were Asia Pacific cultural performances at the beachside center stage, including Chinese/Asian martial arts, gymnastics, dancing, singing and puppetry. Complementing these performances were Asia Pacific Rim food stations and activity booths featuring Chinese horoscope tables, Chinese lettering demonstrations and an ancient art exhibit.
Starting in April, local publications and television stations began to run stories on the impending festival. Since the event did not take place until June, AT&T received more than three months of continuing coverage of the festival. THE HONOLULU ADVERTISER and the HONOLULU STAR-BULLETIN each ran five separate pieces. The BULLETIN even included a dragon boat and the name AT&T in the local comic strip "Corky's Hawaii." The DOWNTOWN PLANET ran three stories and PACIFIC BUSINESS NEWS and the WAIKIKI NEWS each ran two. In all, the festival was mentioned in 28 different television segments on all four television affiliates. Because the boats were so colorful, and the festival logo so attractive, the coverage in both mediums was bright and eye-catching. AT&T was mentioned more than 32 times, and the logo, which was distributed by SWAY as part of the event press kits and included the name AT&T, was used 10 times.
As a result, a record was set for the highest number of teams entered in a first time dragon boat race. Sixty-seven teams paddled on race day, and event coordinators at Events International estimate that more than 10,000 people attended the festival.