Alisa Onishi’s love for storytelling is a big part of the reason Hawaiian Airlines is one of the most recognized brands in the airline industry.
It was under her detail-oriented eyes that many of our latest and most visual initiatives – such as a comprehensive brand refresh, Disney’s Moana livery, new uniforms designed by Sig Zane, and in-flight amenity kits and soft goods by Kealopiko – came to fruition so seemingly, well, seamless.
Onishi, director of brand management, was born and raised on O‘ahu and graduated from Kamehameha Schools before enrolling at Chapman University and finishing her degree at Hawaii Pacific University. After graduating with a visual communications degree, she set her sights on a career in broadcast journalism and landed a job at a local television station.
Despite the thrill of being on camera, she found herself more interested in the behind-the-scenes production process. “I thought I wanted to be on camera, but I fell in love with the people behind the camera,” Onishi recalled. “I learned that I enjoyed writing and producing really good stories and did that for a couple of years.”
Five years (and a few film jobs) later, Onishi broke into the marketing world, and in 2011 found her niche at Hawaiian Airlines’ marketing promotions team.
“I got to launch a bunch of promotional events like route launches for Brisbane, Taiwan, Auckland, Beijing, Chitose, among others, and host a lot of fun experiences,” she said. “For example, we created a stage of snow at the Sapporo Snow Festival with a 70-foot ice sculpture of Diamond Head and had hula dancers dancing on the ice.”
Onishi’s experience in sharing our company’s Hawaiian hospitality and dedication to Hawai‘i's culture made her a natural fit for a role in brand management. When the job opened and she was encouraged to apply, she welcomed the opportunity despite her fears. “I was a little nervous because I knew it was a big role to fill and I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for it…but I believe that if you’re scared to do something, then you’re probably taking the right leap.”
In her role for over six years, she’s come to appreciate that a normal workday is far from normal.
“A typical day for me could range from starting the day with cleaning out my inbox or being on set at our maintenance hangar for an [Airbus] A330 aircraft photoshoot,” she said.
When she’s not at work, she and her husband, Brandon, are at home busy taking care of their two keiki, Callie, 10, and Colten, 6, and pomski Mochi.
Her team oversees Hawaiian’s global brand strategy and visual identity. But Onishi says her job extends beyond our airline’s external expression and she remains equally dedicated to providing our employees with the resources they need to succeed.
“We curate, design and understand how we want to be seen externally as a brand. The way we do that is by making sure our people have the tools and guidance they need to do their job well – without forcing it,” she said “It comes down to how we behave, what our character is, how we make decisions and how we express ourselves at Hawaiian — not just in our ads but also in our emails to each other.”
Her current focus is ensuring employees feel equipped and empowered to represent Hawaiian Airlines and do their jobs in a way that is in line with our company values and representative of Hawai‘i’s warm host culture.
“One of the biggest challenges is that the brand is owned by everyone. We have 7,500-plus employees who reflect the brand every day, and it can be difficult to remind everyone of us how important they are, whether they interact with our guests daily or not.”
She added, “It’s not only about flying our guests safely from point A to B and letting them experience Hawai‘i on their own. It’s about taking them on that journey and offering up the knowledge that we have (as hosts of this place) that no other airline has or needs to have.”
As our airline continues to thrive, Onishi believes that it’ll become more important for Hawaiian Airlines to stay true to its roots while also pushing our employees to think bigger in the role we play in representing Hawai‘i.
“Unlike other industries, our brand in the travel world is so much more important to our success as a company. My goal is to constantly push us to be better, from bolder designs to crafting stories with more intent. Traditionally, Hawaiians shared their knowledge and stories, and that was their culture—it’s how hula started and how the Hawaiian language was revitalized,” she said.
“One project that’s an example of this is our boarding video. We had a number of our Hawaiian musicians start to pass away, so we embarked on a project to capture the music of some of our greatest talents. We had an employee who was passionate about music and it was his idea to do a bunch of music videos, so he helped us create a lineup of artists who meant something to the community. Something as simple as a boarding video was a way for us to reinforce our responsibility and share artists who really mean something to Hawai‘i.”
One of the boarding videos Onishi's team created featuring legendary Hawai‘i musician Henry Kapono.
When asked what her guidance would be to others interested in her field, she shared, “My advice for anyone who wants to be in the creative world is to be brave. There were so many times in my life that I’d taken risks (without even knowing what the risk was) and put myself out there. Being brave enough to see opportunities and seize them and take advantage of them when you can. “