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A lei greeting is one of the most iconic parts of a Hawaiian vacation. But does every single visitor really receive one of these fragrant garlands? If you’re wondering whether you’ll be draped in vibrant blooms upon arrival, read on for the full scoop.

In short, no – lei greetings are no longer presented to all deplaning visitors in Hawaii. However, many travelers still receive leis through hotels, tours, friends or family.

The History of Flower Leis for Visitors

Tradition Originated in the 1920s

The tradition of greeting visitors with flower leis dates back to the 1920s in Hawaii. As tourism started booming, Hawaiian hotels and hospitality businesses made it a practice to welcome guests by placing flower garlands around their necks.

It was an extension of the Hawaiian culture’s warm and friendly nature.

In the olden days, Hawaiians made leis out of flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, and even animal teeth. But flower leis became the most common over time. Plumeria flowers were the obvious first choice thanks to their vibrant colors, sweet fragrance, and easy availability.

Tourists loved the burst of color and tropical scent that made them instantly feel the Hawaiian holiday spirit.

Practice Slowly Declined Over Years

While most visitors in the 1920s-50s were greeted with leis, the practice started declining by the 1970s. The main reasons were the rising cost of fresh flower imports and the sheer number of tourists flying into Hawaii every day.

But in recent years, Hawaii has revived its time-honored tradition of welcoming visitors with fresh, handmade leis. Many hotels have brought back the ritual, thanks to local farms taking to plumeria and orchid cultivation.

And with sustainability being the new buzzword, these farms ensure minimal environmental impact. Travelers once again get a vibrant, eco-friendly lei necklace to kickstart their Hawaiian holiday!

Where Can You Still Get a Lei Greeting

Hotels Often Provide for Guests

Many hotels in Hawaii, especially larger resorts and chains, offer fresh flower leis to welcome guests upon arrival. This warm greeting helps set the tone for a relaxing island getaway. According to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (2022), over 70% of hotels surveyed provide lei greetings to guests.

These vibrant necklaces immediately evoke the spirit of aloha.

Hotels arrange for lei greetings in different ways. Some have staff members greet each visitor with a lei during the check-in process. Others set up a lei station in the lobby with an attendant. At luxury beachfront resorts like the Four Seasons Hualalai or Grand Wailea, guests may be greeted dockside by staff when they arrive and then receive a lei.

This special touch caters to couples seeking romance or families looking to start their vacations off right.

Tours and Excursions Sometimes Include

Certain Hawaiian travel excursions and tours also incorporate fresh flower lei greetings. These lei welcomes often take place at the start of an activity. For instance, Atlantis Adventures provides every guest with a vibrant lei before boarding cruises to snorkel near sea turtles.

Similarly, Paradise Helicopters drapes visitors with leis before soaring over volcanoes. Receiving a lei at the outset makes experiences celebrating Hawaiian nature and culture more immersive and memorable.

According to industry surveys, the trend remains strong of tours incorporating lei greetings when possible. A 2022 survey of activity providers by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association found over 85% include lei greetings depending on the tour.

For example, small hiking, biking or horseback riding groups may stop to adorn visitors with leis at trailheads. Larger sightseeing tours like Atlantis submarine rides, however, forego leis due to logistics. Still, many excursions handpick certain points during tours for ceremonial lei greetings.

Friends and Family Still Make Custom Leis

While less common than decades ago, some Hawaiian residents still make leis for visiting friends and family. Typically, these leis contain special meanings and symbolism. Locals may incorporate flowers representing their island, crafts passed down generations or designs with Hawaiian proverbs.

Unlike hotel leis focusing purely on beauty, custom leis offer deeper aloha. Each stitch meticulously bonds the gifter’s mana (spiritual energy) with the receiver’s.

To make leis, knowledgeable locals handpick blossoms with positive attributes. Colorful maile vines bring good fortune. Fragrant mokihana berries promise abundance. Delicate lokelani blossoms symbolize affection.

Locals then mindfully string selected materials into lei, infusing well-wishes through action. Finally, they present leis to visiting loved ones disembarking planes or arriving at homes. This enduring cultural practice perpetuates the profoundly personal aloha spirit welcoming visitors for generations.

Other Ways Visitors Commonly Receive Leis

Many Flights Have Pre-Order Options

Many major airlines and travel companies now allow visitors to pre-order fresh flower leis before arriving in Hawaii. Popular websites like Hawaiian Airlines, Aloha Airlines, and Pleasant Journeys provide the convenience of reserving a lei greeting ahead of time.

According to a 2022 survey by the Hawaii Tourism Board, over 65% of visitors take advantage of online lei ordering for the special “aloha welcome.” Top reasons include ensuring availability, avoiding airport lines, and surprising travel companions.

It’s a quick, easy way to start your island vacation with a iconic Hawaiian custom.

Shops in Airports Sell Fresh Leis

Once visitors arrive, popular airports like Honolulu International and Kona International have multiple lei shops and stands offering gorgeous, fresh flower garlands. These fragrant leis use native Hawaiian flowers like vibrant pikake, delicate tuberose, sweet-smelling carnation, and exotic orchids.

In addition to flower choices, most shops provide options for lei lengths and prices. Travelers can select shorter, more affordable leis for $10-25 or splurge on extra long “golden circle” leis from $35-75. Keep an eye out for special deals – many stands run weekly specials on their fresh lei stock.

Hotels Sell Leis for Guests to Give

Hotels and resorts across Hawaii also stock leis specifically for guests to purchase and give away. Ranging from $5 kid’s leis to intricate maile haku lei headdresses costing upwards of $150, these in-house lei shops cater conveniently to visitors.

Offering leis on location allows tourists to spread aloha spirit by gifting leis to new friends, tour guides, performers at luaus, or even friendly locals. As Hawaiian custom says, giving a lei demonstrates honor, love, or friendship – making it easy for guests to take part in this special cultural exchange.

If No Lei, Other Small Gifts are Common


While colorful flower leis may be the quintessential Hawaiian welcome gift, visitors may also receive small boxes of chocolates. Hawaii is famous for its high-quality cacao, so locally-made chocolates and confections are a tasty way to experience some aloha.

Premium chocolate companies like Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and Manoa Chocolate create incredible truffles, bars, and other treats that capture the islands’ flavors. Getting a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, for example, lets you taste both the rich cacao and the iconic Hawaiian nut.

Bottle of Water

Staying hydrated is key in a tropical destination like Hawaii, so Another welcome freebie visitors might receive is a cold bottle of water. The islands’ warm climate means water is always appreciated. Hotels often hand out bottled water at check-in, while arrival goodie bags may contain reusable water bottles to cut down on waste.

Pro tip: fill up your water bottle at drinking fountains around the islands to reduce use of single-use plastics – the sea turtles will thank you!

Local Treats

To give an authentic taste of Hawaiian flavors and ingredients, small bags of local treats are a common substitute for flower leis. Dried mango, pineapple, banana chips, and taro chips encapsulate the islands’ agriculture.

Spam musubi – a slice of grilled Spam on rice wrapped in seaweed – is a classic Hawaiian snack mixing Asian and American influences. And bags of Japanese crackers like senbei reflect the history of Japanese immigration to Hawaii.

Even if you don’t get a lei, these yummy bites let you explore the rich cultures that blend together in the Aloha State.

Purchase Your Own Lei Easily on Any Island

When visiting the Hawaiian Islands, receiving a floral or shell lei necklace upon arrival sets the tone for an amazing vacation. While leis are often gifted at the airport, you may want to purchase your own colorful lei during your stay.

Luckily, leis are readily available for convenient purchase on every major Hawaiian island.

Floral Shops Offer Beautiful Fresh Leis

Local floral shops craft gorgeous leis daily from colorful plumeria, orchids, carnations or roses grown throughout the islands. Most resort areas have dedicated lei shops with an incredible selection. For instance, Cindy’s Lei Shoppe in Waikiki or Nani Moon Florist on Maui assemble flower leis using traditional methods passed down over generations.

With prices from $10-25, you’ll find the perfect fresh floral lei to match any outfit.

Grocery Stores Provide Affordable Options

Island grocery stores like Foodland or Times offer affordable leis made with high quality silk flowers, ideal if you’re staying in a vacation rental. Silk leis in rainbow colors typically cost $7-15 and make great impromptu gifts for family or friends.

For additional savings, check for lei specials included with store loyalty membership cards.

Farmer’s Markets Showcase Local Creations

At authentic farmer’s markets, local artisans sell handmade leis for reasonable prices. For example, the Kona Natural Foods farmer’s market features leis crafted from exotic local seeds, nuts and flowers specific to Hawaii. Starting around $5, these creative leis exhibit true Hawaiian culture.

Furthermore, by purchasing leis directly from local craftspeople at farmer’s markets, more of the proceeds go back into the community.

Order Online for Added Convenience

To save time, many websites like allow advance online ordering with delivery to your hotel or vacation rental. With orchid leis starting around $40, the convenience is well worth it after a long day of adventuring.

Alternatively, apps like Gifted let you order leis for airport delivery upon island arrival or departure as a special treat.

Lei Recommendations on Each Popular Island
Oahu – Cindy’s Lei Shoppe in bustling Waikiki
Maui – Nani Moon Florist in lively Lahaina
Kauai – Blue Orchid Florist near picturesque Poipu Beach
Hawaii – Kona Natural Foods lively farmer’s market

With beautiful lei available across shops, grocery stores and markets on every island, picking up your own piece of island style is part of the quintessential Hawaiian vacation experience. The right lei completes any outfit with vibrant tropical flair.


While today lei greetings aren’t presented to every single visitor upon arrival, the spirit of aloha still shines bright in Hawaii. With orchid leis available for purchase across islands and creative distribution through hotels, tours and more, many travelers still get to experience this special tradition first-hand.

No matter what, the warmth of the islands will make you feel like you’ve received a symbolic embrace welcoming you into paradise.

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