How to be Great Tourists in Hawaii

If you’re planning to head to Hawaii as one of your post-COVID vacation spots, the islands would love to have you! Having tourists in Hawaii helps support the economy. Without it, many local businesses are failing. Your tourism helps Hawaii flourish…

…but not the tourism that was seen prior to 2020’s COVID lockdown.

There’s a new era of tourism on the rise – an era that supports the local economy and protects the surrounding environment. Countries, states, cities, and national parks call for improved tourism regulations.

However, tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry run by very powerful people who have mostly profits in mind. There is little motivation to improve the system, and they find ways to sneak through policy loopholes to further advance their business in the industry.

Tourism is a good thing and it brings nations together. But, in the wrong hands and with the wrong intentions, it can cause more harm than good. It can put cultures into extinction.

Like with any system driven by profit, the success is determined by supply and demand. If tourists support the wrong people in the industry, the demand for that business grows and grows.

The change starts with the tourist – with us.

That’s why it’s important to be educated about responsible tourist practices so that we may preserve the local communities rather than exploit them.

This blog is about Hawaii (since I’ve lived there), but it applies to basically any community we may visit. Cities and countries around the world are calling for adjustments in tourism.

Understanding Hawaii

Wherever we travel, it’s important to gain a basic understanding of the culture you’re visiting. What does it value? What are the customs? Are there local struggles we should be aware of? Are there key phrases we should know? How can we be culturally sensitive?

Here’s an abbreviated list of things every tourist should be aware of before visiting Hawaii:

  • Hawaii’s statehood is highly controversial. Read both sides: here and here.
  • The USA military presence in Hawaii is also highly controversial. Click here to see why.
  • Most locals work in jobs that are highly dependent on tourism. Whether this is a trap or a blessing is up for debate.
  • Hawaiians respect their land. The islands’ nature plays a major role in the cultural beliefs.
  • Community and family come first in Hawaiian culture.
  • Normally, there are 10 tourists to every 1 local – Hawaii is inundated with tourists regularly.

Yes, there’s a bit of controversy. Tension is palpable, and the presence of tourists is both wanted and unwanted for different reasons. Hawaiian tourism has become purely economic and less about cultural fellowship. With a ratio of 10 tourists to every 1 local, it’s hard even identify the true culture anymore.

Read this comment from Beat of Hawaii‘s article, How do Hawaii Residents Honestly Feel About Tourists:

I can see why the people of Hawaii don’t like tourists due to increased rents and food. They can’t even find housing for themselves anymore. Rich white people are taking over the islands with their money and I hate seeing this. I have family on Molokai and I am glad we don’t encourage visitors. The groceries are expensive and the locals can’t afford it but visitors can. How is that fair??

Linda. Sept 27, 2020. Beat of Hawaii.

At the end of the article, this statement was flawlessly written:

So respect is important and it goes both ways. Locals need to respect tourists who have made a choice to spent their hard earned money to be here and who add important dollars to our economy. Tourists must respect both Hawaiian culture and our local ways of life. When both happen, the Hawaiian rainbow shines brightly.

Published April 29, 2020. Beat of Hawaii.

I think the statement is spot on. Locals and tourists need to find a way to mutually respect each other. Hawaiians value their heritage, community, and land… therefore, so should the tourists.

Bottom line? When in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians do.

How to be a Good Tourist

Below are some easy ways to show respect and support when visiting Hawaii!

Do Local Things

  • Shop for souvenirs in locally run shops and avoid the ABC stores (which are the ever-abundant souvenir shops which also happen to sell alcohol).
  • Eat at local restaurants and hole-in-the-walls. If you’re not sure where to go, ask around. Avoid defaulting to The Cheesecake Factory or Starbucks.
  • Support local car rentals. Lucky Owl is a personal favorite.
  • Try staying at a bed and breakfast or a hostel rather than an all-inclusive resort. The profits of big hotel chains do not stay in the local economy.

Avoid Overcrowded Areas

  • Look for hikes that are off the beaten path. Research the safe ones around the island – there’s plenty.
  • Find a more remote beach.
  • Support local farmers and visit their shops and stands. Besides, there’s more to Hawaii than the Dole Factory.
  • Avoid snorkeling in the popular spots – find other (safe) areas to give the reef a break.
  • Avoid driving on the H1 during rush hour (going East in the morning and going West in the evening). It’ll save you and the locals some time because it gets pretty backed up.

Educate Yourself

Preserve the Environment

  • Don’t leave trash ANYWHERE that isn’t a designated trash can or recycling bin.
  • Don’t take any rocks, seeds, sand… nothing.
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen.
  • Look into a volunteer group that helps clean up urban and natural areas.
  • Find ways to produce less waste during your travels – here’s a list on how to do so.

Time to Change Tourism

Like nations worldwide, Hawaii needs to see a different type of tourist attitude. It needs to see tourists who are conscious of their footprint on local communities.

It’s no longer enough to just go on vacation. It’s time to be a conscious tourist who contributes to the local culture and desires to preserve it – no matter where you go.

Without this change in tourist mindset, some cultures face extinction. Who’s fault would that be but our own?

Ready to go?! Take a look at the other islands.

Here’s a list of things to see at Volcanoes National Park on Big Island just south of Hilo.

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