HONOLULU (AP) — As people flock to Hawaii after more than a year of pandemic travel restrictions, some industry experts are calling for more eco-friendly and sustainable forms of tourism.
Crowded neighborhoods, highways and beaches have renewed calls for changes in the tourism industry, Hawaii Public Radio reported Wednesday.
Hawaii in 2019 saw a record 10.4 million visitors. Travel to the islands was almost non-existent for much of 2020 as coronavirus quarantine rules and travel restrictions were put in place. Now, daily arrivals are rapidly approaching those known before the pandemic.
John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said caring for Hawaii’s communities and lands should be an important part of the hospitality industry’s business model.
“Unless we are clear about who we are, our responsibilities, taking care of our aina, taking care of our kai, taking care of our children and our communities – unless we turn this into a new model of tourism , we will not be able to successfully compete,” said De Fries, “and we will not be able to maintain the trust of our communities that this industry, in fact, can benefit our quality of life. Aina means land in Hawaiian and kai means sea.
Pauline Sheldon, a professor and former dean of the University of Hawaii’s School of Travel Industry Management, said “regenerative tourism” – a model she studied in Canada and New Zealand – could be a way forward.
“It is very important that we stop seeing tourism as an industry. It’s a system that’s intertwined with other living systems – food systems, health systems, medical systems, transportation systems,” Sheldon said, “and so if we think of it as a system connected to other networks , then we make very different decisions than if we were only thinking about an industry.
Tourism officials highlighted a sustainable agenda in a recent ad campaign titled malama hawaii. Malama is a Hawaiian word meaning to give back, care for, preserve or protect.
Kainoa Daines, director of culture and product development at the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, said some hotels are now offering incentives such as free nights or meals if tourists give back to the community.
That could mean working in a taro root patch or restoring a Hawaiian fishpond, Daines said, acknowledging such activities aren’t for everyone.
“Once again, the message we convey through Malama (Hawaii) invites our visitor to come to Hawaii. Join the community, be part of the effort to keep this place beautiful so your grandkids can come visit and my grandkids can live here in their home,” Daines said.
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