Responsible Tourism: Tips to Be a Respectful Traveler in Hawai’i

Hawai’i has a tourism fatigue. Just over 9 million tourists will visit the Aloha State in 2022. This is just a few thousand short of the peak number for 2019.

Hawai’i is a popular destination for tourists, but it’s also home to over one million people who live and work there. Tourism is an important driver of the state’s economic growth, but it can also negatively impact the quality of living for residents and other travelers.

Unfortunately, vacationers tend to develop tunnel vision as soon as they leave their home. They tend to abandon some social conventions that they would normally follow at home because they are so focused on having a great time.

Travelers can become their worst selves when they are in a new place. They may be surrounded by people they don’t know, or they might enjoy the pleasures of a culture they do not care about.

They often disregard courtesy when they are stressed by travel or unfamiliarity. In their desire to maximize their enjoyment and get the most out of the trip, they put their money at risk.

When visiting Hawai’i, here are some things to remember.

Take local cues
Locals (also known as “residents”) are responsible for their community, which includes the land they live on. Listen to locals who warn you against taking a particular path or tell you that the land is private or that swimming in the surf would be dangerous. They usually give advice out of genuine compassion or concern, whether it’s for the environment, animals, your safety or cultural sensibility. Remember that even if they have doubts about their intentions, you are still in their territory.

Abandonment of Entitlement
Everyone knows that a trip is Hawai’i will not be cheap. It’s expensive. It’s expensive. Planning is required. Resist the urge to see the state as one giant mega-resort, where everyone has a similar interest in your experience. Locals go to the state for their own reasons. Locals have their own lives to live, and they are just as frustrated or mundane as anyone else.

Someone else’s vacation fantasy can be very harsh. Hawai’i’s reality is often quite harsh. Some Native Hawaiians have left Hawai’i to live on the Mainland because of high housing costs. The grocery stores devote aisles to souvenir candies and boogie-boards instead of breakfast cereal, and to premium cuts of meat demanded by tourists vacation budgets in place of hamburgers.

Refrain from complaining about the high price. They know. Do not say things that are insensitive, such as “I would sleep on the beach here if I could” because Hawai’i has a large unhoused population that can be arrested if they do. Do not complain about traffic. Tourism is a major part of it.

Do not leave offerings
Some well-meaning people have left items wrapped in ti leaf or stacked stones at heiau or other sacred or revered sites (known as wahi pan in Hawaiian).

Before European contact, Hawaiian religious practices were very complex. The Kahuna or priests were highly-trained artisans who oversaw the religious protocol. Activities outside of the boundaries was considered a affront.

Visitors who don’t understand Hawaiian culture and practices are defiling the island. The offering is meaningless trash that local authorities will have to deal with. So, enjoy the place but leave nothing behind.

Sunscreen: Be Smart about It
Some ingredients that were historically used in sunscreens may harm sea life. The sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate is prohibited in Hawai’i. Other sunscreens outside of the state have also largely eliminated them, but check ingredients before packing sunscreen.

It is best to purchase reef-safe sunscreens when you are in Hawaii, as certain sunscreen ingredients which have not been banned yet can still harm aquatic environments.

Avoid spraying sunscreen in or near the ocean. Instead, spray into your palm and apply by hand. Spray into your palms and then apply with your hands. A rashguard with SPF is a better alternative to sunscreen when it comes to reducing the amount of sunscreen in the ocean.

Keep a safe distance from wildlife
Hawaii has laws that prohibit certain activities when it comes to marine life. Boats and swimmers are required to stay 100 yards away from humpbacks. Hawaiian Monk Seals are protected by a 50-foot distance. However, mothers and pups need 150-feet of space because they can abandon their pups when stressed. Spinner dolphins require a 50-yard radius.

In Hawai’i, visitors should not feed, pet, or harass wildlife. If they see sea life in distress on Hawai’i’s shores, visitors can contact the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 1-888 256 9840.

Avoid taking unnecessary risks
Visitors to Hawaii often come for ocean or hiking activities but are not familiar with the terrain. Every year, local emergency services are called to rescue hikers and swimming enthusiasts who get into trouble.

Remember that most visitors are unfamiliar with the terrain and should therefore take more precautions when they travel than they would at home. Check that the trail is open to visitors. Some require an access permit. Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen and water. Feeling tired or overheated? Turn around.

Ocean activities are no different. The rip currents, strong undertow and other hazards make many of the most beautiful and famous beaches in the state dangerous for swimmers. Some beaches are affected by the season or conditions.

During the hours that the lifeguard station is open, visitors should stay away from beaches without lifeguards. Locals, who have grown up around these waters, can assess the risks accurately. Visitors, even frequent ones, are not as well equipped to assess the conditions. They should be extra cautious.

It is costly for the state to provide rescue services on Hawai’i’s beaches and trails. This also depletes emergency resources in localities. The emergency personnel who rescue foolish tourists are not available to treat local elders with chest pains, or to educate schoolchildren about first aid.

As a visitor, it doesn’t take a lot to reduce your carbon footprint. Locals are taught that it is their responsibility to malama care for their communities, their land, and their ocean for future generations. Visitors should also show the same respect.

The author acknowledges the importance Hawaiian language diacritical markings such as kahako, but may have omitted some for compatibility with web browsers.






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