1.7 Sustainability Co-Design: Hawaii Tourism Authority

This case study will provide you with examples of how destinations can protect their cultural and natural heritage while taking into consideration the well-being of locals.

Through this case study, you'll be able to gain an overview of Hawaii's new strategic plan, which has been developed taking into consideration the input of locals and different sectors.

Involving Natives and Locals in Protecting Cultural and Natural Heritage

Through this case study, you'll be able to gain an overview of Hawaii's new strategic plan, which has been developed taking into consideration the input of locals and different sectors. In addition, you'll be able to understand the importance of allowing natives to raise their opinions on the destination's sustainable development.

Main Takeaways from this Case Study

  • Educating travellers on the destination can have considerable positive effects on its ecosystems.
  • Giving voice to locals and natives during the strategic development of the destination can uncover problems that hadn't been previously identified.
  • Involving all different stakeholders that play a role in the destination's development is key to achieving goals at a larger scale.

Summary

Hawaii is rethinking tourism to offer a more sustainable and less "colonial" experience for travellers.

John De Fries, born and raised in Hawaii, was appointed president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority in September 2020, when coronavirus shutdowns had the state’s economy reeling but the community and environment thriving. In 2019, the state of 1.5 million people hosted a record 10.4 million visitors - unsustainable figures that had residents feeling sour. Though tourism netted $2.07 billion in tax revenue that year, Hawaiians lamented its effects on traffic, beaches and the cost of living.

For locals, the quietude of 2020 “was somewhat euphoric,” says De Fries. “It felt like we got our islands back.”

But that wasn’t sustainable either. Nor was the boom that happened in July, when visitor arrivals exceeded their 2019 level by 21% despite strict Covid-19 testing protocols, mask mandates, capacity restrictions and staff shortages. Rental cars became so scarce that U-Hauls were found in beach parking lots; resorts jacked up rates, with average stays at hotels in Maui of $596 a night in August; new taxes were sought, and vacation-starved visitors didn’t flinch.

What comes next is a radically transformed experience for visitors - and locals -hopefully, in a good way. For the first time, Hawaii’s tourism authority is majority-run by Hawaiian natives. With the input of locals, who range from farmers to hotel owners, each of Hawaii’s four counties has created a strategic plan that stretches into 2025 and focuses on sustainable destination management rather than marketing.

You’ll Need a Reservation to Visit Popular Natural Attractions

The new system, which covers roughly a dozen of Hawaii’s most visited parks, is meant to curb traffic in local communities and tread more lightly on natural resources. Parking and entry fees for non-residents will also help to better maintain the sites.

For example, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Oahu is a marine area that had been seeing 3,000 daily visitors before the pandemic. New measures there cap entries at 720 visitors a day and hikes fees from $5 to $25 for non-residents. Before entering the water, everyone is required to watch a 9-minute educational video that talks about coral regeneration and marine life, and the park is closed two days a week to let the ecosystem rest.

The Outrigger Hospitality Group, which operates nearly two dozen properties across Hawaii, calls this the future of sustainable tourism. “The water is cleaner, visitors are educated, and the revenues help manage the bay,” he says. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

You’ll Have to Get a Crash Course on Being a Good Tourist

The informational video at Hanauma Bay is just one example of how the state is trying to stoke cultural and environmental awareness among visitors. For example, Hawaiian Airlines started airing a five-minute video reminding guests to only use reef-safe sunscreen, keep distance from endangered animals such as monk seals, and be cautious of rip currents and shore breaks in the ocean.

Meanwhile, the Hana-Maui Resort has removed all former amenities like towels and lounge service at nearby Hamoa Beach, home to a sacred Hawaiian burial place. They'll reinstate them only if the site can be properly honoured with guidance from local kupuna, or elders, he says. They are also explaining its deep cultural significance to tourists and recognising their responsibility to educate them.

You May Be Charged a Conservation Fee on Arrival

Currently, Oahu is lobbying for the establishment of a regenerative tourism fee that would apply to all arriving tourists and directly support conservation and environmental management programs. The state seems keen on approval, given that it cannot spend more than 1% of its annual operating budget on natural resource management.

You’ll See a Less Colonial Version of Hawaiian Culture

In the past, tourism fed into the stories marketing executives thought White people wanted to hear. Hawaiian food was pineapple pizza and spam; a luau was just about girls dancing in grass skirts. Now, chefs are proudly incorporating native Hawaiian ingredients such as ulu, or breadfruit, into dishes, and luaus have become historical lessons about the Polynesian migration to Hawaii just as much as they are entertainment.

Those luaus, for instance, won’t include grass skirts - a costume that was introduced by 19th-century missionaries as a more modest alternative to traditional skirts and loincloths made of Kapa, or bark cloth.

You’ll also see this change when you receive a lei upon arrival. Now they will be made from locally grown flowers instead of orchids, which are imported from Southeast Asia at high financial and environmental costs and have been used for decades only because White mainlanders found them pleasing.

At the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, local florist Lauren Shearer, owner of Hawaii Flora + Fauna, teaches visitors how to make garlands from foraged native fauna such as blue jade, crown flower, and ferns, while explaining their historical meaning.

At the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria property on Maui, cultural ambassador Kalei 'Uwēko'olani goes beyond offering outrigger canoe paddles and brings in storytellers such as navigator Kala Baybayan Tanaka to share tales of her father’s historic, technology-free Hokulea canoe crossing from Hawaii to Tahiti.

You’ll Be Encouraged to Give Back

Last November, the Hawaii Tourism Authority launched a campaign in conjunction with Hawaii Tourism USA (formerly the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau) to introduce the concept of Malama or caring for the land. “Everyone relates to aloha,” says De Fries. “Malama is emerging as its sister value.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority explained that programmes like Malama are helping them target more mindful travellers. Since its initiation, the programme has grown from having 16 hotel and airline partners to today’s 110, which have all committed to rewarding guests with a free night’s stay if they spend a day helping to clean beaches or reforest the land.

Through this case study, you'll be able to gain an overview of Hawaii's new strategic plan, which has been developed taking into consideration the input of locals and different sectors.

Involving Natives and Locals in Protecting Cultural and Natural Heritage

Through this case study, you'll be able to gain an overview of Hawaii's new strategic plan, which has been developed taking into consideration the input of locals and different sectors. In addition, you'll be able to understand the importance of allowing natives to raise their opinions on the destination's sustainable development.

Main Takeaways from this Case Study

  • Educating travellers on the destination can have considerable positive effects on its ecosystems.
  • Giving voice to locals and natives during the strategic development of the destination can uncover problems that hadn't been previously identified.
  • Involving all different stakeholders that play a role in the destination's development is key to achieving goals at a larger scale.

Summary

Hawaii is rethinking tourism to offer a more sustainable and less "colonial" experience for travellers.

John De Fries, born and raised in Hawaii, was appointed president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority in September 2020, when coronavirus shutdowns had the state’s economy reeling but the community and environment thriving. In 2019, the state of 1.5 million people hosted a record 10.4 million visitors - unsustainable figures that had residents feeling sour. Though tourism netted $2.07 billion in tax revenue that year, Hawaiians lamented its effects on traffic, beaches and the cost of living.

For locals, the quietude of 2020 “was somewhat euphoric,” says De Fries. “It felt like we got our islands back.”

But that wasn’t sustainable either. Nor was the boom that happened in July, when visitor arrivals exceeded their 2019 level by 21% despite strict Covid-19 testing protocols, mask mandates, capacity restrictions and staff shortages. Rental cars became so scarce that U-Hauls were found in beach parking lots; resorts jacked up rates, with average stays at hotels in Maui of $596 a night in August; new taxes were sought, and vacation-starved visitors didn’t flinch.

What comes next is a radically transformed experience for visitors - and locals -hopefully, in a good way. For the first time, Hawaii’s tourism authority is majority-run by Hawaiian natives. With the input of locals, who range from farmers to hotel owners, each of Hawaii’s four counties has created a strategic plan that stretches into 2025 and focuses on sustainable destination management rather than marketing.

You’ll Need a Reservation to Visit Popular Natural Attractions

The new system, which covers roughly a dozen of Hawaii’s most visited parks, is meant to curb traffic in local communities and tread more lightly on natural resources. Parking and entry fees for non-residents will also help to better maintain the sites.

For example, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Oahu is a marine area that had been seeing 3,000 daily visitors before the pandemic. New measures there cap entries at 720 visitors a day and hikes fees from $5 to $25 for non-residents. Before entering the water, everyone is required to watch a 9-minute educational video that talks about coral regeneration and marine life, and the park is closed two days a week to let the ecosystem rest.

The Outrigger Hospitality Group, which operates nearly two dozen properties across Hawaii, calls this the future of sustainable tourism. “The water is cleaner, visitors are educated, and the revenues help manage the bay,” he says. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

You’ll Have to Get a Crash Course on Being a Good Tourist

The informational video at Hanauma Bay is just one example of how the state is trying to stoke cultural and environmental awareness among visitors. For example, Hawaiian Airlines started airing a five-minute video reminding guests to only use reef-safe sunscreen, keep distance from endangered animals such as monk seals, and be cautious of rip currents and shore breaks in the ocean.

Meanwhile, the Hana-Maui Resort has removed all former amenities like towels and lounge service at nearby Hamoa Beach, home to a sacred Hawaiian burial place. They'll reinstate them only if the site can be properly honoured with guidance from local kupuna, or elders, he says. They are also explaining its deep cultural significance to tourists and recognising their responsibility to educate them.

You May Be Charged a Conservation Fee on Arrival

Currently, Oahu is lobbying for the establishment of a regenerative tourism fee that would apply to all arriving tourists and directly support conservation and environmental management programs. The state seems keen on approval, given that it cannot spend more than 1% of its annual operating budget on natural resource management.

You’ll See a Less Colonial Version of Hawaiian Culture

In the past, tourism fed into the stories marketing executives thought White people wanted to hear. Hawaiian food was pineapple pizza and spam; a luau was just about girls dancing in grass skirts. Now, chefs are proudly incorporating native Hawaiian ingredients such as ulu, or breadfruit, into dishes, and luaus have become historical lessons about the Polynesian migration to Hawaii just as much as they are entertainment.

Those luaus, for instance, won’t include grass skirts - a costume that was introduced by 19th-century missionaries as a more modest alternative to traditional skirts and loincloths made of Kapa, or bark cloth.

You’ll also see this change when you receive a lei upon arrival. Now they will be made from locally grown flowers instead of orchids, which are imported from Southeast Asia at high financial and environmental costs and have been used for decades only because White mainlanders found them pleasing.

At the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, local florist Lauren Shearer, owner of Hawaii Flora + Fauna, teaches visitors how to make garlands from foraged native fauna such as blue jade, crown flower, and ferns, while explaining their historical meaning.

At the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria property on Maui, cultural ambassador Kalei 'Uwēko'olani goes beyond offering outrigger canoe paddles and brings in storytellers such as navigator Kala Baybayan Tanaka to share tales of her father’s historic, technology-free Hokulea canoe crossing from Hawaii to Tahiti.

You’ll Be Encouraged to Give Back

Last November, the Hawaii Tourism Authority launched a campaign in conjunction with Hawaii Tourism USA (formerly the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau) to introduce the concept of Malama or caring for the land. “Everyone relates to aloha,” says De Fries. “Malama is emerging as its sister value.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority explained that programmes like Malama are helping them target more mindful travellers. Since its initiation, the programme has grown from having 16 hotel and airline partners to today’s 110, which have all committed to rewarding guests with a free night’s stay if they spend a day helping to clean beaches or reforest the land.