When asked about irresponsible tourism, most people think of the extreme and very obvious examples, such as exotic animal hunting or collecting corals as souvenirs. In reality, it’s a much broader term that includes much of what is fairly common in traveling, with negative consequences the traveler may just not know about. So, before embarking on your next Hawaiian vacation, please watch out for the following signs that your trip may not be that responsible:
Sign #1: You’re Sticking with Familiar National Brands
Are you eyeing that Starbucks for your morning cup of joe? Did you know that Hawaii prides itself on locally grown coffee (e.g., world-famous Kona coffee on the Big Island) and has many locally-owned unique little cafes? In addition, a local Hawaiian coffee shop may treat you with something you won’t find back on the mainland, like lilikoi (passionfruit) cheesecake. And are you really considering a McMuffin for breakfast in the home of the Loco Moco? And don’t get us started on going to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co instead of booking a Diamond Head Luau for dinner. Save the familiar restaurant chains for your lunch break back at home and open your taste buds to local cuisine. You’ll not only have a more memorable meal, but you’ll gain satisfaction from supporting a local business.
It is not just about trying new foods. Hawaii imports over 90% of its food. Chain restaurants tend to import the majority of their ingredients. The islands are trying very hard to revive their agriculture. If you enjoy spending time here, please consider helping us out by eating at restaurants that source their ingredients locally.
Sign #2: You’re Impacting Wildlife
In 2009 Hawaii had to ban a beloved ferry service between the islands. While travelers enjoyed whale watching during the trip, there were concerns that high-speed ferries could accidentally collide with the gentle giants. Another reason was the possibility of introducing invasive species into the fragile ecosystem of neighboring islands. In fact, there is only one interisland ferry left in Hawaii – from Maui to the island of Lanai (or you can take a full-service Lanai cruise). Here are some other examples of seemingly innocent activities that can have negative effects on wildlife:
Feeding wild animals
Feeding sea turtles that are eager to take the food may not seem like a big deal. In reality, however, sea turtles living in areas where people tend to feed them grow up to three times larger than those with a natural diet. The result of tourist generosity is multiple health problems for wild animals. Please don’t feed the sea turtles on your next Maui snorkeling cruise. In fact, please keep at least a 10-foot distance from them.
While interacting with wild animals it is often tempting to treat them like your pets, but this may be dangerous for the animals, as well as for you and your family. Did you know sea turtles have sharp beaks and strong jaws? You never know when your finger may accidentally become a menu item. Whenever wild animals are involved, please make sure to give them space and respect.
People rarely consider the effect of shark diving. After all, they are not harming the sharks, just observing them. However, in order to make sure sharks stay long enough for the tourists to observe, tour guides attract them with food. The technique is called chumming and many specialists believe this behavior-altering practice has a negative effect on the species in the long run. Instead, consider scuba diving, where you can encounter a shark without affecting its natural behavior, or go to an aquarium.
Sign #3: You Forget that Hawaii is Home for Others
Try to remember that your travel destination doesn’t exist just for vacationers, but it’s also home for the people who live there. Therefore, try to learn about the local laws, customs, and etiquette. And, where possible, consider how you could reduce the negative impact of over-tourism, an increasing issue in popular Hawaii.
Booking in the middle of the tourism season
When booking a Hawaiian vacation during the peak of the tourist season, we tend to think of only our own discomfort – more crowds, higher prices, less availability, and less attractive photos. But it also strains the communities we are visiting. Honolulu now has 18th worst traffic in the US. Even the underpopulated Kauai now faces traffic that its infrastructure cannot handle. Developing infrastructure is affecting the serenity and the picturesqueness of the islands, the very same reason tourists love it. What you can do is visit during the off-peak periods, such as April & May and September through mid-December. You will not only benefit from fewer crowds and lower prices but also from the satisfaction of not taxing the islands during peak periods. If more travelers were spread out, less tourism infrastructure would be needed, and the environment could absorb the impact better.
Breaking the Rules
Most points of interest display signs that establish rules for the safety of tourists and for the preservation of the destination itself. When we disregard these signs, we are not just putting ourselves in danger. Should anything happen to us, it not only puts the rescue personnel at risk, but it can also lead to future restrictions that would prevent others from fully enjoying the location. So enjoy the numerous hikes, like the Diamond Head Hike, but please obey the rules about approaching cliffs and, most definitely, do not swim in Queen’s Bath on Kauai or Olivine Pools on Maui.
Just Consuming, Not Learning
When traveling to places with a different culture, it is very helpful to familiarize yourself with your destination. Do a quick Wikipedia search, get the basic facts, maybe learn a bit of history. People are always proud of their culture and history, so you will receive the warmest welcome (and perhaps some extra discounts 😉 ) if you demonstrate your knowledge. Consider our small group tours to spend the day with a local and truly understand the places you are seeing, whether the Road to Hana, Circling Oahu, or the Big Island’s active volcano. While traveling, we also should remember that we are representing our own community, state, country, religion, and culture, all of which will be judged based on our actions.
We hope you will fully consider the consequences of your choices and actions on your trip and become a responsible tourist. Not only will the Hawaiian people and wildlife be better off, but you should feel like you’ve developed a closer connection to this special place.
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