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Traveling to Hawaii - Responsible Tourism

Traveling to Hawaii - Responsible Tourism

Written by Jenni Liu, Sales & Events Coordinator

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What comes to mind when you think of vacationing in Hawaii? It probably looks something like: hula dancers, luaus, surfing, and tropical drinks with umbrellas. And it’s true that you can see all of those things when you come here! But beyond the typical tourist experiences, there is a wealth of cultural events that may be explored. More and more, travelers are aware of how they may affect their destination, whether it is a third-world country or a developed region.

Responsible Tourism is a thriving trend for many, and travelers to Hawaii are no exception. Even the phrase “Responsible Tourism” can mean several things: environmental responsibility (popularly known as “green,” “sustainable,” or “eco-” tourism), cultural responsibility (awareness of and respect for the host culture), or the simple act of leaving a positive impact on the local culture and environment in some way. Keep reading for some suggestions on being a mindful traveler, wherever you go!

Ecotourism

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Ecotourism is becoming one of the most sought-after facets of tourism, especially by many millenials who prefer to plan their travels based on impactful, curated experiences rather than cookie-cutter tour groups. Ecotourists look for activities that allow them to give back to the native environment, such as through organized cleanups, farm tours, or environmental education. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) offers a comprehensive resource through their Go Hawaii site, where you can explore all the different programs offered around the islands. Here are a few other resources you can explore to help you become an eco-tourist:

This past March, Tiki’s partnered with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii for a cleanup of Diamond Head Beach Park.

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In addition to Tiki’s-affiliated volunteers, the group was joined by three travelers from Germany who learned about the event through Sustainable Coastlines. The organization posts information about upcoming opportunities on their site and social media channels so it’s easy to plan your itinerary around their scheduled activities. Sustainable Coastlines is dedicated to inspiring “better consumer behaviors and continued coastal stewardship” in order to preserve our islands’ iconic beaches and ecosystem.

*You can also learn some easy tips for being ocean-friendly in this short video about Ocean Conservation from the HVCB’s “Oahu Travel Tips” series.

Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore of Oahu, in the sleepy town of Laie, offers a variety of experiences, including the opportunity to plant a tree in their Hawaiian Legacy Forest.

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You can book as small or large groups, including full-scale corporate retreats, and they even incorporate experiences such as horseback riding and off-road vehicles.

Another fun and easy way to support local farms and farmers is by visiting one of Oahu’s many farmer’s markets located on all sides of the island!

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The Go Hawaii link above lists a few, and there are many other smaller gems you can find just by asking a local.

Cultural Responsibility

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People may remember the iconic Brady Bunch episodes where they visit Hawaii and get “cursed” by taking a tabu tiki icon from its resting site: among other incidents, Greg Brady famously “wipes out” while surfing at Queen’s Beach (there’s even a popular cocktail named after it that used to be served at Tiki’s!), Alice hurts her back during a hula lesson, and there are several near misses with a tarantula (an arachnid not even found on Hawaii). While slightly misguided, the episodes did serve as a humorous lesson in respecting a native culture.

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Here are some places that are doing cultural the right way:

Manoa Heritage Center was borne out of one family’s long-term commitment to being the cultural stewards of their land.

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Currently, their main focus is on educating Keiki (children) and being a community hub, and they also offer opportunities to tend to their extensive garden of native flora, allowing volunteers to get their hands in the ʻāina (earth) and learn more about these endemic plants. Reach out to them directly to learn how to help!

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 and has a long history of cultural preservation.

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Their mission statement sums up their calling: “Bishop Museum inspires our community and visitors through the exploration, celebration, and perpetuation of the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.” It’s currently the largest museum in the state. In addition to exploring the museum at one’s own pace, visitors can enjoy scheduled special events and activities.

You can learn more about preserving Hawaiian Culture from the HVCB’s “Oahu Travel Tips” series. Their Go Hawaii site also features a section about Culture, including a brief overview, the history of the islands, and information about Hawaiian traditions and native practices.

Leaving a Positive Imprint

No matter where you might travel to, there will always be volunteer opportunities and ways to give back to the local community. Here are a couple of organizations that welcome participants. Always plan in advance and check out their calendars to see what opportunities would be the best fit while you’re in town!

The Hawaii Foodbank offers plenty of volunteer and outreach opportunities, even for those traveling from out of town.

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Whether it is through Warehouse Support, Program Support, Special Events Support, or Seasonal Community Events Support, the Foodbank relies on the goodwill of volunteers in the community to help them fulfill their mission of “no family goes hungry.” If you’d like to help Hawaii’s less fortunate ‘ohana while you’re here, there is a volunteer application process, and any volunteers ages 8-15 are required to volunteer with an adult 18 or older.

Honolulu Habitat for Humanity offers more than just building homes: they also offer classes for personal finances, home maintenance, and other homeownership topics. Families who qualify for their programs put in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” and assist with building not only their own homes but also the homes of others in the program.

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Volunteers are welcome to assist at a build site, at their Honolulu ReStore shop, or even at their office. You can find out more by checking out their site; volunteer opportunities require orientation and safety videos, and volunteers must register in advance,

Last but not least, travel2change is a great non-profit organization that connects travelers to eco-friendly and cultural activities around all islands.

As you can see, being a responsible tourist can mean many things, but simply put, there’s no reason not to do it! It’s a totally different way to experience a culture, and responsible travelers can feel a sense of pride in contributing to their destination and thus creating a stronger bond with that location. Not only that, travelers can also take that momentum and positive spirit back to their own hometowns and perhaps see familiar surroundings in a new light, and be inspired to practice responsible tourism right in their own backyards.