Hawai'i Doesn't Want Visitors Right Now, or Ever. Here's Why.
Ever wondered why there are so few native Hawaiians working in the tourism & hospitality industry?
It is not necessarily accurate to say that all Native Hawaiians & locals dislike tourists. Although most don't. Many Native Hawaiians work in the tourism industry & rely on it for their livelihoods. But, more commonly, people find that there are less and less Native Hawaiians willing to work in the tourism and hospitality industry. There are Native Hawaiians & other residents of Hawai'i who have valid concerns about the impact of tourism on the islands.
The narrative that "natives welcomed us" often propagated by some individuals can be traced back to the colonial history that has shaped the tourism industry in Hawai'i. This perspective tends to overlook the nuances of the local population's feelings towards tourism and the historical injustices they have faced. It can inadvertently perpetuate a colonizer savior mentality, where outsiders believe they are benevolently embraced by indigenous communities. However, such a viewpoint oversimplifies the complex relationship between native Hawaiians and the impact of tourism.
The reduction of tourism in 2020 allowed Hawaii's natural resources, such as beaches and coral reefs, to recover from the impacts of over-tourism. However, the heavy reliance on social media has led to an influx of visitors seeking the same popular spots, resulting in overcrowding and environmental degradation. The excessive use of social media to promote tourism has also perpetuated stereotypes and cultural appropriation, leading to tensions between local communities and tourists. The main reasons you shouldn't visit Hawai'i are:
- Cultural Appropriation: Hawaii has a rich & unique culture, & some tourists may not show proper respect for it. For example, some tourists may wear sacred Hawaiian symbols, such as the hula skirt, as a costume without understanding the cultural significance behind them. This may not entirely be a visitor's fault as many companies and organizations promote a warped view of "Hawaiian Culture." Often this is done to promote their financial interests and feed into a visitor's ideation of an accommodating paradise. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to more confusion about Hawaiian culture and lead to a lack of respect.
- Disrespect for the environment: Hawaii is known for its beautiful natural environment and animals that can be found nowhere else on the planet. But, the increase in tourism has resulted in problems such as overcrowding, littering, an overextension of our rescue and emergency resources & damage to the fragile ecosystem. Some Native Hawaiians may feel that tourists do not show enough respect for the environment. We've seen too many viral videos of disrespectful visitors coming too close to wildlife & we've had enough.
- Disrespect for locals: Visitors act rudely or disrespectfully towards locals, which can be seen as a lack of respect for the Native Hawaiian culture & people. They go viral for harassing critically endangered monk seals. They step on sacred burial grounds to get a better view of a sunset & steal the lava rocks when they leave. They take the wrong way on illegal hikes - putting local first responders in danger & wasting already strained resources by needing to get rescued. After devastating fires that killed hundreds on Maui, they board snorkeling tours & swim around in waters where people died 24 hours earlier. They spray non-reef safe aerosol sunscreen all over the beach. They feel entitled to their "expensive vacation" & don't tip on their tours or restaurant outings. They bring their mustang convertible road rage driving to our already overcrowded streets & roll their rental cars into our harbors. They demand refunds for the weather being rainy when nature doesn't look like postcards. They try to sue hotels for beach recommendations when their own lack of swimming abilities put them in danger. Many unknowingly contribute to modern day colonization by moving to the islands & have the audacity to ask for a kama'aina discount at local businesses, meanwhile they can't even pronounce the word "kama'aina". And after all of that, tourists & transplants have the gall to ask "where's your 'Aloha Spirit'?", a phrase that has been taken from its native origins & transformed into a popular marketing tool to propel the tourism industry by promoting a welcoming & friendly atmosphere in nature, hotels, stores, & restaurants. They don't like hearing that they aren't wanted, & leave hate comments on blog posts written by Hawaiians.
- Economic disparities: While tourism can bring in revenue to the islands, there are concerns that it can also create economic disparities, with tourists benefiting more than locals. Some Native Hawaiians may feel that the tourism industry has not done enough to address these disparities. To make matters worse, more and more natives are getting priced out of their homes from foreign or out-of-state investors and corporations. Many visitors feel that they are helping the economy because of the money that they spend. However, the majority of businesses serving visitors are not owned by indigenous people of the islands.
- Corruption & Hawaiian Identity: It's crucial to acknowledge the deep-rooted issues that go beyond surface-level interactions in Hawai'i. The concept of blood quantum, often used to define Native Hawaiian identity, is inherently discriminatory & serves as a reminder of the historical injustices faced by indigenous communities. Furthermore, the mismanagement of tourism revenue by certain politicians has exacerbated the divide, perpetuating a cycle where the Kānaka Maoli population sees little benefit from the influx of visitors. It's imperative to recognize these systemic issues & strive for a more equitable distribution of resources that respects the dignity & heritage of Native Hawaiians, ensuring that the proper reparations are paid for their land being stolen.
- There Are Other Options: While tourism is a prevalent industry in various parts of the world, it's important to recognize that the impact of tourism on different communities can vary significantly. For instance, comparing tourism in destinations like San Diego or Nantucket to Hawai'i in 2023 requires acknowledging the distinct historical and cultural contexts. In many cases, the tourism industry in these contiguous U.S. cities does not carry the same weight of colonization and displacement as seen in Hawai'i. Hawai'i's indigenous population has faced generations of colonialism, land loss, and cultural suppression, which can intensify the consequences of tourism-related development.
It is important to note that these concerns are not universal, & some Native Hawaiians welcome tourists who show respect for the culture and environment of the islands. Although due to the behavior of the majority of tourists, it's fair to say that most indigenous people of Hawai'i do not welcome tourists. Quite the opposite of welcoming, they wait at the airport with "Go Home" signs. They plead all over social media for visitors not to come. Aside from your next visit not being welcome by the natives (which should be enough), here are some other reasons to dissuade you from hopping on the plane:
- Cost: Hawaii is one of the most expensive states in the US to visit, & the cost of flights, rental cars, accommodations, and activities can add up quickly. If you're traveling on a budget, you may find it difficult to justify the expense.
- Crowds: Hawaii is a popular tourist destination, & many of its attractions can get crowded, particularly during peak season. If you prefer a more secluded or peaceful vacation, Hawaii may not be the best choice. Additionally, legal short-term rental accommodations are often only allowed in certain zones such as Waikiki or the Ko'olina area. If you wanted to stay somewhere local, you won't find those options in Hawai'i.
- Distance: Hawaii is quite far from many parts of the world, and the travel time can be long and tiring. If you don't enjoy long flights or have limited vacation time, you may want to choose a destination that is closer to home.
- Weather: While Hawaii is known for its warm and sunny climate, it can also be subject to hurricanes, heavy rain, and other extreme weather events. If the only time you can travel is in the winter, you may have heavy rains during your entire stay here. Additionally, if you're traveling during hurricane season, you may want to consider other destinations. Even in the summer, the weather changes every five minutes & you could be subject to rainstorms for your entire trip even if the forecast predicts sunshine.
- Environmental impact: Hawaii is a fragile ecosystem, and its delicate environment can be easily disrupted by large numbers of visitors. If you're concerned about your carbon footprint or the impact of tourism on the environment, you may want to choose a more sustainable travel destination. For instance, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat, over 85% of the food consumed on the islands must be imported.
The best way to help Native Hawaiians is from a distance. You are not helping by visiting. Here are some of our favorite charities & organizations that you can contribute to instead of coming to Hawai'i. There are many reputable Hawaiian charities and organizations that are dedicated to supporting various causes throughout the islands.
Hawaii Community Foundation: The Hawaii Community Foundation is a philanthropic organization that supports a wide range of causes throughout Hawaii, including education, the environment, health, and the arts. They work with donors to create customized giving plans and provide grants to organizations that are working to improve the lives of people in Hawaii.
Malama Maunalua: Malama Maunalua is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring and preserving the health of the Maunalua Bay in Oahu. They work to remove invasive species, replant native plants, and educate the community about the importance of protecting the bay.
Hawaiian Humane Society: The Hawaiian Humane Society is an animal welfare organization that provides a range of services, including animal sheltering, pet adoption, and animal welfare education. They are committed to protecting and improving the lives of animals in Hawaii.
The Aloha United Way: The Aloha United Way is a nonprofit organization that brings together community resources and supports a range of causes throughout Hawaii, including education, financial stability, and health. They work with local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to create positive change in the community.
Kupu Hawaii: Kupu Hawaii is a nonprofit organization that works to empower youth and communities in Hawaii through environmental conservation and sustainability, green jobs training, and education. They provide training and employment opportunities for young people and support initiatives to protect and restore Hawaii's natural resources.
- Aina Momona: ‘Āina Momona, which translates to "fertile or rich land" in Hawaiian, stands as a passionate community initiative focused on fostering environmental health and sustainability while advocating for social justice and Hawaiian sovereignty. Anchored at the heart of this endeavor is the Keawanui Fishpond and Cultural Learning Center, nestled within the Kaʻamola ahupua'a of Molokaʻi. This site encompasses the expansive Keawanui Fishpond, a 55-acre loko kuapā (enclosed wall fishpond) that graces the island's southern shore. In days past, this area thrived with numerous loko iʻa, encapsulating the heritage of an abundant aquatic ecosystem. If you wish to support their vital efforts, consider making a donation to ‘Āina Momona and contribute to the preservation of this remarkable cultural and environmental legacy.
These are just a few examples of the many reputable charities and organizations that are working to improve the lives of people in Hawaii. Before donating, it is important to do your own research to ensure that your money is going to a legitimate and effective organization.
The native people of Hawaii, and other colonized places, have a right to express their concerns about the impact of tourism and colonization on their cultures, traditions, and communities. As responsible travelers, it's important to listen to and respect the perspectives and wishes of those who call a place home, and to approach travel and tourism with sensitivity, awareness, and humility. Travel can be a way to learn, connect, and broaden our perspectives, but it's important to do so in a way that does not exploit or harm the places and people we visit. Currently, visitors cause more harm to the Native people of Hawai'i than good by visiting.
While Hawaii is a beautiful destination with much to offer visitors, it's important to consider the impact of tourism on the islands' delicate ecosystems, cultures, and communities. As a responsible traveler, it's important to be mindful of the resources you use, the waste you generate, and the ways in which you can support local businesses and communities. By taking the time to educate yourself on the history and culture of Hawaii, respecting the environment and its inhabitants, and supporting sustainable tourism practices, you can have a more meaningful and respectful experience while contributing to the long-term health and well-being of the islands. It is the opinion of the majority of Native Hawaiians in Hawai'i that tourism needs Hawai'i more than Hawai'i needs tourism. Mahalo for listening to us, please DO NOT COME!
This blog post represents the informed perspectives of multiple authors, each with backgrounds as Native Hawaiians and individuals from marginalized communities who have deep roots in Hawai'i. Its intention is to provide valuable educational insights for those seeking to understand the nuanced reasons behind potential reservations Native Hawaiians have toward your next Hawai'i vacation. Should any aspect of the content raise concerns, we encourage a conversation, recognizing that differing opinions contribute to meaningful discussions. Our aim is to foster a respectful exchange of ideas and insights. We invite open and constructive dialogue; recognizing that varying viewpoints contribute to robust discussions. However, we must assert that if any content sparks disagreement, it's imperative to reflect on whether one's perspective aligns with the entitlement often associated with the visitors we discuss.