In pre-pandemic days, over 10 million people would arrive annually to enjoy the Hawaiian Islands. That’s quite a bit of people, considering that the state’s population is about 1.4 million. The impact of the high number of tourists hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Over a century, Hawaii has welcomed many visitors by embracing them with warmth and aloha,” Diana Su, the senior marketing manager of Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa who was raised in Honolulu, said. “However, over decades, the amount of visitors have increased and started depleting the state of its natural resources, damaging the delicate environment, and affecting traditional practices and rituals.”
About two-thirds of Hawaii residents think their “island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people,” a number that has held steady for about five years, according to a 2022 state-sponsored survey asking residents about their sentiment toward tourism. They point out overcrowding, damage to the environment, higher costs and more traffic.
At the same time, tourism is a pillar of Hawaii’s economy – in fact, it represents a quarter of it, thanks to the jobs it creates in the hospitality industry and visitor spending.
It can be a tricky balancing act for people who want to visit Hawaii while minimizing any negative impact on the islands because for so long, people have treated it as their paradisiacal playground. The best people to turn to for advice on this are undeniably the ones who live in Hawaii: locals.
Read below to read Hawaii locals wish tourists would stop doing while visiting the islands:
1. Don’t be clueless
Su urges people to know their stuff before departing on their trip, so take some time and learn more about Hawaii.
“Avoid coming to Hawaii without doing some research first,” she said. It’s important to know how to “avoid disrespecting sacred sites and respect boundaries and kapu (off-limit) areas.”
Take the time to learn about the companies you’re hiring for excursions or tours to make sure they support the community and environment. Making educated choices on where to spend your money and what is considered respectful or disrespectful will make your trip to Hawaii that much better.
DON’T BE THAT TOURIST:Here’s how to respectfully visit Hawaii, have an authentic trip
2. Don’t take anything, ever
Many visitors to Hawaii take sand, coral or lava rocks from its national parks as memorabilia of their trip to Hawaii. According to Jin Prugsawan Harlow, chief of interpretation, education and volunteers as well as public information officer for Haleakala National Park, taking items from national parks is not only illegal, it’s also culturally inappropriate.
Hawaiians view Haleakala as their ancestor, Harlow said, so taking something from the park is considered highly disrespectful.
“People come to Hawaii and (other national parks) because they’re wild, scenic and beautiful,” Harlow said. “And people can play a great role in making sure it stays that way.”
3. Don’t go during peak hours
Traffic in Hawaii is a sore spot, with Honolulu often ranking as one of the most congested cities in the country. With so many tourists out and about on the islands, Harlow suggests to try going to popular attractions during off-hours.
“At Haleakala, things can get crowded around the summit around sunset but from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the park is really empty,” she said. “Going to the Kipahulu District, arriving earlier in the day helps you beat crowded parking lots.”
4. Don’t disturb wildlife
Hawaii is blessed with many beautiful creatures, some of which are impossible to spot anywhere else in the world, like the Hawaiian monk seal. While spotting these creatures out in the wild is always a treat, keep your distance and make sure to never disturb them or their natural habitat (as in, don’t touch reefs or flip over rocks).
In certain cases, it’s illegal to get too close to animals like turtles and nursing seals. Seriously, it’s not worth it.
5. Don’t be reckless outdoors
Hawaii has otherworldly valleys, peaks, shorelines and waterfalls to explore, and as stunning as the experience may be, it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful. A lack of preparation, bad weather conditions and going to unsafe areas that are trending online can often put people at risk.
For example, on Kauai, the Kauai Fire Department locked the gate accessing Queen’s Bath, a large tidal pool that can be hazardous, especially when the surf is rough. Still, people sneak in and often end up needing to be rescued. Do your research about hikes or beaches…