How vacations in Hawaii can be relaxing for tourists and harmful for its residents

But as it exists now, the powerful tourism industry dictates the lives of Native Hawaiians, often for the worse, said Kyle Kajihiro, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and a Native Hawaiian rights activist.

Hawaii’s tourism industry boosts state revenue, but this reliance on tourism has cost native Hawaiians their homes, climate change wreaks havoc on the natural landscape, and a lack of respect for state 50 which is also the ancestral state. land of more than half a million inhabitants.

“I think it’s too easy for people to visit places like Hawaii,” Kajihiro said. “It makes visitors feel entitled.”

The industry needs to change to improve the future of Native Hawaiians, Kajihiro told CNN. He is one of several residents who have worked to educate visitors and return some elements of Hawaiian culture to the people from whom it originated. If visitors to Hawaii de-center themselves and instead bring with them respect and a willingness to learn, or choose not to visit at all, then Hawaii can be preserved for the people who have called it home for centuries, activists say.

For many residents, living in Hawaii is not a vacation

Tourism is Hawaii’s single largest source of private capital, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains incredibly lucrative: In April alone, visitors to Hawaii spent more than $1 billion on the islands, according to a state report marking tourism’s recovery since from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But what is profitable for Hawaii’s economy can negatively affect the lives of native Hawaiians and year-round residents. To combat drought conditions, last year residents were asked to reduce their water use or face a fine while major resorts continued to use much more water. There are millions more annual visitors than permanent residents (in 2021 there were over 6.7 million visitors compared to 1.4 million residents), which can lead to increased carbon emissions and overuse of its beaches, hiking trails and other natural wonders. Hawaii has even been called the “extinction capital of the world” for the number of species that have become extinct or are at high risk of extinction.
It also has the highest cost of living in the country, in part because the state must import about 90% of its goods. Its housing market is one of the most expensive in the country, ProPublica and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported in 2020, and with land in high demand and limited supply, Native Hawaiians may spend decades waiting to reclaim ancestral lands, leading some to move from the islands.

“Tourism normalizes and hides the current dystopian reality experienced by many Kānaka Maoli and poor immigrant communities in Hawaii,” Kajihiro told CNN. (Kānaka Maoli is the Hawaiian language term for native Hawaiians.)

To empower Native Hawaiians and give back some of their rights, the tourism industry needs to change, starting with its ethos, Kajihiro said.

‘DeTours’ shows the real story of Hawaii beyond the beach

In an effort to reclaim Hawaii’s stories and educate residents and visitors about the impacts of colonization, militarization, and tourism, Kajihiro created the Hawai’i DeTour Project. The program, which he directs with lifelong activist Terrilee Kekoʻolani, aims to “introduce a more critical historical account of Hawai’i” in hopes that it will start conversations about social responsibility and build solidarity with social justice and the efforts of environmental activists in Hawaii.

Kyle Kajihiro, left, and Terrilee Keko'olani offer alternative tours of Hawaiian landmarks to show how colonialism, tourism and militarization affected the islands and their people.

Kajihiro takes DeTours to places like downtown Honolulu to talk about Hawaii’s ancient sovereignty; at Iolani Palace, where the US supported a coup led by white settlers against Queen Lili’uokalani; to military landmarks like the Pearl Harbor memorial to discuss American efforts to transform parts of Hawaii into military strongholds.

Although Kajihiro does not advertise its services, visitors are increasingly looking for them. While she prioritizes education and political groups that can help create change at the local level, she has seen both residents and visitors on her tours, some of whom get involved in the causes she highlights.

“I guess it could be seen as a good sign that people want to learn and be more responsible as travelers,” he said. “But there are also many people who simply want the novelty of a ‘reality’ tour or are looking to ease their guilt by doing more ‘socially responsible’ tourism. I’m not interested in giving people permission to visit Hawaii guilt-free.”

Some say one way to support Native Hawaiians is to not visit them

Two educators in Hawaii borrowed the name of Kajihiro’s operation for their book, which also shares its principles. “Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i,” co-edited by Vernadette Gonzalez and Hōkūlani Aikau, is no ordinary guide, it’s a call to action.

The book is designed to educate readers about Hawaii’s past and present and the negative impacts of colonization, militarization, and tourism. Even if readers never make it to Hawaii, the stories transport them to some of the places where Kajihiro leads his groups. In the book’s introduction, Gonzalez and Aikau write that not all readers will be “invited or permitted to go to all the places described,” and some places were left out altogether because “they are not intended for outsiders “. ”

Millions of tourists visit Hawaii each year, outnumbering its population of 1.4 million.  But to ensure a sustainable future for Hawaii and Native Hawaiians, tourism must change to emphasize respect and de-center the tourist, activists say.

Many tourists’ relationship with Hawaii is extractive, Gonzalez and Aikau write, and that relationship must change to one of support if Hawaii is to be known by tourists and the Hawaii its residents live in is to continue to exist. Even better, they write, would be to choose not to go on vacation to Hawaii.

“Sometimes the best way to support Kanaka ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiian) decolonization and resurgence is not to come as a tourist to our home,” the editors write.

Improving tourism starts with respect for the islands and native Hawaiians

Of course, there will always be tourists in Hawaii as long as it remains the islands’ primary industry, and as long as its beaches attract guests with deep pockets. The nonprofit Hawaii Sustainable Tourism Association connects tourists with local attractions that emphasize cultural and environmental responsibility. The Coconut Traveler, a travel company created by Debbie Misajon, the granddaughter of Filipino immigrants who moved to Hawaii to work on sugar cane plantations, targets wealthy guests and charges a responsible tourism fee, 100% of which goes to local organizations working to maintain Hawaii’s natural beauty. Refocusing a trip to Hawaii from the guest to the island and its residents could lighten a tourist’s footprint, Misajon told CNN.

“I’m all for coming and enjoying the islands, but (I) encourage people to find ways to be part of the solution,” Misajon said. “It may be hackneyed, but spend your money locally.”

Making fundamental changes to the tourism industry should start by giving rights back to Native Hawaiians and letting them decide how they want their culture to be shared and consumed, if at all, Kajihiro said. There is already a model of this in New Zealand, where the Maori people control how tourists represent and experience their culture, he said, with an emphasis on mutual respect.

“We are going to abolish the word ‘tourism,'” Kajihiro said. “The same term privileges the consumer, the act of consuming places and the transactional relationship.”

Instead, he said, visitors should “rethink the trip as entering someone else’s home.” Someone who is invited to someone else’s home can bring a gift with them or express their gratitude to their host in other ways, he said.

“As a visitor, you have the burden to learn, act responsibly, not be a burden and respect your hosts,” Kajihiro said.

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