Hawaii is the perfect holiday destination in many ways—it has near-perfect weather, breathtaking mountainous scenery, and beautiful, untainted beaches. Small wonder that millions of people flock to the islands yearly to enjoy their numerous tourist attractions. However, before you start planning for a trip to Hawaii, there’s a critical issue you ought to consider: the people’s attitude towards tourists.
Hawaiians do not hate tourists, but some prefer that tourists stay away from their homes. Hawaii natives don’t treat tourists badly, but given the harmful effects of tourism on the islands and their people, local people have developed a bad attitude towards the tourism industry.
This piece will delve deeper into the issues Hawaiians have with tourists. It will also advise you, as a tourist considering visiting Hawaii, can help change Hawaiians’ attitude towards tourists.
Why Hawaiians Have a Bad Attitude Towards Tourism
You are right to assume that the many tourists traveling to Hawaii spend a lot of money on the island: tourism is the largest private capital contributor to Hawaii’s economy. Therefore, it may not make sense to you why the native population opposes such a lucrative activity.
Before diving into why Hawaiians are dissatisfied with the tourism industry, let me point out that not all natives see tourism as a vice. Generally, Hawaiian natives are divided into three on the tourism issue:
- ‘Absolutists’: Those who want a complete abolishment of tourism.
- ‘Status quo’: Those who believe tourism should remain unhindered and challenge natives to find solutions to the issues brought by the activity.
- ‘Compromisers’: Those who advocate for the promotion of other activities—farming, culture, retail—alongside tourism.
Natives See Tourism as a Continuation of Colonialism
Before Hawaii became a state of the United States, Hawaiians occupied and ruled over the islands for centuries. Traders from the mainland arrived in Hawaii in the early 18th century for sandalwood.
By the mid-19th century, the sugar industry was thriving. White businessmen and landowners saw the traditional Hawaiian monarchy as an impediment to development, so they stripped the monarch of his powers.
The foreigners introduced a constitutional monarchy in the mid-19th century, in which the traditional monarch was the ceremonial head of the government. Despite King Kalakaua’s promotion of Hawaiian traditions and culture, the plantation owners controlled Hawaiian politics.
Slowly but surely, the invaders banned cultural practices like performing the Hula dance. In 1887, a militia backed by U.S. businessmen forced King Kalakaua to sign a new constitution, further reducing his power and denying Hawaiians their rights.
Queen Lili’uokalani took over after Kalakaua died and became the last Hawaiian monarch. In early 1893, the colonists overthrew the Queen in a bloodless coup and declared Hawaii a U.S. protectorate.
Despite President Grover Cleveland’s finding that the Queen was overthrown illegally, the white settlers refused to relinquish power. Native Hawaiians tried to oppose the new government, but the colonizers’ forces nipped the early 1985 rebellion in the bud.
The U.S. completed its annexation of Hawaii in July 1898. Following years of attempts to have Hawaii recognized as a U.S. state and Hawaiians afforded the same rights as citizens of other states, President Eisenhower proclaimed Hawaii as the 50th state in 1959.
The scars of the colonial period are still evident as Natives see foreigners as people after their land. When the invaders took over in 1893, 97% of the population consisted of indigenous Hawaiians.
However, due to the aggressive advertising of Hawaii as a prime destination for development and the government’s view of Hawaii as a strategic military hub, foreigners flooded the islands, populating indigenous lands. Currently, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians comprise about 10% of the population, with whites and Asians forming over half of the population.
Hawaiian Resources Go to Tourism Instead of the People
Tourism brings tons of revenue to Hawaii and is the island’s principal employer. However, the 2021 Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Resident Sentiment Survey found that only a little over half of the population found tourism more beneficial than harmful, the lowest number since the annual survey started in 1988.
One of the reasons for the low figure is that native Hawaiians don’t benefit from tourism. Hawaii has the lowest homelessness rate per capita, with 51% of the homeless being native Hawaiians. This is despite natives making up a little over 10% of the population.
Tourism benefits the non-Hawaiian businessmen running hotels and resorts. Furthermore, most of Hawaii’s real estate is built for tourists, driving residential property prices sky-high.
Most of the Hawaiian populace can’t afford a single-family home on the islands, which costs nearly $1 million on average. Meanwhile, the average household income in Honolulu is about $88,000.
The situation attracts non-natives with the resources to buy expensive houses, further deepening the housing crisis.
Tourism Has Caused the Desecration of Sacred Locations
Tourism has led to the desecration of sacred locations as hotel developers look for land to build resorts and tourists search for unexplored areas to venture into.
For instance, in 1987, developers of a Ritz-Carlton hotel exhumed over 1,200 ancestral bones. Native Hawaiian protests forced the owners to look for another site.
The resort has formed a lasting relationship with the activists and surrounding communities, but some locals are still angered by the disruption of a sacred site. Such actions dredge up the loosely buried anger of the native people resulting from the forceful takeover of their land.
Hawaiians have provided stern opposition against projects that infringe on their sacred grounds. For instance, indigenous people have fiercely protested the construction of a large new telescope on Mauna Kea, a mountain of immense cultural significance.
Tourism Stretches Already Stretched Resources
Due to the limited space in Hawaii, the state imports 90% of its goods, which is enough to sustain the local population. However, the resources aren’t enough to support locals and the millions of tourists that visit each year, contributing to the high cost of living.
In mid-2021, the government imposed water-use restrictions, including a fine of $500 for people found using water for non-essential activities like watering the lawn. The water shortage occurred following a rise in tourist arrivals on the island.
Residents protested the restrictions because they didn’t affect the hospitality and tourism industries, which are partly to blame for the area’s climate change. A tweet by former lawmaker Kaniela Ing protesting the water restrictions encapsulated the people’s feelings: it garnered close to 49,000 retweets.
In the summer of 2021, Hawaii suffered a rental-car crisis as tourism spiked following the loosening of coronavirus restrictions. The pandemic forced rental-car providers to decrease the number of cars available. Although it’s possible to get around Hawaii without a car, having one is a convenience.
Therefore, the returning tourists encountered a shortage of vehicles to use during their stay. Due to increased demand, rental car prices peaked at $700, compared to $50 before the pandemic.
Tourists resorted to using U-Hauls, causing a shortage of moving vehicles. The crisis forced the HTA to discourage the use of moving vehicles for leisure activities.
Some Tourists Don’t Follow Rules
The refusal of some tourists to follow the rules has caused discontent among locals and led to an increase in avoidable accidents. The Honolulu Fire Department had to be on high alert in 2021 as the number of rescues increased by 63% from 2020 when COVID restrictions hindered tourism.
One of the most scenic routes in Hawaii is the Road to Hana. This narrow winding road offers breathtaking sights, which often prompt driving tourists to slow down or block the road, much to the annoyance of locals.
The coronavirus restrictions caused a resurgence of wildlife worldwide, including in Hawaii. Researchers observed clearer waters and the return of monk seals at Hanauma Bay.
Unfortunately, the behavior of some tourists threatened to negate the progress made by the islands. For instance, some tourists tried touching the monk seals despite clear signs warning people that the seals are endangered and that touching them was a punishable offense.
Such ignorant delinquency doesn’t go down well with the locals, who view rule-breaking tourists as disrespectful to their land.
Tourists Have Contributed to Environmental Degradation
Hawaii’s diverse environment forms one of its main attractions. Unfortunately, over-tourism has led to the overexploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation.
A Hawaiian speaking to Lonely Planet said the environment was cleaner when the coronavirus pandemic forced the reduction of tourism: the beaches were less crowded, the seawater was uncontaminated with sun tan lotion, and there was less litter.
After the opening of Hawaii to vaccinated citizens, the islands returned to normal: crowded beaches, contaminated water, and litter everywhere. To make matters worse, native Hawaiians, who were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, were disappointed to see tourists breaking COVID restrictions.
For months, they’d seen Hawaii’s ecosystem start to rediscover its former glory. However, the tourists quickly erased that progress.
Tourism Oppresses the Native Population
In Hawaii, tourism often takes preference over the needs of the local population. For instance, in September 2019, people were arrested for protesting the construction of a park and reaction center in an agricultural town.
The developers promised that the project would offer employment to the local people, but natives quickly dismissed the trinket, having been disappointed by numerous job offers by tourism industry developers.
Developers have often pacified protesting natives with job offers to allow them to build amenities for tourists. However, the promised jobs have been low-quality, forcing locals, who’ve already acquiesced to the demands of the developers, to seek second jobs elsewhere.
Fortunately, the local community has started fighting back. Companies like Conscious Concepts work with natives to ensure they get jobs from tourism that provide livable wages.
How You Can Help Improve Tourism in Hawaii
The grievances of Hawaiian natives against non-natives are more than a century old. Therefore, the government must implement wide-ranging measures to remedy the injustices against native Hawaiians.
As a tourist looking to visit the islands, you too can take measures to ease the burden of tourism on the local population.
Learn More About the Local Communities
It’ll be easier for you to help the native communities of Hawaii if you understand their plight better. You can incorporate learning about the impacts of tourism and colonization on local communities into your itinerary.
The DeTour project in Hawaii, run by activists Kyle Kajihiro and Terrilee Keko’olani, gives tourists a historical tour of Hawaii to increase awareness about environmental activism and social justice. The DeTour also educates tourists on the native history of Hawaii and the government’s attempts to turn Hawaii into a military stronghold.
Kajihiro’s tour has become very popular, though he doesn’t advertise his services. He sees increased demand as a sign that tourists want to become more responsible.
You can also learn more about Hawaii by engaging directly with local communities. For example, rather than hiking an oft-trodden trail, visit a local farm and find out how they grow produce.
Spend your time in Hawaii in a room provided by a local instead of booking an expensive hotel. It’ll ensure that the money you spend directly benefits the local community.
Follow Hawaii’s Rules
Following the rules is an effortless way of showing you care about Hawaii and its natives. These rules are meant to shield the local people and the environment from the effects of tourism.
For instance, dispose of litter appropriately and treat flora and fauna with respect. As a ground rule, do not take anything from the island and do not leave foreign on it.
Consider Delaying Your Trip to Hawaii
You might protest this idea, but consider delaying your trip to Hawaii. The discontent over tourism has grown exponentially since the country reopened its doors to tourists.
Natives saw their land thrive without pressure from tourism, leading to increased advocacy against tourism. Therefore, waiting until the government finds a solution might be better.
Hawaiians do not hate tourists—tourism contributes greatly to the islands’ economy. However, given the adverse effects of tourism on the local population and environment, more and more Hawaiians are developing a bad attitude towards tourism.
Some natives would prefer you stay away from Hawaii, but you are unlikely to encounter hostility if you visit. Lend a hand to the native communities by learning about their struggles, advocating for change, and supporting local businesses.
- Hawaii Tourism Authority: Fact Sheet: Benefits of Hawaii’s Tourism Economy
- The New York Times: In Hawaii, Reimagining Tourism for a Post-Pandemic World
- National Archives: The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii
- United States Census Bureau: Hawaii
- Partners In Care: O’Ahu Point in Time Count
- Hawaii News Now: Median price for a single-family home on Oahu hit $992,500 in July
- The Washington Post: Maui residents rail against spike in tourism during water shortage
- Twitter: Kaniela Ing
- Popsugar: Native Hawaiians Are Asking For a Reduction in Tourism, and We Should Listen
- Lonely Planet: What Native Hawaiians want you to know before you visit
- CNN: How a vacation to Hawaii can be relaxing for tourists – and harmful to its citizens