If you love Hawai’i Island, either as a resident or a visitor, then you know change is in the air on working to ensure our island remains a beautiful place to be enjoyed by all with a combined respect and understanding of the host culture. The County just released a plan that has the input of just about every community leader in each aspect of leadership on the island. Which is fantastic, because it is through working together that the future is going to be sustainable and ultimately good for the health of the land and the people. Below are excerpts I have taken from the plan that I felt were important to point out for my readers. The link to the entire plan is at the bottom of this post.
The County of Hawai‘i (the County) is committed to implementing the Hawai‘i Island Tourism Strategic Plan 2020-2025 (TSP) that seeks to improve the quality of life for residents, which in turn, creates a strong visitor industry.
This TSP lays out the direction for the County for the next five years, and it proposes an active role of local government in building industry and community partnerships to ensure that tourism is inclusive, sustainable and Pono (righteous and in alignment) with Hawai‘i Island’s natural and cultural resources.
Themes that arose from the talk stories, focus groups, and survey results included:
● Importance of Place & Culture — need to rebuild authentic relationships that people have with the places and culture of Hawaiʻi Island, particularly native Hawaiian culture.
● Protecting the ʻĀina — important to address environmental degradation by both residents and visitors and provide opportunities for both groups to collaborate on.
● Lifting Up People — ensure decisions are community driven, particularly by native Hawaiian stakeholders.
● Supporting a More Responsible Visitor Industry Connected to the Environment and Culture — this included promoting activities like agrotourism and voluntourism, limiting the number of visitors based on environmental concerns, and focusing on the type of visitor that would respect and care for the land and culture.
● Increasing Visitor Awareness and Changing Mindsets — emphasize the importance of caring for ‘āina, the uniqueness of Hawai‘i Island, being mindful of residents, and native Hawaiian culture.
● Providing Educational Opportunities for Residents — building capacity of residents in a variety of ways that centers place and culture would strengthen the visitor industry in a variety of ways.
● Improved Infrastructure — supporting communal resources for residents will benefit visitors alike.
Develop an inventory of cultural practices and natural resource areas identifying those that are determined appropriate for access as well as plans to sustain those resources.
Put “community first” and help to ensure communities retain their sense of place, including recognizing Native Hawaiian knowledge, culture, and people first and then the multi-cultural diversity of each community.
● Integrate Native Hawaiian practitioners as leaders within visitor industry conversations and actions.
● Encourage visitors and incentivize companies to buy local goods and services by providing technical support for local businesses who want to promote or further develop their local products, services, and activities in the visitor industry.
● Identify and reduce barriers that prevent visitor industry companies from buying Hawai‘i Island local products.
● Create an action plan to form metrics that will determine pono practices for sustaining the cultural and natural resources.
- Develop ways for visitors to authentically engage and contribute back to Hawai‘i Island and be accountable for their actions.
“There is a limit to the amount of tourists the environment can withstand. Each site should have a maximum per day visitor limit which would include residents and visitors that can sustain or not harm the site.”
As the state and Hawai‘i Island begins to reopen to visitors, adopting Native Hawaiian practices to protect our natural resources and their health are critical to sustaining the health of our people and by extension the health of the visitor industry.
“People generally want to be respectful, but they don’t know how. Educating people before they get to the island. People should know quickly what to do and what not to do. They need to be a part of the solutions.”
The current situation provides an opportunity to support a more responsible approach to tourism that centers around place and residents. If international tourism returns to 5.1%63 annual growth when it is safe to travel, as experienced between 2009 to 2019, it will be critical to responsibly manage visitor behaviors and manage their expectations for travel.
A deeper look at consumer travel trends captured by the UNWTO listed below may help in forecasting the direction of visitor spending behaviors.
● Travel ‘to change’
- Live like a local
- Quest for authenticity and transformation
- Rising awareness on sustainability
- Zero plastic and climate change.● Travel ‘to show’ ‘Instagrammable’ moments, experiences and destinations.
- Pursuit of a healthy life
- Walking, wellness and sports tourism
- Rise of the ‘access’ economy-New travelers due to lower airline prices
- Solo travel & multigenerational travel- As a result of an aging population and single households.
Trends around traveling to change and the rising awareness of sustainability initiatives provide momentum to reshape the visitor industry.
The Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) recently reported how “one-third (33%) of American travelers indicated they are willing to pay 10% more for travel service providers who demonstrate environmental responsibility.”
Furthermore, these conscientious travelers may take vacations more frequently than those who are not traveling for change.
Directing marketing efforts toward returning visitors who are willing to invest their money in responsible tourism and who desire authentic experiences may be an effective strategy to balance tourism, especially in the early phases of COVID-19 recovery.
Current studies forecast a dramatic decrease in visitor arrivals in the next year and paints an uncertain picture of the industry’s future. However, it presents an opportunity to reinvent tourism on Hawaiʻi Island so that it is aligned with the community’s values and helps to conserve natural and cultural resources.
I encourage you to read the report to learn more, as I pulled parts of the report I found of value in trying to show where the County and HTA are focusing their efforts on “re-imagining” tourism on this island.