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.
BOOK A SPOT:To manage over tourism, are reservation systems the future of traveling to Hawaii?
JUST DON’T:Stop throwing coins into hot steam vents, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park asks of ‘disrespectful’ people
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.”
THINK TWICE:Stop throwing coins into hot steam vents, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park asks of ‘disrespectful’ people
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.
SHARK ATTACK:Tourist taken to hospital after ‘serious bite’ from shark on Maui’s north shore
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 and heed to warning signs – they’re there for a reason.
“One of our most important values, for example, is to respect the land and ocean that provides for us, and we ask that visitors share in this ethos to keep our home beautiful,” Wendy Tuivaioge, Director of Hawaiian Programs at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, said. “Be mindful of your surroundings, do not venture out alone, and stay on well-marked trails.”
DO THIS, NOT THAT: You won’t regret these 8 activities when you visit the islands, according to Hawaii locals
6. Don’t use harmful sunscreen
Hawaii’s ecosystems are unique and fragile, including its coral reefs, and some sunscreens may play a role in harming the islands’ marine life.
In 2018, Hawaii Gov. David Ige passed a law that went into effect in 2021 – making Hawaii the first state – that banned sunscreens containing chemicals believed to damage coral and marine life, oxybenzone and octinoxate.
When slathering up with SPF, do your part to protect the ocean by picking reef-safe brands. Some brands that are reef-safe include Raw Elements or Kokua Sun Care, which is made right in the islands.
7. Don’t geotag
It may be tempting to do it for the ‘gram and share your vacation pictures online, but that post may have consequences long after you hit upload.
The rise in social media geotagging and sharing of once hidden spots has caused many across the country to blow up and become overcrowded and overrun, much to the dismay of locals who have been enjoying these more secret places for a long time. If you find yourself at this crossroads, consider the impact of your post.
CROWDED SPOTS:Was your favorite hidden vacation spot overexposed? Blame social media and pent-up demand
8. Don’t forget you’re visiting someone’s home
At the end of the day, many locals have one reminder: “It’s important for travelers to understand they are visiting someone’s home and draw on the sensibilities that come with that,” Ha’aheo Zablan, general manager of Kaimana Beach Hotel who is also Native Hawaiian, said. “We have amazing visitor-centric opportunities to take in all Hawaii has to offer without venturing into local neighborhoods or exploring too far from resort zones.” For example, people who seek out hikes with trailheads in quiet neighborhoods have been called out for disturbing residents with noise or crowded parking.
Prejean echoes the sentiment: “While Hawaii is a welcoming destination, we do ask that tourists be aware of their surroundings, reduce your ‘footprint’ by leaving the places you visit better than you found it, and to treat the local neighborhoods and people with respect and kindness.”