Sustainable Tourism

By 2030, continue to develop policies and initiatives to promote sustainable business practices that invest in Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources, and support local job creation and thriving communities.

A robust economy helps support healthy and vibrant communities in Hawai‘i. While there are multiple sectors within Hawai‘i ’s economy, tourism is the largest private sector industry making the largest economic contribution to Hawai‘i’s economy. Traditional models for measuring success of tourism are based on monetary growth that do not factor the cost of environmental, social, and economic externalities. However, a successful tourism industry in Hawai‘i depends on the health of natural and cultural resources, community, economy and relationship with the visitor. Hawai‘i is known globally for stunning natural beauty, unique culture, and the spirit of aloha. Integrating sustainable and responsible practices that increase environmental stewardship, perpetuate Native Hawaiian culture, and support community well-being is paramount to long-term economic prosperity.
Hawai‘i has the opportunity to become a global leader in sustainable tourism, and help demonstrate this importance balance to destinations internationally. This shift will require: clear metrics; refined branding of Hawai‘i’s tourism economy; proof of value to the visitor; increased visitor and industry education; collaboration across the sectors; and integration with Hawai‘i’s Aloha+ Challenge statewide sustainability goals in the areas of clean energy, local food, waste reduction, natural resource management, smart sustainable communities, and green workforce and education (DBEDT Sustainable Tourism Study).
This Sustainable Tourism target is intended to provide initial background information and to catalyze discussion and action around further developing metrics and policies to strengthen sustainability in the tourism industry.
The United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The concept of “sustainable development” as outlined in the 1987 Brundtland Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development highlights three pillars of sustainable development: (1) economic growth, (2) environmental protection and (3) social equity (UHERO Sustainable Tourism Development and Overtourism report, 2017).
The United National World Tourism Organization definition for sustainable tourism is an optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural resources and biodiversity, including:
1.     Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
2.     Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.
Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
Hawai‘i's visitor industry is on the rise. In 1980, Hawai‘i had 3.9 million visitors compared to less than 300,000 in 1960. In 2016, there were 8.9 million visitors. The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) states that Hawai‘i has experienced its fifth consecutive record year for visitor arrivals and visitor spending. Visitors have a large impact not only on the economy, but also in preserving that which makes Hawai‘i  special. Engaging visitors in ecotourism activities that support local businesses and restore the natural environment can help manage the balance between the cost and benefits of tourism.

Sustainable Tourism Certification

Businesses across Hawai‘i are incorporating sustainable values and practices into their plans. To support these efforts and to provide accountability, Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaiʻi, a member-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run by volunteers, provides ecotourism certifications for local businesses, and supported by Hawai'i Tourism Authority (HTA) funding. Their mission is to protect Hawai‘i ’s unique, natural environment and host culture through the promotion of responsible travel and educational programs, relating to sustainable tourism for residents, businesses and visitors. Currently, there are 41 certified sustainable ecotourism businesses in Hawai‘i ranging from snorkeling to biking to surfing and more. (Source: Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaiʻi)

“Voluntourism” and Connection with Local Culture

In an effort to create a reciprocal relationship between Hawai‘i residents and Hawai‘i visitors, Hawai‘i  Tourism Authority (HTA) is supporting programs to engage tourists in activities that “give back” to the community and local culture. There are three major programs within Hawai‘i  Tourism Authority’s Community-Based Tourism Program: Kukulu Ola Program, Aloha ‘Āina Program, Community Enrichment Program (HTA).
Additionally, Travel2Change, a local 501(c)(3) non-profit reimagines travel as a catalyst for creating positive impact. Travel2Change provides travelers with unique opportunities that benefit and empower local communities through activities focused on supporting sustainability and communities. 
Figure 2 (right) shows the location of opportunities for visitors to participate in activities that benefit local people and place. (Travel2Change)
Nearly 9 million visitors arrive in Hawai‘i annually, which impacts consumption of food, electricity, water, fuel, and other resources. If the tourism industry integrates sustainability practices, this shift could have an important impact on advancing Hawai‘i’s sustainability goals.
Figure 2 denotes the number of visitors coming to Hawai‘i by island via airplane and cruise ship (Source: Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority).

Economic Impact of Tourism

Figure 3 above demonstrates visitor arrivals and spending from January 2016 to March 2020 (DBEDT Visitor Statistics)

Figure 4 demonstrates the change in visitor arrivals and spending over time through 2016. (University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (UHERO) Sustainable Tourism Development and “Overtourism” report, 2016)

Greening Hawai'i's Tourism Infrastructure

Visitors travel to Hawaii for its natural beauty and unique culture. Many visitors stay in hotels or resorts, shop at retail stores, dine at restaurants, and go to events. Some public and private entities in Hawaii have invested in making their infrastructure more sustainable.

Energy Star Buildings Statewide

Figure 4: Number of Energy Star buildings statewide; Source: Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT)

LEED-Certified Buildings Statewide

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely used green building rating system worldwide. Hawaii building owners have invested in green infrastructure through LEED certification as shown below.
Figure 5: Progress in LEED registrations, certifications, and achievements. Source: USGBC Market Brief
Tables 1 and 2: Types of Buildings and Owners Participating in LEED Certification. Note that there are 17 lodging space type buildings that are LEED-certified Source: USGBC Market Brief
The State of Hawai'i's Green Business Program (HGBP) is a partnership between Hawai'i's Department of Business Economic Development, and Tourism; Department of Health; Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i; and the Board of Water Supply to highlights businesses that are dedicated to create a more sustainable Hawai'i through resource reduction and social responsibility. Such actions include energy conservation, waste reduction, pollution prevention, water conservation, natural resource preservation, community involvement, and cultural preservation. HGBP has four categories: hotels and resorts, office and retail, restaurant and food service facilities, venues and events.
Figure 6: The map shows businesses that have been recognized as a "green business" in the areas of hotels and resorts, offices and retail, and restaurant and food service. Source: State of Hawai'i Green Business Program.
The graph below features hotels and resorts as this category has the potential for the most significant resource savings in the tourism sector.
Figure 7: Hotels and resorts awarded by the Hawai‘i Green Business Program (HGBP). HGBP recognition is valid for one year, and therefore, data illustrates awardees per year but does not represent an increase in sustainable hotels and resorts year-on-year. Source: DBEDT and Hawai‘i Green Business Program

Hawai‘i’s Park System

Hawai‘i’s State Park System is composed of 51 state parks encompassing approximately 30,000 acres on the 5 major islands. These parks offer varied outdoor recreation and heritage opportunities. The park environments range from landscaped grounds with developed facilities to wildland areas with trails where visitors can enjoy Hawai‘i’s natural beauty.
Hawai‘i’s National Park System is composed of 8 National Parks across the State. In 2016, there were a total of 5,535,728 Visitors to National Parks generating $394,400,000 through National Park Tourism. (NPS, 2016)

 Mālama Hawaiʻi

“Mālama Hawai‘i” is simply translated as “to care for Hawai‘i.” Our island homeʻs precious natural resources and communities depend on a continued commitment to the spirit of mālama.
Kenneth Francis Kamu’ookalani Brown, a significant figure in Hawai‘i’s political, business, and cultural community in the decades spanning the 1960s through the 1990s, discussed the mālama ethic in his 1973 speech to the State Legislature. As a founder of the Mauna Lani Bay Resort on Hawai‘i Island, he spoke about the value of visitors to Hawai‘i and the importance of the mālama ethic:
“Tourists bring money with them, enjoy our landscape, and leave the money behind, helping us immeasurably to preserve our non-renewable resources. Mālama tells us to cherish the tourist, and to encourage him to come. lt also tells us something about the facilities we build for him, though. They must be of a nature, and at such locations, that they don't threaten our landscape and natural life.”
-Kenneth Brown, 1973
As part of an effort to share value of mālama and encourage visitors and kama‘āina alike to care for natural resources, Hawai‘i  Tourism Authority (HTA) in partnership with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) created 30 large outdoor messaging signs installed at various locations across O‘ahu to “Mālama Hawai‘i”.
Figure 8:  Mālama Hawai‘i sign (DLNR)
With the context to “Mālama Hawai‘i,” each sign encourages care for coral reefs, Hawaiian culture, the ‘āina (land and waters), wildlife, keiki (youth), and for yourself and families.  The signs also feature a large map of O‘ahu which depicts popular hiking, snorkeling, picnicking, scenic vistas, and camping spots.  Icons also identify forest reserves and cultural sites.
An important feature of these signs is a QRC (quick response code) icon on each sign that allows visitors from Japan, Korea, and China to read the signs in their native languages and understand the need to take care of the land.  Additionally, the QRC includes translation into Hawaiian. signs will increase awareness among visitors of their responsibility to protect Hawai’i’s natural areas and areas on O‘ahu.” (DLNR)

Resident and Visitor Engagement

Hawai‘i is known globally for the “Aloha Spirit,” which can be described as a mutual regard and deep affection that is grounded in island values of kindness, unity, and humility. An integral part of the visitor experience is the interaction with Hawai‘i ’s people, and to experience the Aloha Spirit and carry this with them beyond their visit. It is also very important for Hawai‘i  residents to feel that having visitors to their home is mutually beneficial, and supports the health of Hawai‘iʻs natural resources and communities.  
To better understand resident sentiment towards tourism, Hawai‘i  Tourism Authority (HTA) performed a survey of residents to determine the proportion of residents that think tourism has brought more benefits than problems.

Resident Sentiment

Figure 9: Survey results of resident’s feeling toward the benefit of tourism. Overtime, the overall general perception of tourism in Hawai'i remains stable at a mean of about 8.0 on a 10-point scale.
Source: Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), 2017 Resident Sentiment Survey
Conversely, Hawai‘i  Tourism Authority (HTA) polled tourists from the major visitor market in Hawai‘i  to determine visitor experience. Visitors may have varying experience ratings depending on their activities, expectations, culture, and values as well as what island they visit. These ratings are indicative that visitors are pleased with their experience in Hawai‘i  which may make them more likely to want to contribute to its well-being by participating in sustainable tourism practices.

Visitor Trip Rating

Figure 10: Percentage of visitors who rated their most recent trip to Hawaiʻi as "Excellent" by Major Market Area [MMA] (Source: Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority).

Native Hawaiian-owned firms

Figure 11 &12: Native Hawaiian-owned businesses of Hawai‘i ’s industries and in the tourism sector in 2012, specifically Tourism Sector which yields 11.2% Native Hawaiian-owned firms (Source: DBEDT Report, March 2017).
Figure 13: The graph above shows the percentage of Native Hawaiians in the tourism sector compared to all workers in the tourism industry (Source: DBEDT Report, April 2017).
Figure 14: The graph above shows the employment of Native Hawaiians employed in the tourism sector, separated by industry and by county. The counties include Hawaiʻi, Maui, and Honolulu County (Source: DBEDT Report, April 2017).
Figure 15: The figure above displays the number of Native Hawaiians in the industry compared to all workers in the industry (Source: DBEDT Report, April 2017).

Learn More and Make a Difference

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Volunteer Opportunities

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SDG 4 - Quality Education
Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries

SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development