Updated: Oct 21
Before I started with TGA, I worked in a few different parts of the tourism industry here in Hawaiʻi and even got my Master’s in Tourism Management where I focused on sustainable tourism. As a Native Hawaiian, responsible tourism is something near and dear to my heart so this blog is important to me. If you’re here reading this, you’re likely considering a destination wedding in Hawaiʻi. Well, there are a few things you should make note of before you do, to make sure you are doing right by our beautiful islands.
Hawaiʻi has long been over-run with tourism and some locals have had enough. We got a taste of what a tourist free island chain felt like during the pandemic and enjoyed experiencing our island to ourselves. Our home got some much-needed rest. Our waters cleared up, animals returned, and nature got a chance to breathe. So how do we find harmony with visiting and planning an event in Hawai’i, while also keeping the ʻāina (land/earth) and our kamaʻāina (native born people) happy?
1.Be Respectful – This is our home, so respect it, it's that simple. Please and thank you go a long way here. Hawaiians are very welcoming people, but that doesn’t always hold true when faced with disrespect towards our ʻāina. We have a deep pilina (relationship/connection) to our land, ocean, and wildlife because we believe they are a part of us. If someone approaches you and lets you know what you’re doing isn’t ok, respect and acknowledge that you’re a visitor in someone else’s home. When you see a sign that says Kapu (taboo, forbidden, sacred), do not enter. There’s a reason the sign is there and you should heed that warning. These are all easy ways to show respect.
2. Stay Safe This sort of goes with our previous point, but follow signage, listen to local advisories, and be considerate of nature. In an island chain where you can experience every type of ecosystem and climates, there are a lot of dangers you should be wary of. By not following directions and rules presented to you, there is a potential to waste precious resources by needing to be rescued because you didn’t follow directions (especially in a pandemic on a small island where our limited hospital beds are crucial). Stay safe and be smart!
3. Support Local There are so many things to do, see, and eat while you’re visiting! Research and support small local businesses to truly experience an authentic and accurate depiction of Hawaiʻi. Eat at small hole in the wall restaurants, buy goodies and snacks from that small local business to take home and avoid the big box, chain restaurant, and convenience stores you can get literally anywhere else (I’m referencing the little tourist traps sprinkled all over Waikīkī). If you really want your tourism “to help locals” then you need to spend your money with them, not at the chain restaurants that don’t really help us in the long run. If you are up for it, I recommend voluntourism; you’ll get hands-on experience, learn something about the people and the place you’re visiting, and gain precious memories to last a lifetime. Not to mention walking away feeling great about doing some good for this world.
4. Be Patient
We understand that you’re here on vacation and want to have a good time, but our businesses are just getting back up to speed. We still have a lot of capacity restrictions and shortage in staff, which means places are busier than usual with less help. To help alleviate this problem, it helps to book reservations, tickets, excursions, etc. in advance. You’ll be glad you did when you see how long some of the waits here can get. Be patient with the staff everywhere you go. They can’t help that there are restrictions in place and are just following the rules and laws set forth by the state and their employer.
5. Get Educated
Read up on local culture! Anytime you visit somewhere new, it’s a good idea to learn about the place you’re visiting, the people, and their culture. We have a rich history that will surprise you. While you’re here, visit museums, take tours from educated, local guides (not foreigners *people who didn’t grow up here* who have no idea what they’re talking about), and learn Hawaiian place names and forgo the “English” names that erase our history and culture (for example, use Lēʻahi instead of Diamond Head). All of this helps keep the spirit of this place alive.
At the end of the day, aloha is a two-way street. If you want to have an amazing time here, all you have to do is be a respectful traveler and the islands and our people will welcome you with open arms. All of these tips are easily adaptable to your wedding planning process as well. Just remember, we don’t mind you visiting, but please go back to where you came from afterwards and leave the places you’ve visited in better condition than you found them, not worse. If you want this beautiful place to survive and generations to be able to enjoy it in the future, we have to take care of the land and the people who reside here.
Photography: Kenzie Kate Photography
Photography: Kenzie Kate Photography There are so many helpful resources you should check out before your trip to our beautiful island home. Check out our list below as a jumping off point!
Go Hawaii – Up to date Travel requirements
Go Hawaii – Responsible Travel
Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaiʻi - Travel Planner Guide
NOAA - Wildlife Viewing Guidelines
Travel2Change – Voluntourism Opportunities
Sustainable Coastlines – Beach Cleanups
Pono Pledge – Hawaiʻi Island Responsible Tourism Pledge