We continue to try to work through this together; Hawaii visitors, and residents alike. Yet we can’t seem to escape this topic in the news, and what showed up most recently on our radar is an Oahu woman who’s been asking visitors repeatedly to stay away from Hawaii. There are no simple answers to the question posed in today’s title, but here are some thoughts.
Fickle: changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties, interests, or affection.
What brought this to mind was Native Hawaiian Lily Hi’ilani Okimura, an Oahu resident who’s popular on social media, with 86k TikTok followers. She asks visitors to please not come to Hawaii.
That’s overlayed with this comment from one of our readers (Joy) who said, “…we are not entitled. We would never hurt the people or animals of this beautiful land. But we feel we may be treated that way by people who dislike tourists. Wish we were going to the Caymans where we are welcome with open arms. Aloha.”
Plus, the reality is that most people want to vacation here and be away from every day life. While they care about Hawaii, they also want to enjoy the weather, ocean and lifestyle of the islands as an escape. And the benefit to us is that visitors contribute financially to all of us.
Some of Lily’s outspoken comments below have made global news.
“A lot of tourists treat our land like it’s some theme park, they will ignore warning signs, fenced-off areas, and no trespassing signs, which can cause damage to our environment like erosion, vandalism, and pollution.”
“Tourists will try to go near and touch monk seals and turtles at the beach, despite having multiple signs at our beaches warning people that these are endangered species and touching them will result in them paying a fine.”
“When people say they should be able to visit Hawaii because it’s part of the United States, I tell them they’re missing the point. Sure, you have the ‘right’ to travel wherever you want, but does that make it right… Our tourism industry exploits our people and culture. What does that say about you to disregard all of this because, ‘What about my vacation?’”
She also says that if tourists do come, they should avoid hotels and vacation rentals, as they are largely non-resident owned. She concludes that it’s better to stay with someone who already lives here in Hawaii, and suggests learning the Hawaiian language and patronizing locally owned businesses and restaurants, especially those that are Native Hawaiian-owned.
And lastly, she suggests in her plethora of videos that visitors pick up trash and don’t damage the environment, including collecting sand or rocks.
No one can represent Hawaii in this discussion. It isn’t that easy.
While Lily is most outspoken and highly visible, she doesn’t represent Hawaii. No one does.
It’s complicated, to be sure. We suggest there are at least two major factors at play. The first is a growing discontent with unbridled Hawaii tourism that’s been ongoing for years. And second, the drop in tourism during COVID changed everyone’s perspectives, both tourists, and Hawaii residents. That was followed by the lightning-fast rebound in tourism that was expected to take years, but instead seemed to take just months.
Visitors and residents: neither can be lumped into one pile.
We know that most visitors simply want an escape from everyday life when they choose Hawaii. Others, have interests that are more cultural in the way that the TikToker mentions.
Many of her points are valid. Our tourism-reliant sector does market Hawaii as a paradisiacal theme park. That is changing, albeit very slowly. As we’ve said before, this false perception sets everyone up for disappointment. Hawaii is being overrun with tourism. There is no doubt about that.
Hawaii residents also have a range of viewpoints on tourism, and Lili’s is just one. Remember that tourism here impacts everyone’s life, in one way or another. And not everyone wants to cast that aside with nothing to replace it.
Hawaii is in the U.S., but it also isn’t.
Because Hawaii is a state and you fly here easily and relatively inexpensively, it can yield the inaccurate perception that Hawaii is the same as the U.S. mainland, which it definitely is not. That, even though your phone, health insurance, currency and prescriptions, are all valid here. And that’s frankly confusing.
Lily is right in that Hawaii’s whole sphere isn’t visitor satisfaction, although we aren’t opposed to it either, and we believe most people here want visitors to enjoy Hawaii while appreciating those things that we love too.
We also hope visitors will be kind and generous when here, and we aren’t talking about money. Aloha begets aloha, as you’ve said countless times before in the comments.
As a reminder, a study conducted a few years ago, showed there hadn’t been any dramatic shift in how Hawaii residents felt about tourism. Asked to rate their overall perception of the state’s tourism industry, about 1,600 Hawaii residents surveyed generated an average ranking of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Lily was also right about the treatment of our natural resources and wildlife. Sometimes tourism is at odds with these. Specifically, monk seals and turtles need to be uninterrupted. We can personally attest to the many times we’ve seen people get too close for photos and not respect boundaries which are there to protect these important creatures in life and mythology.
Please add your thoughts, too.
Most of us who live here are connected with tourism in some way, either directly or indirectly. We appreciate visitors who value what Hawaii has to offer including our native culture and our unique ways. It’s never perfect here, but it’s real behind the umbrella in that Mai Tai drink. Come and enjoy and find out just what makes Hawaii unique.
Stay tuned for our thoughts on how to fit into Hawaii as a visitor. Coming this week.