New Hawaii Tourism Certification: Genuine or Greenwashing?

New Hawaii Tourism “Certification” | Greenwashing Or Genuine?

The always controversial Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has recently launched “Qurator,” a certification program it says will identify and promote businesses that demonstrate excellence in sustainable and responsible Hawaii tourism.

While the name lacks any Hawaii focus and may be hard to pronounce, Qurator (qurator.com) is the name of a Sweden-based company that is a dedicated marketplace for holistic decarbonization solutions. Hawaii is differentiating itself by calling this Qurator Travel. This might be good because of its 13 businesses so far approved; three are airlines (Alaska, Hawaiian, and Southwest) that might not align with the original definition of Qurator.

While this initiative aims to highlight businesses that contribute positively to Hawaii’s environment, community, and economy, there are significant concerns about the program, its validity, and the motivations behind it. For example, now that you know that Alaska, Hawaiian, and Southwest airlines are certified, does that make you more likely to fly them than American, Delta, or United?

What does Qurator mean in Hawaii?

According to HTA, Qurator is the most comprehensive certification of its kind, evaluating businesses on six criteria: Environment, Cultural Support, Equity, Safety, Community, and Guest Experience. Mufi Hannemann, HTA board chair, emphasizes that Qurator represents brand values deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture and responsible tourism practices.

“For travelers and businesses in Hawaii, it will be fascinating to see how Qurator is able to effect genuine sustainable practices beyond the certification itself. Only time will tell if HTA’s Qurator can rise to the standards set by others or if it will fall short, as another boondoggle adding to the skepticism surrounding HTA.”

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Is long-troubled HTA the right organization, and is this the right time?

The HTA’s history of controversy and the questionable timing of this initiative raise doubts about the program’s true purpose and effectiveness.

Concerns and skepticism about HTA.

HTA has a long and controversial history. The HTA, including now under hotelier Mufi Hannemann, has faced significant scrutiny and criticism, including efforts as recently as last year by the state legislature to entirely dismantle it as being ineffective. This background raises concerns about the organization’s ability to impartially and effectively market Hawaii, let alone now certify businesses.

HTA has faced close examination and calls in the state legislature and elsewhere for dissolution due to perceived ineptness, persistent mismanagement, and ineffective tourism strategies. The state of Hawaii’s research arm, UHERO, has also previously criticized HTA for its management practices and lack of transparency. This all questions HTA’s capability to impartially administer a comprehensive certification program.

Governor Green’s appointment of Mufi Hannemann to the HTA board last year further stirred controversy, given Hannemann’s contentious history in local politics and his decade-long and ongoing service as president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, that represents Hawaii hotels.

These factors collectively undermine the credibility of HTA’s independent foray into certifications and suggest that aligning closely with established global certification standards could serve to enhance transparency, accountability, and trust in such a program and the HTA itself.

What is the motivation behind the new HTA Qurator?

Given HTA’s troubled past, some might view the introduction of Qurator as an attempt to regain credibility and control over the Hawaii tourism narrative. The timing and marketing of this program appear strategic, and at least begs the question of motivation.

HTA Qurator in relation to global tourism certification programs.

The HTA’s Qurator certification program website has links to resources such as the United Nations Sustainable Tourism Development Guidelines and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).. However, we find no explicit indication that Qurator is officially accredited by or fully aligned with these global standards. Instead, Qurator in Hawaii appears at least to operate independently, focusing on its own criteria.

It’s interesting to see what other tourist destinations are doing in this regard. Costa Rica has its CST (Certification for Sustainable Tourism), recognized for rigorous standards and a positive impact on its sustainable tourism as noted by the U.N.

Another global program is Green Globe, which has been around for three decades. “The world’s leading certification for sustainable operation and management of travel & tourism worldwide. We certify hotels, resorts, conference centres and attractions.” Yet another program is EarthCheck​.

While these programs have established themselves over a long period of time with proven effectiveness, HTA’s Qurator, being new and untested, has yet to demonstrate similar credibility.

Potential for Hawaii visitor/consumer confusion or worse.

A prior study by Duke University highlighted the confusion caused by the proliferation of tourism certification programs, each with varying standards and recognition. Without Hawaii’s adherence to some unified global standard, consumers may struggle to differentiate between genuinely sustainable practices and questionable marketing​ hype.

Qurator’s intention may be to promote responsible tourism in Hawaii.

However, the program’s success will rely heavily on its implementation, transparency, and independence from HTA’s potential biases and other problems. Given the precedents of other globally recognized and successful certification programs, HTA has a very high bar to meet in terms of rigor and credibility.

What’s your take on choosing Qurator-approved businesses?

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17 thoughts on “New Hawaii Tourism “Certification” | Greenwashing Or Genuine?”

  1. Is there a list of certified businesses involved in this HTA selected process. Make it easy for me to select where not to visit. Just count the number of circles a jet circles in the landing pattern to HNL and factor that in. You know breathing too much burnt jet fuel probably kills thousands of brain cells. All those emissions dropping down on Hawaii as well as unburned fuel drops has to be a non certified business event. I guess HTA has to ground all the airlines..

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    1. Yep… and if you have to drive further to go to an approved business that could negate the emissions savings/positive impact on the environment.

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  2. Programs like this need credibility to succeed. Given Hannerman’s close ties to the pricy hotel industry, beneath the whitewash and politically correct terminology, this is just another reason to charge more. Another money grab!

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  3. Jetliners from the mainland, outfitted with Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, and GE turbofan engines, burn anywhere from 2,865 to 4,000 gallons of jet fuel per hour. I say again, per hour. An A330-300, departing from the EU and traversing the Pacific, burns a stunning seven tons of jet fuel per hour, on a trip that can take fifteen hours. Seven liquid tons an hour, fifteen hours. To reach Hawaii, the amount of burned petroleum, by itself, is staggeringly enormous.

    Now, I support the airline industry. But HTA, please, spare us the laughable, ridiculous performative nonsense that the behemoth jet aircraft necessary to reach the Hawaiian Islands are environmentally “responsible” or “sustainable.” Absolutely no one believes this — or the HTA.

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    1. From what I’ve personally witnesses the HTA, like most non profits gives perks to the “friends and family” of our elected officials. Get rid of them.

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  4. I didn’t know much about HTA except they seem to be hog tied by the politicians that are intent on driving HI visitors to the big hotels for their own per$onal gain. Which results in many middle class families going elsewhere on vacation.

    Realistically, a very small % of potential HI visitors will consider the program mentioned when choosing a vacation destination. It’s just lipstick on a pig.

    Until the current county & state elected officials are replaced, nothing good will happen. Middle class HI voters can decide.

    Left as-is, It won’t be long before residents will find their quality of life (police, firemen, roads, 911, air service, property taxes, cost of necessities like power, water, gas, food etc) will deteriorate at an accelerated rate.

    It’s easy to fix. Just vote against every incumbent that doesn’t pledge a huge change in direction for government.

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  5. “…Qurator represents brand values deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture…”
    What a load of Monk seal manure.

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  6. Hotels need to stop gauging tourists from the mainland with the daily “resort fee” and hotel parking. Next trip we will be looking for an air bnb.

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  7. When I travel to Hawaii, the last organization I will turn to for advice is HTA and now Curator. I’ll continue to use my local travel agent (yes they still exist and mine is great).

    HA will either merge with Alaska or go bankrupt. I guess it will be only 2 airlines after that.

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  8. Nice idea, but I see the “certification” is just a way to generate revenue for HTA. Instead of co-opting something from Sweden why don’t they invest the time and energy into developing something that focuses on the core values of Hawaii and Hawaiians. No one’s gonna care that an airline is certified, for them it’s all about the price. Are they green, does it matter? If I can fly for $99 vs $149 for a certified airline, I’m taking the $99 flight. This really is just a half baked idea.

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    1. Yes, create a problem then solve it. That’s the way of people soaking the taxpayers. We have created a population of leaches parading around as do goods. You just need an angle that politicians will support so they can get reelected, in return they give you “grants” for your work. What a scam!

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  9. I’ve traveled to Qatar, don’t remember it being near Sweden. But whatever, the HTA’s got it handled. 🤙

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