Safety in Paradise: The Dual Reality of Hawaii's Marketing Claims

Safety in Paradise: The Conflicted Reality of Hawaii’s Marketing Claims

How safe do you feel in Hawaii? According to a just-released report from the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), 95% of you feel safe in the islands. That does not entirely jive with what you tell us here in your past comments.

While Hawaii marketing portrays the state as a safe haven for visitors, and it mostly is compared to other places in the world, recent incidents and local sentiments reveal a more complex safety landscape in the islands.

“The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) recently released the results of its Q4 2023 survey, which found that at least 95 percent of visitors from each geographic region rated the Hawaiian Islands as having met or exceeded their expectations. The majority of visitors said they are very likely to recommend Hawaii to their friends and relatives.”

Hawaii Tourism Authority Q4 2023 Survey Results

Hawaii is a destination long synonymous with safety in paradise.

The state often ranks high on lists of the safest places to visit in the United States and globally. And for good reasons. The relaxed and beautiful landscape and persona, even the perceived aloha spirit, contribute to this image. It creates an idyllic dream for visitors.

However, beneath this veneer of safety and security, ongoing issues and a series of recent events challenge the state’s safety rhetoric, painting a picture of a destination grappling with real-world problems.

Promoted safety in Hawaii vs. actual risks.

The state of Hawaii, through its latest marketing efforts, continues to assure tourists of a safe vacation environment. Recent surveys, such as that regarding Visitor Satisfaction and Activity, report high satisfaction rates regarding safety, with 95% of respondents rating the islands as excellent or above average in security measures. These surveys, often highlighted by state tourism authorities like the HTA, serve as a testament to the successful branding of the islands as a secure travel destination.

However, this promoted safety is occasionally at odds with the experiences of both visitors and locals. For instance, Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city, has seen a spate of violent crimes and fatal accidents that continue to raise concerns among its residents and should be noted by visitors as well. Despite being named one of the safest cities in the nation, these incidents prompt a necessary reevaluation of actual safety levels in Hawaii’s only real city.

Not only that, but visitor deaths, especially those via drowning, are a very serious concern that is not obvious from the HTA report. We wrote about Hawaii visitor drownings in seven separate articles in 2023 alone.

And related to other causes, auto accidents involving visitors are all too frequent and sometimes deadly. Within the last two months, a Canadian visitor drove off a sixty-foot cliff while visiting, and within 24 hours of that, one California visitor was killed, and another received life-threatening injuries in another driving incident.

Hawaii’s crime and enforcement faces challenges.

Gun violence in Hawaii, while relatively low compared to other states, has seen a worrisome uptick. Recent reports indicate an increase in firearm and drug-related incidents, including fatal shootings as well as law enforcement-involved fatalities. These incidents contribute to a growing unease about personal safety, albeit more so among local communities who feel these dangers contradict the state’s peaceful portrayal.

Moreover, the effectiveness of local law enforcement in addressing and preventing crime has come under scrutiny. While clearance rates for violent crimes are commendable, there is an acknowledged struggle with staffing shortages and resource allocation that impacts the overall efficacy of crime prevention.

Traffic and pedestrian safety concerns.

Traffic safety is another significant concern that belies the state’s safe haven status. The recent wrongful deaths (one of which was a hit and run) of two of BOH editors’ pedestrian neighbors on Kauai have sparked outrage and highlighted the dangers that both Hawaii visitors and residents face, even on local roads. These tragic events underscore the need for more robust traffic enforcement and better safety measures, including sidewalks, to protect pedestrians, particularly in areas with high tourist activity.

Navigating between Hawaii safety marketing and reality.

The contrast between Hawaii’s safety marketing and the reality faced by its residents and visitors presents a challenging chasm. While it is crucial for Hawaii marketing to spin this for economic reasons, there is also a pressing need to address the underlying safety issues genuinely and transparently. Those often go missing in the business as usual nature of Hawaii.

Efforts to improve safety are hopefully ongoing, as are initiatives aimed at reducing crime rates and enhancing traffic safety. However, for Hawaii to maintain its reputation as a safe destination, these efforts must be intensified and coupled with honest public-facing communication about the challenges and measures in place.

As Hawaii continues to re-envision its identity, including that of a safe tourist destination, it is essential for both potential visitors and residents to remain informed. Understanding the dual reality of safety in Hawaii is important for setting realistic expectations and contributing to a genuinely secure and enjoyable environment for all who come to the islands.

Do you agree with the survey results?


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14 thoughts on “Safety in Paradise: The Conflicted Reality of Hawaii’s Marketing Claims”

  1. Years ago we were robbed on a Maui Beach. We caught up with the red truck up at the turn as it climbs and gets curvy, they had pulled over to throw what they did not want over into the ocean. I stupidly walked up to the truck as if to ask directions. And went psycho when I saw our watches and money in the passengers lap. Long and short of it …police comment “well you got your stuff back, whats the problem?” So I say 1.Tourism is first industry and Tourists are the second. Keep you head on a swivel, don’t leave anything in your car and Paradise is Not heaven. Use your head! If you look like an easy target you might be! Just like anywhere else in the country with just a beautiful sunset.

  2. Safety on the Hawaiian Islands is No different than anywhere else except a lot of preventable issues happy in the ocean. You can show travelers all of the videos that you can make up but having them comprehend the realities of what being in the ocean actually means once in the ocean are very different things. Around the Islands it is Not just about how big the waves that you never turn your back on are. The failure to note which way the currents are moving gets most people in trouble because they end up somewhere they never expected to or they end up fighting the strong currents that just wears them out.

  3. I guess as a tourist my first clue would be when the front desk person asks “Do you need a safe or lock box for the duration of your stay? Just the same as if you went to Las Vegas or other luxury town.

  4. Back around 2005, I was coming back from Kaena Point when my car ran out of gas. It was about 6pm. I got out and looked for a gas station with none to be seen. Two young guys came up by me. I thought for sure this would not end up well for me. But much to my surprise, they asked what I needed and I told them I was out of gas. They said they would be right back. About 15 minutes later they showed up with a 5 gallon gas can. I thanked them and gave them something for helping me out. One of the guys said, “brudah Iz would want them to help.” Then I realized I was wearing an “IZ” shirt. Not all is bad in Hawaii.

  5. Outside of shark bites and cracked runways I guess if the plane lands safely is considered a good flight. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t flash any fancy jewelry or bling. Google Honolulu’s 2024 crime report and it will display catagories from violent to property crimes. Search for area’s most dangerous and if it is safe to be there at night. Isolated and less populated area’s seem to be targets for tourists. One point that an article stated was a tourist that looks like they have money is an easy target for a drug addict or homeless person. Mainly watch your surroundings and stay safe.

  6. It’s not nearly as safe as they proclaim. I had my car broken into across from at that time Irifune restaurant in 2004.
    The cops refused to do anything and upon returning home I found my camera equipment on ebay, which I bid on it and won it. I called the Honolulu PD who retrieved them along with my pc. (I had documented the serial numbers prior).
    The police refused to press charges claiming they couldn’t prove the same people auctioning ot off stole it despite them also having multiple other auctions of camera and electronics.
    Until the PD actually prosecutes natives instead of letting them continue preying on tourists it will never be “safe”. I’ve seen the same thing across all islands.

  7. Cue the disgruntled opinions of people who’ve had a bad experience here. It’s been shown in studies that people leaving negative reviews online far outweighs those that leave positive reviews even though the causal relationship is the opposite. This blog is a perfect encapsulation of that.

    1. What do you mean by casual relationships are the opposite. Look up the Crime reports for Oahu, Maui, and all the islands. Stolen property and property crimes are the highest mentioned and all is public records information that are true facts and not made up. Again Public Records and free to google by HPD etc. No made up stories here. Example search 2024 Oahu Crime and bam the link is first on the list. Have you ever heard of Hawaiian Ice? Well it’s not what goes in a Snow cone.

  8. I visited Waikikki in 2009 and personally witnessed Dwayne Chapman confront someone for having drugs on them. I was standing next to Beth and Leland Chapman watching the whole scene. No camera’s and it wasn’t staged. My question is if Hawaii is so safe then how in the heck did Dog the bounty Hunter make a living off tracking down fugitives or wanted court no shows? Handguns are illegal to possess in Hawaii except law enforcement. I saw a lot of people screaming at each other at various locations and sounds of sirens. I was called a Haole at Sunset Beach by a native Hawaiian and my response was Educate Me and I heard him out and things were cool. Believe me the mainland tourist hate is real. That was 15years ago.

    1. Aloha Don!

      Handguns are not only not illegal to own, they are legal to carry once you get your permit.

      And to address your question about Dog and crime: it is a TV show. TV is a place where things are exaggerated or inflated in order to get more people to watch the show (i.e. make more money). While the incident you saw was not on TV, Dog is known for being that kind of person who thinks it is his job, all the time.

      I live here. I feel safe. Is there crime? Yes. Do we have problems here? Yes. Does wherever yoy come from have crime and problems also? I surmise that it does as crime is not limited to only specific areas of geography.


  9. West coast Canadian here.
    We have been to Hawaii mant times over the last 30 years
    Numerous trips to Waikiki and a few to the big Island and Maui.
    Waikiki has become over run with homeless. After dark we stay away from the beach area, and only travel to and from our destination by cab. No more strolling the area after dark.
    We have had several uncomfortable encounters with locals suggesting that we are no longer welcome in the Islands. Hawaii was always our go to winter get away but for the last 5 years we have spent our winter vacation in Mexico and the Caribbean. Hawaii is now no longer a place we consider.

    1. Mexico …wow! Unless you are staying in an alli inclusive resort, I don’t think Mexico is safer than Hawaii. If Mexico is so safe, why build a wall? I assume people who travel to Mexico are welcoming Mexicans in the US? If not, that’s pathetic.

      1. Eva,
        Agree with you totally on the lack of safety in Mexico.
        Tourists are being shot and killed by the Drug cartells

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