How to be a respectful visitor

  • High levels of tourism have not been without negative impact on the Hawaiian Islands.
  • A 2022 survey found that 66% of respondents said they want to learn about the local culture of the places they visit.
  • Visitors should take the time to research the destination in advance to plan more authentic experiences.

With year-round warm weather, stunning natural beauty, and a rich culture, Hawaii has earned its place at the top of many people’s bucket lists. Every day, thousands of people arrive, delighted to discover the chain of islands.

Unfortunately, the high levels of tourism have not been without negative impact on the islands. From crowded trails to traffic jams, the islands are now looking for a new kind of visitor, who wants to create a deeper connection with Hawaii.

“It’s important to Hawaii to uphold the values ​​of our home culture and we’ve been excellent at portraying the spirit of hello in Hawaii and around the world, but we also need to make sure our visitors are also on the same page,” Malia Sanders, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, told USA TODAY.

A new type of visitor

“Today’s visitor wants to learn, they want to engage, they want to play an active role in protecting the environment and preserving the natural wonders and beauty of Hawaii so that they can continue to enjoy it again and again,” Sanders said.

In a 2022 survey, 66% of 30,000 people surveyed said they want to learn about the local culture of the places they visit, and more than half of those surveyed said they would rather leave the place than when they were. arrival.

“If you plan your itinerary full of things that are educational, cultural, leave a positive impact, and make you a better visitor, you’re bound to have a truly authentic experience when visiting Hawaii,” she said.

Here are some ways to learn about the islands’ history and culture on a trip to Hawaii without breaking the bank.

1. Volunteer (and it might get you a cheaper hotel bill)

Volunteer your time on the islands and, in turn, you’ll meet dedicated locals and have a positive impact on the community. Many local nonprofits invite visitors to volunteer, and you can find opportunities at

Your volunteer work may even result in a cheaper hotel bill. The Hawaiian Tourism Authority recently launched the Malama Hawaii program, offering visitors special discounts at select hotels when participating in a dedicated volunteer activity, such as beach cleanups or reforestation.

2. Don’t act like a tourist

Not taking the time to research your destination ahead of time can actually hamper your trip, Sanders said: “At most, you’ll only find out what you accidentally stumble upon, you may encounter misinformation that isn’t authentic and you may not have a pleasant experience if it ends up taking you to places where you may not be safe or belong.

“As visitors, we have a responsibility to be as well prepared as possible, whether here in Hawaii or any other destination in the world. Preparing for a deeply rich cultural place requires us to do some homework as as a guest. We want to be responsible for how we act as guests.”

By this she means learning the customs and traditions of the place you are visiting – such as how a kiss on the cheek is a common greeting on the islands – and what activities can be harmful – such as swimming too close to wildlife or taking rocks or sand home from the beach.

Take the time to learn about where you are staying, as different parts of the islands are culturally significant. For example, Waikiki on Oahu, the heart of Hawaii tourism, was once a historic battle site and where Hawaiian royalty like Princess Kaiulani owned estates.

3. Avoid chains, buy local

“Where you spend your dollar in Hawaii really matters,” Sanders said. “In the regenerative tourism model, the circular economy is a key element of its success. Buying and shopping local reduces capital flight and keeps that dollar flowing continuously into the local economy.

“Read the labels of things you buy while on vacation. If it’s made in Hawaii, it will usually say so or have a Hawaii address on the label.”

Look for family-run shops or Native Hawaiian-owned businesses, which you can find online at Kuhikuhi. Buying a gift from a place like the Hot Island Glass family gallery on Maui rather than a department store will not only directly reinvest in that local family, but also give you something handcrafted and more island-related.

4. Can you really know a place if you don’t eat local?

Coffee farm host gives visitors a tour.

From paniolos to plantations, for many years the agricultural sector has played a vital role in feeding Hawaii and expanding Hawaii’s staple exports, such as sugar and pineapples. Choose to support and get to know the farmers and restaurants that use ingredients from the islands. Plus, you’ll also sample some of the freshest foods available and flavors from the cultures that make up Hawaii today, making the decision a win-win.

More tourists seem to agree. A new study by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa found that 78% of tourists from the continental United States are willing to pay extra for locally grown food.

There are plenty of places to eat in Hawaii that won’t empty your wallet, like the many Asian food stalls at Maunakea Market in Honolulu’s Chinatown or a plated lunch at the Sueoka Family Market in Kauaï.

Also consider going straight to the source and booking a farm tour, which you can find on all the islands, like Kona Coffee Living History Farm on the island of Hawaii and O’o Farm in Upcountry, Maui. These farm tours are often inexpensive and introduce you to Hawaii’s agricultural enthusiasts. You can also stop at a farmers market to find out what tropical produce is grown in Hawaii.

5. Nothing more authentic than community events

Throughout the year, Hawaii hosts many festivals and events that celebrate the cultures and traditions rooted in the islands. In November, there’s the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, honoring the farmers, growers and roasters of the long-standing coffee community on the Big Island. In September, there’s the Okinawa Festival on Oahu, celebrating all things Okinawan (which also has a large population in Hawaii.)

There are also smaller, more frequent events that support local businesses and the arts and culture scene, such as the weekly Hanapepe Art Night in Kauai and monthly First Fridays in Honolulu. Admission to these events is often free.

6. Go deeper

11. Hawaii: Iolani Palace • City: Honolulu • Built: 1882 • Commissioned by: King Kalakaua • Size 7,000 square feet

While you probably want to spend most of your time in Hawaii outdoors on the beach, it’s important as a visitor to better understand Hawaii’s past and present, from its Polynesian roots to the tragic overthrow and to the creation of a state.

Make time to visit one of the many cultural institutions on the islands, such as Honolulu’s Iolani Palace or Hawaii Island’s Hulihe’e Palace. If you’re traveling on a budget, some museums like Bishop Museum, the largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural artifacts and natural specimens in the world, host After Hours events with cheaper admission.

If you prefer to stay outdoors, the National Parks Service also offers a list of National Historic Landmarks to visit in the state, many of which are considered sacred to Hawaiians.

7. (Hawaii) is not a place. It is a people.

These days, many hotels in Hawaii have decided to employ cultural advisors or people who are deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture, values ​​and practices. After many years of the media misrepresenting Hawaiians and their culture for entertainment and tourism, these people work hard to ensure the hotel appropriately shares Hawaiian culture and hosts workshops and other activities. to educate customers. Often, these workshops are free for hotel guests, and you’ll meet and work with respected practitioners of their craft.

These advisers and other locals you meet on your trip can be a good source to help you weed out inauthentic activity, Sanders said.

“Hawaii is the destination, but perhaps more importantly, our visitors come to experience the richness of Hawaiian culture and our people,” she said. “That sense of deep spiritual and cultural connection, overwhelming aloha and kindness, sense of family and belonging…that’s what they’re missing in their own lives, and I’m sure that’s is why they come.”

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