As one of the most exotic vacation destinations in the world, Hawaii is beautiful, but can also be dangerous for unprepared adventurers.

Not understanding the unique local geography or failing to respect nature can get you killed. And though Hawaii tourists are sometimes branded as naïve in their recreational choices, even seasoned locals are susceptible to drownings, falls and sometimes just getting lost while hiking.

In 2013, in response to numerous tourist injuries and fatalities, the state Senate adopted a resolution that asked the Hawaii Tourism Authority to develop an orientation video to be shown on incoming flights. In 2014, HTA produced a three-and-a-half-minute video, “E Komo Mai, Enjoy Hawai‘i Safely,” to brief visitors, but airlines aren’t using it.

Ocean Safety out at North Shore / Pupukea as lifeguard moves signs in anticipation of larger swells.
A lifeguard moves signs on Oahu’s North Shore in anticipation of larger swells. A lot more could be done to safeguard visitors and locals alike. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In an e-mail, Keith Regan, chief administrative officer for HTA, says that “after much negotiation, airlines decided not to show the video on their aircraft.”

Regan notes that HTA does not have the authority to mandate that air carriers present the video, and says that all attempts “were met with resistance.”

Here’s what Regan says tourists should know:

“Hawaii has a natural environment that is ever-changing and sometimes presents dangers especially to those who are unprepared. It’s important that visitors do not let their guard down and apply common sense when visiting our beaches and trails. From an ocean safety standpoint, it’s important that visitors use beaches that are guarded by ocean safety officers. It’s important that visitors know their limits and pay attention to warnings when they go enjoy the ocean.”

While airline passengers won’t see the HTA orientation video, the video has been available since 2015 on the tourist information website, and in 2016, HTA developed a mobile app that includes safety precautions.

But visitors to Hawaii may not be aware these resources exist, their attention primarily directed on last-minute scrambles to complete the Hawaii Plants and Animals Declaration Form before landing.

As a state that not only prides itself on traditions of hospitality but also depends on consistent tourism for revenue, visitor safety education needs to be a top priority. And while state and county governments have created various websites and resources for safety education, what is lacking is a strong, coordinated campaign to integrate all of these into a convenient and visible message.

The first thing that needs to happen is the governor and county mayors need to agree that visitor safety is a problem, and commit to a single, integrated campaign to put in front of tourists the information needed to stay safe. While the state can’t control what airlines do, what can be controlled is what happens the minute tourists step off the plane.

• Airports: In our airport terminals, tourists should see posters or signs displaying safety resources in a simple-to-understand, even amusingly memorable format. Tourists should be able to scan a QR code with their cell phones and immediately be directed to an orientation website, which could also have the side-benefit of informing visitors about cultural sensitivity to Hawaiian practices or special locations.

Audio messages could play intermittently on the airport public address system directing tourists to visit the website.

• Hotels: An easy way to catch the attention of tourists would be to create an orientation folder and provide it to hotels. They could contain basic safety tips and useful maps that inform tourists of notable sightseeing, hiking, swimming/snorkeling locations and health care facility locations. In much the same way that the state mandates that tobacco vendors display “Age 21” signage, the Legislature could easily mandate that hotels place the orientation folder in every single room.

• Geo-targeting: One of the advantages of modern social media technology is that it is now possible to have geo-targeted marketing that allows advertisements to be seen by people using their mobile devices in specific locations. For example, a tourist who is at the North Shore perusing the internet on their cell phone might see a banner in their browser or, in the case of YouTube, a video, which refers them to Hawaii safety tips.

In this manner, a targeted marketing campaign can make it so that it is improbable for a tourist to go anywhere in the islands without at least being exposed once to a safety message or orientation video.

• Park signage: Many of the safety signs provided by state and county governments at parks and beaches and other locations are basic and only in English. Yes, there are safety icons that warn tourists that there may be strong currents, no lifeguards or sharp rocks, but it is entirely possible to go to a beach and not see the signs since many are so small and so sparsely posted.

At the very minimum, beaches with the most injuries or fatalities should have murals, either posted on the external wall of the park bathroom or in the parking lot, that has both text and graphic illustrations of how to stay safe and what not to do.

Paradise should not be a gateway to hell for the unprepared or uniformed. When it comes to safety education and injury prevention, we can do better.

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