With tourists increasingly lured to Hawaii by beachside Instagram selfies and Facebook stories depicting a tropical island paradise, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is using the tools for a campaign aimed not at luring visitors to Hawaii, but letting them know how to behave once they’re here.


The bureau, which mainly markets Hawaii as a destination, has launched a campaign sending public service announcements to the Facebook and Instagram pages of visitors, videos tailored for each island with attractive narrators explaining local customs and issues tourists simply might never consider.

Protecting reefs, safety on the water and trails, understanding Native Hawaiian culture: they’re all covered in the 30- and 60-second spots made by Honolulu’s NMG Network, which also produces publications and video content distributed in hotel rooms, as well as an island lifestyle magazine.

Crowds on 4th of July at Waikiki Beach near the Kapahulu groin .
Can a series of public service announcements ease the stress of 10 million tourists a year for a state of 1.4 million residents? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The visitors bureau says its Kuleana Campaign is getting traction. Jay Talwar, the HVCB’s senior vice president of marketing, said videos have made it on to the social media platforms of visitors to Oahu 2.9 million times in the past three months. And they’ve been viewed more than 395,000 times.

Statewide, the videos have been sent to the platforms 8.7 million times and have had 1.7 million views, he said.

Talwar said it’s not a matter of managing tourists – “’manage’ suggests a hierarchy,” he says – but instead sharing local values.

“We believe if we share our values that shape our behavior, most people then, as visitors, will exhibit that same behavior,” he said. “Once we give them the ‘why’ they generally are good people and they will follow in line.”

Jay Talwar, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s senior vice president of marketing, said tourists will follow local customs if they understand them. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

That’s potentially good news for a state that’s trying to manage a mass of tourists that’s testing the limits of Hawaii’s celebrated aloha spirit — and posing a quandary for one of the state’s main industries and largest employers.

The public still believes that tourism brings more benefits than liabilities, according to a 2018 Hawaii Tourism Authority survey. But two-thirds of Hawaii residents surveyed also agreed with the statement: “This island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people.”

Local governments are responding to pressure from residents with measures like tough restrictions on short-term vacation rentals. The latest, an Oahu law that went into effect in August, could cause a 4% drop in Oahu tourism, measured as visitor days, University of Hawaii economists have predicted. Based on Hawaii Tourism Authority data, that could reduce visitor expenditures by $30 million per month.

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau hopes its Kuleana Campaign will help visitors understand Hawaii.

And vacation rentals are hardly the only issue. Some hikes, like the Diamond Head trail, have become so crowded with unprepared tourists that rescues are a weekly occurrence. And there’s the ever-present concern about environmental degradation caused by the sheer numbers of people using the beaches and ocean. Hawaii’s population of 1.4 million is on track to host 10 million visitors this year.

The campaign is the first to roll out location-based technologies to help manage tourists. The Kuleana Campaign is designed to target visitors to Hawaii, when they’re here, Talwar said. The announcements won’t appear on the social media pages of locals, he said.

The videos address some tough issues: a spot for Maui visitors, for instance, specifically explains why illegal vacation rentals are a problem.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working with Uber Media of Pasadena, California, to create hotspots throughout the state where officials will be able to track who goes to certain sites – trails, beaches, shopping malls, and other attractions – using metadata collected from cell phones.

The plan isn’t to gather data on individuals but aggregate data for certain sites and visitors, said Jennifer Chun, the authority’s director of tourism research. For instance, she said, the data will show how many tourists versus locals visit a place like Magic Island on a given day, or what percentage of all the visitors from a particular market, like Japan, visit the beach park.

The tourism authority is now working with Uber Media to pinpoint some 700 spots, some as big as Aloha Stadium, that it will surround with the electronic geo-fences. The project is proving to be a challenge, she said.

Another challenge is to get a sense of how visitors are responding to the Kuleana Campaign.

Havovi Cooper, a news producer from New York, was one of a dozen tourists interviewed at Waikiki Beach. None had seen the Kuleana Campaign videos in their social media feeds. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

On a recent outing to Waikiki Beach on a sunny weekday afternoon, it was hard to find any tourists who had seen the videos being sent to their Facebook and Instagram feeds and stories. Of a dozen tourists interviewed at Hawaii’s iconic beach, none had seen the ads.

Havovi Cooper, a news producer from New York City, said she hadn’t seen the spots, even though she had been posting pictures on Instagram. Neither had Winnie Kong and Jay Reyes, two college students from Portland, although Reyes said she had seen ads for Hawaii hotels in her Facebook feed.

Stuys Lam, a brand manager from Los Angeles who also hadn’t seen the ads, said maybe Facebook didn’t know she had arrived. And she chalked it up to being more enthralled by the views than her phone. Sitting in the shade of a banyan tree waiting for a yoga class near Queens Beach, Lam said there were better things to look at than her phone.

“If you’re here and trying to enjoy all this,” she said, sweeping her arm toward the ocean, “you won’t be watching a video.”

“Tourism’s Tipping Point” is part of Civil Beat’s year-long series, “Hawaii’s Changing Economy.” That work is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author