Denby Fawcett: Want Tourists To Care For Our Land? Set An Example - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeHawaii tourism officials’ efforts to better manage the surge of tourists includes asking them to become part of the solution by voluntarily agreeing to “malama the aina” — care for the land — and “hana kupono,” do what is right, or practice kuleana, be responsible for mitigating their own impacts.

In final votes Thursday, state lawmakers are expected to approve legislation to give the Hawaii Tourism Authority $60 million to continue its efforts to entice more tourists to come here as well as focus on better managing Hawaii as a tourist destination.

HTA destination management action plans for each island include initiatives to encourage “mindful” tourists to make positive contributions to the quality of life here.

This malama for the aina is supposed to happen at the same time tourists by their sheer numbers are crowding out locals from their favorite beaches, hogging hiking trails and commandeering all the tables at small local eateries.

The Maui County Council has made its own Malama Maui pledge to put that goal in writing in brochures and in a video.

The buzzwords malama and “sustainable tourism” are part of the current tug of war between the state’s marketing drive to ensure that tourism arrival numbers soar while at the same time, trying to prevent the visiting malihini from turning neighborhoods into war zones as they crowd into illegal vacation rentals on once quiet residential streets or tick off locals by coopting all their favorite recreation spots.

However well-meaning, what’s wrong with the “malama” concept is it’s disingenuous to ask tourists mainly here for fun and sun to put down their mai tais and make a conscious effort to care for the aina when, in so many ways, we don’t malama the islands ourselves.

Graffiti keeps reappearing on Chinatown storefronts no matter how many times businesses try to eradicate it. Courtesy: Oren Schlieman/2021

Look at the filthy bathrooms often blighting public parks, urban buildings covered with graffiti, sidewalks in Chinatown thickly coated with layers of pigeon poop.

Or when driving down Kalakaua Avenue at night, glance at the seediness of the sidewalks crowded with so-called street “entertainers” who do things like paint themselves silver and stand like statues while hitting up tourists for the privilege of posing beside them. Or lip-syncing to vulgar music from boom boxes. Or the grown man dressed up like a tree.

Witness the piles of litter in our parks, the ragged tent encampments of the homeless on the sidewalks, bumper-to-bumper traffic, the potholes.

Blame the degradation on a lack of government leadership but we also are to blame for not holding our leaders’ feet to the fire.

State Sen. Glenn Wakai said in a phone conversation Friday, “Before we as a community vilify tourists for not caring for the land, we need to look in the mirror to take stock of what we are doing.  Tourists are an easy punching bag because they return home, they do not remain here to fight back.”

Wakai is chairman of the Senate Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Another problem with these “malama” initiatives is they are preachy.

Frank Haas says the marketing term for such exhortations is “eat your vegetables.” The tone of the request is scolding, implying that tourists are poised to be bad actors and instead need to be cajoled to do something good.

“Nobody wants to be scolded,” says Haas.

Haas is the former director of marketing for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and is principal of Marketing Management, Inc. a company focusing on tourism strategy development.

HTA spokesman Ilihia Gionson says, “Sharing the concept of malama with tourists is definitely a work in progress. We know we have a long way to go, but setting that expectation is important.”

Sometimes watching the state’s uncoordinated efforts at setting an expectation of regenerative tourism is enough to make a person want to say it is hopeless.

But, little by little, a few promising developments are starting to emerge.

Visitors buy tickets at a kiosk inside the Diamond Head crater before hiking to the summit.
Visitors buy tickets at a kiosk inside the Diamond Head crater before hiking to the summit. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

One is a state Department of Land and Natural Resources initiative to require all out-of-town visitors to have advanced reservations to enter the Diamond Head Monument.

Local residents are exempt. They are free to hike the crater trail whenever they want without reservations.

If this online reservation system works as planned, it should encourage local residents to once again hike the trail to the summit of the crater that today is commandeered by tourists.

Starting May 12, out-of-state visitors will be prohibited from entering Diamond Head unless they have advanced reservations. The goal is to spread out the arrivals of 3,000 people — the current number of visitors now entering Diamond Head each day — rather than allowing them to squeeze in all at once, as more than 6,000 people did on a single day in December 2018.

Requiring reservations for non-residents is expected to make a visit to the volcanic treasure less of a mob scene and more of a special occasion for tourists and locals alike.

State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell summed it up: “Hey, for years we were an all-you-can-eat buffet. We were giving our food away. Now we are more like a high-class restaurant. You have got to get advanced reservations.”

Another welcome breakthrough is the cityʻs new ordinance to limit the burgeoning numbers of short-term vacation rentals on Oahu by requiring landlords  — except in tourism zones like Waikiki — to rent for 90 days or more. Before it was 30 days.

Suburban neighborhoods such as Kailua, currently burdened with hundreds of short-term rentals, could greatly benefit from the new law but there’s a looming concern: The city must have the willpower and the personnel to enforce the measure.

That is the trouble with so many well-meaning legislative efforts to malama the aina. Our law enforcers often lack the energy or the will to enforce them.

Let’s not let them get away with that.

Read this next:

Chad Blair: Ikaika Anderson Plays The Kupuna Card In First TV Ad

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Hawaii has used many different methods to educate our Visitors about Hawaii over the last 100 years. The HTA DMAPs do not include any strategies for how to educate the modern mobile Visitors of 2022 to allow them to Malama Hawaii. It is time for an education conference. It is time to review how Visitors leaned about Hawaii before the digital age and Covid. Then we need to adapt our education to today. There are many existing techniques that will provide" Leisure Education" experiences for our Visitors. We have good examples of how to provide meaningful cultural and historical interpretation for our Visitors. HTA needs to learn what our best "Leisure Education" models are from past experience. The National Parks are our resident experts.

Pukele · 1 year ago

Spot on regarding locals being the root cause of pollution and desecration of public property. Ramped homelessness that is allowed to fester in public spaces and the danger of staying in Waikiki, so you can see it all up close. The part where this article goes off on a little tangent is the vacation rental part, as if the STR tourists are a problem the Waikiki one's aren't. When you read about the severe beatings, stabbings, shootings and robberies in Waikiki and the police and city's inability to stop it, I wouldn't want to stay in the jungle either. The STR issue is a whole different argument altogether, which has nothing to do with how locals steward the aina.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

"Our law enforcers often lack the energy or the will to enforce them."This last sentence is pertinent to almost everything. We pay our law enforcers pretty good money with good benefits and a healthy pension to do their jobs. Oftentimes, they are seen chit-chatting around with each other, which doesn't seem to me like they are doing their job. If they would go ahead and enforce the laws that are already enacted, our society would be much better off.

Scotty_Poppins · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.