Respecting The Rainbow State

By Kathryn Tanaka

More often than not, the voices of native Hawaiians are drowned out by the appeal of money flowing in from the state’s tourism industry. Tourism has not only contributed to the reshaping of Hawaii’s geography but also the gentrification of indigenous culture. Contractors force locals out of their homes, digging up ancestral burial grounds, all to make room for hotels, Airbnbs, and other tourist estates. The uptick of easy access to Hawaii has made tourists feel entitled to their tropical vacation at the expense of the native culture. Unlike the mainland, Hawaii residents unfortunately depend on the tourism industry, instead of a more sustainable source of income. Due to such an unending cycle, halting tourism in Hawaii entirely will most likely never happen, at least not in the near future. So how can we help?

First, you should be mindful of where your money goes. Instead of choosing an island tour hosted by unknown companies, look for ones organized by Hawaii residents. Not only will they possess more in-depth knowledge of the land, but also the money directly benefits them, instead of some out-of-touch billionaire. In addition, supporting small businesses and farmer’s markets keeps the money within the community and improves the local economy. Purchasing souvenirs from these places helps Hawaii residents preserve their craft, and your loved ones will appreciate something handmade. These small actions taken by tourists make a big difference in helping Hawaii.

Next, respect the islands and their history. Do not take anything from the beaches or the volcanoes. The shells and rocks are not souvenirs, and it is seen as bad luck to take them home. Likewise, stay on the trails when hiking and remember to pick up after yourself. Hawaii is home to a diverse collection of wildlife, and certain places hold sacred value to natives. The “leave no trace” policy applies to the beautiful forests and beaches of Hawaii; even though you do not live there, the environment is not a dumpster. 

Tourism corporations have consciously taken advantage of Hawaii and its people multiple times. Its history serves as a reminder that by educating ourselves and advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves, we ensure the same mistakes from the past will not be made again. Most importantly, remember that small steps by many have an immense impact for all.