County, visitors bureau launch campaign to try to make tourists more respectful

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, Hawaii County tourism specialist Frecia Cevallos, Executive Director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Ross Birch, county Managing Director Wil Okabe and state Rep. Richard Onishi hold up Island of Hawaii Pono Pledge T-shirts during a press conference Thursday at the County Building.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Tourists go beyond the barrier to take a selfie and a picture Thursday at Rainbow Falls in Hilo.

A new collaboration between the Big Island visitors bureau and Hawaii County hopes to create a more conscientious tourist industry on the Big Island.

During a press conference Thursday morning, Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch and county Managing Director Will Okabe presented the “Pono Pledge,” a public information campaign intended to build awareness for treating the island with respect.


The campaign is simple, Birch explained. The Pono Pledge is a nine-line mantra affirming that, while people can appreciate the beauty of the island, they will not do so in a way that disrupts the environment and community, or endangers people.

Birch said tourism-adjacent industries that partner with the program — hotels in particular — will offer campaign materials to island visitors in order to raise awareness about how to view the island safely, responsibly and respectfully. While they will not be required to do so, visitors can sign the pledge online and share it via social media, further spreading awareness.

Birch said that the campaign — which was intended to be unveiled in June but was delayed because of the Kilauea volcano eruption in lower Puna — arose in response to a change in tourism on the island.

“Ten, 15 years ago, you didn’t have social media,” Birch said. “Ten years ago, there were 1.66 million visitors to the island. There were 1.72 million last year. There hasn’t been a big change in the number of visitors, but they’re a different kind of visitor.”

Because of the ubiquity of social media, smartphones and selfies, visitors might be less conscious of the environmental impact their presence has on the island.

“An example I’ll use is Waipio Valley,” Birch said. “The lookout at Waipio Valley has limited parking spaces and access, but it gets more than 1,000 visitors a day, when in the past it got about 200 a day.”

Birch said the Pono Pledge dovetails nicely with the rise of “voluntourism,” a trend of ostensibly socially conscious vacationers volunteering their time at community service programs. Cruise ships and tour groups, many of which offer similar programs, can distribute information about the Pono Pledge to visitors before they arrive on the island.

While the campaign has not yet been adopted by airlines, Birch said he hopes such a partnership is possible in the future because airlines would be able to inform passengers about the pledge before arrival.

“The extension of this is limitless,” Birch said.

If successful, the campaign — which was itself modeled after similar programs in Iceland and Palau — hopefully will serve as a model for other islands and tourist destinations, Birch said.

“This is a way to establish Hawaii as a leader in responsible tourism efforts,” read a prepared statement by Mayor Harry Kim.

While Birch said he hopes the pledge will result in positive environmental impacts through time, the only trackable goal of the campaign is the number of people who signed the pledge. Birch said he hopes 10,000 people sign the pledge within the campaign’s first year.

The full pledge can be found and signed at

Email Michael Brestovansky at


The Pono Pledge

I pledge to be pono (righteous) on the island of Hawaii.

I will mindfully seek wonder, but not wander where I do not belong.

I will not defy death for breathtaking photos, or venture beyond safety.

I will malama (care for) land and sea, and admire wildlife only from afar.

Molten lava will mesmerize me, but I will not disrupt its flow.

I will not take what is not mine, leaving lava rocks and sand as originally found.

I will heed ocean conditions, never turning my back to the Pacific.


When rain falls ma uka (inland), I will remain high above ground, out of rivers and streams.

I will embrace the island’s aloha spirit, as it embraces me.

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