HTA: Progress on 2021 sustainable tourism goals

  • Hula demonstration during the 2018 Merrie Monarch festival in Hilo (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

A tourism management plan for Hawaii Island is gradually being implemented, with the Hawaii Tourism Authority reporting steady progress on goals for 2021.

Of the 45 sub-actions in the first phase of the project to be completed this year, 33 were in progress as of July 31, the agency reported.

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The Destination Management Action Plan is a collaboration among the HTA, the Hawaii County Department of Research & Development and the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Several of the top actions that tourism officials, working with the community, identified for the island correspond to findings in a recent University of Hawaii survey of visitors from the U.S. mainland that found visitors were willing to pay more for authentic cultural experiences, learning opportunities and locally sourced food.

Some of these cultural experiences, study co-author and UH Manoa School of Travel Industry Management Professor Jerry Agrusa says, may include working in a taro patch, helping to rebuild ancient Hawaiian fishponds, cleaning up invasive species on a hiking trail and/or doing a beach cleanup.

“One of the things that families want is that they want something educational when on vacation—something that the children bring back and this includes learning about the local culture,” Agrusa said in a press release.

The categories identified in the Destination Management Action Plan:

• Protect and preserve culturally significant places and hotspots.

• Develop resources and educational programs to perpetuate authentic Hawaiian culture and Olelo Hawaii.

Among the major findings in the UH survey, when asked if respondents were willing to pay more to experience and support sustainable tourism experiences in Hawaii, more than 70% answered “yes,” and approximately one third stated they would pay more than 10%. Also, more than 35% of respondents were willing to pay more than 10% extra to experience culturally respectful tourism experiences in Hawaii, and nearly 20% were willing to pay an additional 16%.

• Support and promote aina-based education and practices to protect and preserve our natural resources so that residents and visitors will aloha aina.

• Connect with community networks and partner with community-based organizations to collaboratively identify sites, set carrying capacities, and implement stewardship plans to protect and preserve our natural resources.

• Create opportunities for ongoing dialogue, communications, and engagement between the visitor industry, government and communities to improve community-industry relations and better serve the community.

• Implement a comprehensive communications and education plan that facilitates positive community-visitor relations and pono practices, including the Pono Pledge.

• Promote agritourism, and partner with Hawaii Island’s agriculture industry to support local food security.

Nearly 80% of respondents in the UH survey stated that they were willing to pay more to support locally grown food. More than 20% indicated they would be willing to increase their food bill by 16% or more, while more than 37% of survey participants indicated that they would be willing to increase their bill by 11% or more.

• Invest in community-based programs that enhance quality of life for communities.

• Advocate/create more funding sources to improve infrastructure.

• Improve enforcement of vacation rental regulations.

The online UH survey of 28 questions was administered randomly to residents of the continental United States who had traveled on an airplane for vacation at least once in the last year. The researchers collected 455 survey responses, of which 64% were first time visitors to Hawaii, while 36% had previously visited the islands.

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The UH findings were published in the Journal of Risk and Financial Management.

The progress report on the Destination Management Action Plan can be found at https://www.hawaiitourismauthority.org/media/7678/hawaii-island-dmap-progress-report_summer-2021_final.pdf.