Support for Hawaii tourism is falling. Fear for the Environment – AsAmNews

By Allyson Pang, Intern at AsAmNews

A recent poll found that many Hawaiians say tourism creates more problems than benefits. They blame tourism for overcrowding, higher prices and a lack of respect for the Aina or the country.

A decade ago, Hawaii’s Resident Sentiment Survey found that 80% of residents said tourism did more good than bad. It has since fallen to just over 50%.

Hawaii’s reliance on the tourism industry became apparent during the pandemic.

“We’ve gone from the lowest unemployment rate in April 2020 to the highest unemployment rate in the United States in a month. The majority of people are either directly or indirectly related to tourism,” said Jerry Agrusa, a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Kyle Kajihiro, co-founder of alternative travel group Hawaii Detour Project, says tourism is a resource industry that relies on land development, which in turn damages ecosystems and displaces native Hawaiians. His project is demilitarizing famous sites across Oahu for visitors.

Hawaii is marketed as a safe travel destination with perfect weather, but according to Kajihiro, it’s become a sale of a fantasy.

“That’s what people know about Hawaii, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s totally distorted based on racial stereotypes and whatnot,” Kajihiro said.

The Big Island’s Waipio Valley is home to one of the last remaining wetland taro growing areas on the islands, which has strong cultural and historical value for its Native Hawaiian people. For 30 years, residents have tried to work with the county to fix their deteriorating roads and have had no success.

Last month the valley was reopened to tour groups.

“These guys bring people down in these heavy vans three times a day, get paid by these guys and don’t give anything back to the valley,” said Dr. Ku Kahakalau, a Waipio Valley resident and educator.

The Big Island’s Waipio Valley is home to one of the last remaining wetland taro growing areas on the islands, which has strong cultural and historical value for its Native Hawaiian people. For 30 years, residents have tried to work with the county to fix their deteriorating roads and have had no success.

Last month the valley was reopened to tour groups.

“These guys bring people down in these heavy transporters three times a day, get paid by these guys and don’t give anything back to the valley,” Kahakalau said.

Waipio Valley residents have tried to stop the county from marketing the valley as a tourist destination, but Dr. Kahakalau says tour groups still come to the area. Some even enter private property from the main public street.

Now some residents fear the road will collapse without repairs or management of tourism by the county.

“Two thousand years of taro production, two thousand years of Hawaiian history will be lost,” Kahakalau said.

To counteract the effects of tourism, Waipio Valley residents have established a 24-hour kupuna, or elder checkpoint, at the entrance to the road to restrict access to the valley.

according to dr Kahakalau has understood the majority of tourists to protect sacred places like Waipio. Some tourists have signed their petitions and even donated money.

“We had more support than setbacks. But there are people who say, “I paid $14,000 to be here, now I can go wherever I want,” Kahakalau said.

“People are now finding places that only locals previously knew, thanks to Instagram and geo-tagging… pushing locals out of their own rest and recreation spots,” said Laurien Nuss, founder of Conscious Concept, an environmental company travel consultant.

“Indigenous people are being exploited for their culture, for their stolen land, and they don’t even have the infrastructure to take advantage of it. On Oahu, for example, you won’t find an old Hawaiian hotel. There aren’t any,” said Kajihiro of the Detour Project.

“Some of the last self-sufficient communities are being deprived of their ability to feed themselves from the ocean and the land because other people think their right to rest is more important than the right of the people who have lived in this valley for hundreds of generations”, said Kahakalau.

I’m Allysson Pang from Honolulu for AsAmNews.

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