Hawaii reaches out to 'mindful travelers'

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The new Malama Hawaii campaign offers a free night stay or other incentives for Hawaii visitors who participate in qualifying volunteer activities, like planting a native tree at one of the state's reforestation sites
The new Malama Hawaii campaign offers a free night stay or other incentives for Hawaii visitors who participate in qualifying volunteer activities, like planting a native tree at one of the state's reforestation sites Photo Credit: Credit: HTA/Heather Goodman

With the reopening of Hawaii tourism underway, the state is rolling out programs and campaigns designed to attract conscientious travelers willing to give back during their tropical vacations.

"There's a lot of talk right now in the industry of targeting the top 1%. Arrivals are down, and destinations want the highest yield travelers," said Jay Talwar, chief marketing officer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB). "We are after mindful travelers, and we believe they come from all over the socioeconomic spectrum. We want to target people who appreciate the way we represent Hawaii and who will protect the values of Hawaii."

One way the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and the HVCB are encouraging visitors who want to give back to the community is through a new program that offers incentives for volunteer work. New HTA chief John De Fries has centered the agency's reopening initiatives around the concept of malama (to care for), and the new Malama Hawaii program earns participants a complimentary additional night at their accommodations or other bonuses when they participate in qualifying community-oriented activities. Various hotels and resorts have signed on to the program and have chosen their own incentives to offer.

For example, on Maui the nonprofit Pacific Whale Foundation created a new coastal marine debris-monitoring program specifically for the new tourist initiative. Visitors can pick up a cleanup kit that includes a bag, data sheet and reusable gloves at either the Maalaea or Lahaina Ocean Store. Guests of the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea who complete the beach cleanup would then be eligible for a resort credit during their current stay and a transferable gift certificate valid for one night for a future stay.

"One thing we are acutely aware of here in Hawaii is the impact of plastics on the environment," Talwar said. "But when you're coming from another part of the country, you may not see the impact of plastics as much. When you do a beach cleanup and help clean up microplastics, it really is a mind-opener for a lot of people. Now they see why we are asking people to carry reusable water bottles and use less and less plastics."

The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger are offering a third night free and have partnered with Oahu's Kualoa Ranch on a new two-hour eco-adventure that includes various types of community service and cultural experiences, such as lessons on the cultivation of kalo and its importance to the Hawaiian people, and a canoe excursion to a traditional fishpond to learn about restoration efforts. Other properties have teamed with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative to offer incentives to guests who plant a native tree during their stay contributing to the effort to bring back more of the island's indigenous flora.

"The other thing that's really cool is, not all of the volunteer opportunities are in the mud or sifting through sand," Talwar said. "There's one program where you can learn about Hawaiian quilts and then make one square of a quilt that will go to someone in need. So there are a variety of different ways someone can help the community."

The push to attract more "mindful travelers" really began a few years ago, Talwar said, but accelerated as the friction between residents and tourists increased as the state hit a record 10.4 million visitors in 2019. Now, as Hawaii is attempting to balance community safety with the relaunch of the tourism industry that is the largest private employer in the state, the focus on travelers who embrace Hawaii's unique culture and ecology and are willing to participate in its preservation has become that much more important.

"We want to attract visitors who care about perpetuating the beauty of the place they are visiting," Talwar said, adding that rather than scolding or wagging a finger, the HVCB campaign attempts to educate visitors so they understand why certain rules and norms are important.

During the unprecedented downturn in visitors due to the pandemic, numerous reports came in from across the state of the positive impacts for Hawaii's plants, animals and landscape. At Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkeling site on Oahu that attracts 7,000 daily visitors in normal times, Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and other animals that recently were seen rarely if at all have returned. With clear-cut evidence of the impacts of humans on the fragile island environment, Talwar said the effort to educate visitors has become more critical than ever.

"If you are coming from a market where people don't hike a whole lot, you might not understand why you need to stay on the trail," Talwar said. "So we try through our ambassadors and our messaging to express that if you leave the trail you may get lost, you may get hurt, you might end up on private property and now you are causing erosion, and when it rains that soil is going down into the ocean and harming our reefs. So we want to share those values, because people are generally good and want to do the right thing."

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