HawaiiHawaii Loves Travel Advisors

How advisors can conquer overtourism sentiments

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Aerial view of the Kaiwi Coastline on the island of Oahu.
Aerial view of the Kaiwi Coastline on the island of Oahu. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Overtourism is a growing concern for the residents of Hawaii, especially as visitor numbers continue to rise. Some residents have voiced their opinions on social media posts, videos and TV shows, and clients seeing these may start to question whether to continue with their plans.

While not everyone has had to face the negative sentiment head on, it's better to be prepared to readily answer visitor questions in relation to it, such as why it has emerged.

"When you think about those that have those negative things to say about the visitor or the tourism industry in general, I think a lot of it is based on the stress of living here," said Malia Sanders, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association

"We have a high cost of living, we have a housing shortage here," she said. "Some of our homes are just so outrageously priced that a local person is being priced out in our place that is our home, so I think there are a number of factors contributing to that negative feeling about tourism."

Visitors going into residential areas or places they saw on social media but where they don't belong, she said, is another part of the frustration. 

"A vacation in Hawaii means you are visiting a tightknit community that people call home," said T. Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

What can advisors do? 

People enjoy the breathtaking view from Kalalau Lookout on Kauai.
People enjoy the breathtaking view from Kalalau Lookout on Kauai. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Ben Ono

Ensuring that clients have an invitation to a place is one big way to make sure their presence as a visitor is not exacerbating tensions.

"Be sensitive to our community by visiting places to which visitors are clearly invited," Gionson said. "Stay in legal accommodations, take tours with professional operators, enjoy beaches with lifeguards, explore only on marked trails."

And, he added, "be mindful of local customs and laws, from no parking to no trespassing."

With the shift to a more regenerative tourism approach, it's also about giving back to the places that are visited. There are many community programs in Hawaii that welcome visitors and could use the extra hands.

Sanders said that if the advisor or tour operator can "provide activities for this guest that we want them to do, please send them to go do that." 

Suppliers and hotel properties "definitely want tourists," says Dani Johnson, vice president at Coastline Travel Group. She says she's not hearing so much that visitors shouldn't travel to Hawaii -- she's hearing the exact opposite.

"This might have been a statement that was being passed around when the Islands were extremely busy because travelers wanted to travel within the U.S. instead of to Europe and other countries," Johnson said. "The word on the Islands is that they most definitely want tourists." 

Travel advisors can also explain to clients that not everyone in Hawaii is represented by the people offering negative opinions. 

"Sometimes, those who have very vocal, negative things to say, I don't know that they always represent the community as a whole," Sanders said. "They're just the loudest person standing there."

But it does bring to light one of many issues that need to ultimately be addressed. 

"I think the solution is having a better visitor, having a stronger tourism product that gives more benefit to the community," she said. 

"And I think those are things we can truly work on together rather than to just complain about it; let's try to fix it." 

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