Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

In an effort to nudge visitors toward responsible behavior, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau have collaborated on the Kuleana (Responsibility) campaign, which includes 20 videos touching on ocean safety, conservation and other topics related to conscientious tourism. 

Four years ago, the HTA and HVCB started approaching the individual island chapters about issues that needed to be addressed, HVCB chief marketing officer Jay Talwar said. 

"At the time, business was great, we were seeing record year after record year, and we continue to set a record pace," Talwar said. "As visitation grew, we wanted to get a sense of the challenges of managing tourism once they got to the destination, and not just be focused on the marketing to get them to the destination."

As they gathered information on community challenges with tourism, they also researched new target markets, specifically ages 25 to 34. 

"When we looked at their values, they understood that when they go to a destination they affect it, and they want to be responsible travelers," Talwar said. "They want the cultures of the destination to remain unique and not become homogenized."

Still, complaints were rising. Visitors were going off trails, shooting selfies in unsafe places and parking illegally.

"We can't expect them to stay on the trail if we don't show them where the trail is," Talwar said. "We also didn't want to wag a finger. We figured the best people to tell the stories are the residents of Hawaii. Instead of 'don't do this, don't do that,' we wanted to share the values that shape the residents' behavior. If we share the why behind things, the values, most people are good and will do the right thing."

Talwar himself said he loves to hike and often sees people going off the designated trails. What someone from a big city or novice hiker might not realize, he said, is taking that shortcut may lead through private property, cause erosion that sends dirt down the mountain and into the ocean, or create a safety hazard if they get lost or injured. 

"When you're here in Hawaii, you have to think about it from a Hawaiian perspective," one of the Kuleana videos starts before a series of cultural practitioners and advisors express the importance of heeding Hawaiian traditions such as seeking permission or an invitation to enter certain areas.

"Once you ask that permission to be invited to be there, oh, all kinds of doors can open," Sabra Kauka says in the video.  

Visitors are prompted to respect the land, practice basic water safety, consider the impact of plastics and sunscreens on coral reefs and general environment, and verify their vacation rental is operating legally. 

Each of the four individual island visitor bureaus created their own videos to address their most pressing issues. Maui, for example, has videos on astute renting and ocean conservation. Every island produced videos addressing ocean safety and respecting Hawaiian culture while traveling. 

The campaign has also been translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and the bureaus are using geotagging to target visitors to the islands on their social media platforms during their stays. 

"We can tell who the visitors are, which island they are on, and what country they are from so we can target them with the appropriate videos and language," Talwar said.

The videos will also be shown on the inflight entertainment systems of several airlines, including Alaska Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Additionally, some hotels have begun showing the videos in rooms.

"Our visitors are not just our visitors, they are frequent worldwide travelers," Talwar said. "We see this issue in destinations around the globe, and there is an adjustment happening. There are campaigns to make sure travelers are renting appropriately, being respectful, behaving appropriately and helping cultures maintain their uniqueness. ... We believe with some management and good communication, we can have a positive impact."

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