With the growing visitation to the Hawaiian Islands, especially on the less-populated neighbor islands of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island, the influx of tourism and change in visitor patterns have brought new growth and new issues.
Acknowledging the need to forge a better balance and relationship between residents, the hospitality industry and visitors, the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau and County of Hawaii have partnered to launch the "Pono Pledge," a new public information campaign geared toward educating and encouraging residents and visitors to be safe, responsible and respectful to each other and the island environment.
"For a few years we've been looking at a partnership with the county," IHVB director Ross Birch said. "We've seen a big ramp-up in visitation, in some cases double-digit increases year over year at different points. We've seen the popularity of the island rise, and also an inundation of some of the off-the-beaten-path areas -- places that tourists would not travel before."
More than the sheer numbers of tourists, Birch said it is how the modern traveler has changed that has most altered the dynamics on the ground. Tourists today can rent a car and use Google to find the secret beach or hidden hiking trail, whereas the information was much less accessible previously.
"We have far more rental cars sold today than 10 years ago, and particularly four-wheel-drive vehicles," Birch said. "Visitors today are accessing places that people would not normally go to while on vacation in Hawaii unless you get a special invite from a local resident to go to that location. Now, through social media everyone knows where those locations are."
The initiative and pledge took some inspiration from other tourist destinations that are grappling with sustainability, including Iceland and Palau, Birch said. The goal is to engage the community and educate visitors to make the most of popular areas while maintaining them responsibly and preserving them for future generations.
Visitors this year have been clamoring to get closer to the lava flows that transformed the southeastern portion of the island during a summer of eruptions from the Kilauea volcano.
"We're looking at establishing a viewing area with a private-public partnership in the Pahoa area," Birch said. "We'd be supporting that with the county and we would create a visitor experience and accessibility that's limited in a still restricted area. And maybe we can use that as a model moving forward for other areas."
IHVB and the County of Hawaii will be holding events and offering education on enjoying the island safely, respecting wildlife, observing "no trespassing" signs, properly preparing for weather and ocean conditions, and being mindful about protecting the island's fragile environment. The affiliated website, PonoPledge.com, contains general safety information pertaining to various warnings, watches, advisories and outlook signs people may encounter.
The Pono Pledge
I pledge to be pono (righteous) on the island of Hawaii.
I will mindfully seek wonder, but not wander where I do not belong.
I will not defy death for breathtaking photos, or venture beyond safety.
I will malama (care for) land and sea, and admire wildlife only from afar.
Molten lava will mesmerize me, but I will not disrupt its flow.
I will not take what is not mine, leaving lava rocks and sand as originally found.
I will heed ocean conditions, never turning my back to the Pacific.
When rain falls ma uka (inland), I will remain high above ground, out of rivers and streams.
I will embrace the island's aloha spirit, as it embraces me.
Lawe i ka maalea i kuonoono.
Take wisdom and make it deep.
The goal is for 10,000 residents and visitors to sign the Pono Pledge on the website during the course of the campaign's first year. Since the campaign launched in September, more than 1,800 people have signed the pledge.
Click here for more from IHVB director Ross Birch.