Sustainable Tourism — The Place

Hawaii is paradise. Those of us who work in the travel and tourism industry get to present the beauty of Hawaii to our visitors and share a daily reaffirmation of what we really have. The individual Islands all offer different and unique experiences and sights seen nowhere else on the planet. Hawaii ranges from isolated and pristine beaches and forests to the dynamic cultural fusion of the cosmopolitan city of Honolulu.

Sustainable tourism is designed to be compatible with, and to present as low an impact as possible, on the environment and local culture. Often mistaken for ecotourism, sustainable tourism is much more complex a proposition. It means inviting the visitor to experience the local culture and to respect the environment the same way as those who live here.

While ecotourism is a component of sustainable tourism, it is not the only part.

A visitor to Hawaii would be thrilled by a simple hike along the trails of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, and such an experience leaves the natural environment with a minimal impact.

Swimming in the ocean off of Oahu’s Chun’s Reef and catching a glimpse of a green sea turtle also represents the kind of benign interaction with our spectacular natural environment. In the case where visitor traffic has negatively impacted the ecosystem, we have taken intelligent and effective steps to manage our assets.

One good example is Hanauma Bay. I focused and worked hard as the Planning Committee chairman of the City Council and mayor with the Friends of Hanauma Bay to help the preserve become a model for how to strike a balance between allowing visitor access while protecting the natural ecology.

Those who want to experience the nature preserve must be prepared and educated about how to be responsible visitors to this wonderful natural resource.

Numbers are limited, and the entire bay closes one day a week so that it can “recover” from the visitor traffic.

Out-of-state guests are asked to pay for entry, with the money dedicated to preservation maintenance and education programs of Hanauma Bay. The end result is that this vital attraction will be preserved and sustained for future generations for both visitors and local residents and our model has been studied by other destinations in the world, such as China.

Waikiki has been a world-class visitor attraction since the 1920s. Waikiki has changed dramatically since the old days, but remains a showplace for the modern Hawaiian experience. Even with the contemporary urban design and high-rise buildings, Hawaii’s aloha spirit continues to provide a lasting impact on our visitors. Renovations at Beachwalk and Lewers, and the replenishment of sand at our popular beaches have continued the process of improving Waikiki’s environment.

Chinatown also has experienced a number of positive changes through the years. Mayors Fasi, Harris and yours truly all made the revival of Honolulu’s historic Chinatown one of our economic development priorities, and it has blossomed with vibrant nightlife and a plethora of popular art galleries and restaurants.

Christina Kiaha

Yes, the environment is not just our remote, undeveloped, scenic open spaces; it is also the manmade urban environments that reflect our history and culture. This is the balance we want to maintain to ensure that Hawaii will always remain a special place.

Sustainable tourism also is indeed a balance of preserving our cultural roots while at the same time encouraging our own contemporary cultural fusion to evolve. The lesson here is if we focus on what makes Hawaii the best place in the world to live, it will also remain one of the best places in the world to visit.

Christina Kiaha

Bartender Christiana Kiaha is affectionately known as “Ma” among the employees and guests at the Moana Surfrider’s Beach Bar.

She earned that nickname during her 30 years at the hotel through her nurturing and caring. Chris takes a personal interest in the Moana’s guests, many of whom return year after year. In addition to her stellar service, she helped one couple find an apartment in Honolulu, driving them from one listing to another and then to shop for furniture. She helped another couple plan their golden wedding anniversary party. Chris does the same for her co-workers. She plans the department holiday party for her bar team, brings homemade lei for associates who are celebrating birthdays and first-time visitors, and eagerly pitches in to help with community events.

Chris Kiaha is particularly supportive of the Visitor Industry Charity Walk and has raised almost $75,000 on her own to benefit local charities. She’s active with the Saint Louis School and Alumni Association, Kamehameha Schools and her church. These achievements earned Chris well-deserved recognition at the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association’s 2012 Na Po’e Pa’ahana awards ceremony as an outstanding lodging employee of the year.