Home » I’m a Native Hawaiian. Locals Are Tired of Tourists Treating the Island Like a Theme Park – Here’s What to Know Before You Visit.
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I’m a Native Hawaiian. Locals Are Tired of Tourists Treating the Island Like a Theme Park – Here’s What to Know Before You Visit.

The tropical islands of Hawaii have long been a dream destination for tourists, drawn by the pristine beaches, vibrant culture, and an “aloha” free spirit. But for me it’s home.

Many economic, social, and financial issues arise with unrestricted tourism, and I don’t know how Hawaii will continue to cope with these numbers.

I grew up in Molokai, the only island of Hawaii where the economy is not reliant on tourism. Here, agriculture and farming are our main industries.

As a policymaker, I use my platform to fight against unrestricted tourism, counteract our current housing crisis, and campaign to protect our ocean and reef health.

It’s my responsibility to advocate for my local community

When I was growing up, big corporations fell in love with the white-sand beaches, canoes, and divers and transformed our land into a shoreline of resorts like Waikiki in Oahu. They attempted to do this in Molokai, but the community fought it.

I went to law school to become a policymaker because it was my kuleana — responsibility — to advocate for my community the same way my elders did.

I was inspired by the work of Uncle Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist and educator who protested the military bombing practices on Kaho’olawe and won its eventual return to Native Hawaiian control from the US military.

I hold the County Council seat for the Molokai residency area and am part of the Efficiency Solutions and Circular Systems Committee, where I can discuss high-level budgets and allocation of resources to solve economic inequality that has been around for generations.

Keani Rawlins Fernandez, Maui County Council Vice-Chair
Rawlins-Fernandez is a vice chair of the Maui County Council. 

Tourism has displaced Native Hawaiians by driving up costs

The number of tourists in Hawaii is overwhelming the local population and threatening the islands’ cultural heritage.

Native Hawaiians, already displaced from their lands during colonization, are experiencing a housing crisis. When houses become available, they are bought by tourists instead of locals.

People are buying our land as investment properties, so our Kanaka ‘Ōiwi — locals — are forced to move further out, and they can’t maintain their local traditions or routines. Basically, they need to start over and make a new place their home.

The cost of living has skyrocketed as demand drives up real-estate prices. Residents of islands like Maui and Oahu, where tourism is at peak levels, rely on resorts and hotels for jobs to support their livelihood.

During COVID, there was no tourism, and their jobs were the first to go. My island in Molokai fared better because the model is to cater to local businesses and local patrons instead.

We can’t commute easily because tourists are getting their sunset pictures

A large part of Hawaii’s economy is reliant on tourism, but in popular tourist areas, overtourism is placing huge strains on the infrastructure and environment — especially when the number of visitors exceeds the resident population.

For example, famous sights like Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head on Oahu draw crowds of tourists for sunrise or sunset views. This clogs up our highways during the hours when locals are trying to commute or drop their kids off at school.

The state Department of Transportation wants to create more parking spots or widen highways. Instead, people should consider group trolley systems like the ones in Zion National Park in Utah, which I recently visited, to manage tourists. This makes more sense than allowing tourists to rent their own car for the duration of their visit.

Locals feel like their home is a theme park — and it can be dangerous

Our locals feel like their homes are treated like a theme park and there’s no more privacy.

We’ve heard stories of tourists trespassing on properties for photo opportunities. But they need to understand that unlike television or social-media posts, this is real life.

There aren’t always safeguards and railings at places like our waterfalls or volcanoes. Tourists have passed away or become severely hurt. It puts our emergency responders at risk if tourists are trespassing in dangerous places.

Our beaches and reefs are being degraded for the sake of tourism

Excessive tourist activity is also taking a major toll on Hawaii’s fragile island ecosystems.

For instance, the natural sand dunes in Hawaii enable a cyclical restoration of the white-sand beaches. However, the construction of resorts and hotel chains on the dunes disrupts this cycle, preventing the beaches from replenishing lost sand. With the dunes unable to supply fresh sand, the beaches steadily erode away.

I’ve seen temporary seawalls being built in front of condos and resorts which interrupt the natural cycle of sand migration. We see how degraded our coral reefs, essential for marine wildlife, are in the face of pollution, sunscreen toxins, and careless snorkelers.

We are islands, and we don’t have that much land to bury trash in landfills, so excessive rubbish ends up in our waters and damages the ecosystem.

Tourism has perks, but it needs to be managed better

There are some positives to the steady increase in tourists, like those tourists who volunteer with the Red Cross. However, extractive tourism needs to stop. I also want our community to rely on other jobs, because tourism ebbs and flows.

My message to tourists is to visit responsibly, respect local culture, and minimize one’s footprint. Support local businesses over chain restaurants, go on tours instead of taking your own or a rented vehicle, make sure you’re staying at a legitimate Airbnb or VRBO, and come with respect and gratitude, not entitlement.

Source : BusinessInsider