Admiring Hawaii’s Natural Paradise: Being the Perfect Ecotourist

by Susie Carter

Reading about  Victoria’s Hawaii adventures is the kind of quintessential experience which is reflective of the kind of sentiment which most practicing (for lack of a better word) and would-be (or armchair) travelers of today crave: something which transcends the traditional tourist hotspot haven, instead focusing on the integral aspects of what makes a destination truly distinct. More and more people are searching for this kind of experience with the places that they visit or aspire to journey to, transforming the landscape of the tourism industry and with the advent of ecotourism, changing the way that local communities and conscientious tourists can contribute towards a sustainable future. It’s off-the-beaten track adventures which hold the most heart for the communities it effects which the next generation of travelers are craving, and there are several ways to make the most of beautiful locales and have a positive impact.

Hawaii is one of the best locales to capitalize on this wave of new tourism, primarily because of its extensive cultural and natural legacy. Home to some of the most spectacular and diverse ecosystems in the world, it remains unparalleled in its capacity to delight, inspire, and captivate, making it one of top items on the bucket list for people from all across the globe. From  the dramatic Ring of Fire to its serene coastlines and dense inland forests, Hawaii has benefited from some of the most  vigilant conservation endeavours in recent years, implementing measures to ensure that the islands are protected from the tourist boom. But while governments, organizations, charities, communities, and various groups push for a healthier, greener tourist destination, it is ultimately up to travelers to be educated and to practice greater sensitivity towards the environment in which they are guests.

Being a Conscientious Traveler:

Ecotourism is typically defined as  the method of promoting tourism through the conservation, protection, and education of the environment and its respective people by supporting local economies and reducing carbon footprint where possible. Once a niche sector of the mainstream industry, it is now playing a prominent role within many major travel companies, but the key to its long-term success depends on people. Defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” ecotourism operates on the following principles:

· Reducing the impact of travel by minimizing carbon footprint wherever possible

· Cultivating an awareness and appreciation for the environment and its respective societies

·  Helping to promote and provide profit for conservation endeavors

· Empowering local communities by enabling direct roles in decision making and supporting local, sustainable, and ethical economies

·  Drawing awareness to environmental/social/political issues of the region

·  Providing a unique, off-the-beaten track experience

In a diverse and unique natural paradise like Hawaii, there are several methods to take the ecological approach – one is to travel on a guided tour,  expedition or cruise which reduces impact wherever possible and actively ventures to improve the conditions of the environment in question and benefit local economies. Having specialists like wildlife experts, geologists, historians and artists on board also enables travelers access to a variety of first-hand information about the region they are visiting, cultivating an interest as well as incorporating an immersive, memorable experience. As these styles of vacationing become greener and  remain among the most popular, locally-based businesses also have the opportunity to conserve and protect their environment as well as empower the local economies. Offering everything from surfing, swimming, sailing, whale watching,  snorkelling and kayaking, waterskiing, scuba diving and more, these provide unique opportunities to witness some of the island’s most magnificent wildlife. Researching companies beforehand to see what steps they are taking towards  promoting ecotourism and minimizing their carbon footprint not only supports a more ethical economy, but it is also more likely to provide the off-the-beaten track experience which so many travelers seek.

Tips for Conscientious Travelling:

Like Victoria’s informative article “Healing in Hawaii: Etiquette in the Land of the Mother”, environmental etiquette is essential, especially when visiting fragile ecosystems such as those in Hawaii. Much of the region is protected as a  UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and each park and reserve will have its own rules and regulations about how to behave when visiting the area. If travelers decide to journey alone, then there are  individual travel trips which can be taken to reduce the amount of impact on the environment.

· Use soft shoes and only travel established trails and routes wherever possible, especially when mountain biking and using motorized vehicles which can be disruptive

·  What you take with you goes back with you – use designated garbage disposals in the park you are visiting or carry it with you

· Calls of nature should be at least 30 steps away from the trail and away from water sources

· Use biodegradable soaps for washing non-disposable camping gear as well for as bathing – make sure that you check your water source beforehand (sometimes people are prohibited from entering lakes or rivers for health reasons or risk of contaminating the water)  

· When purchasing camping gear, look into the company’s environmental practices and aim for products manufactured from recycled material

· Wherever possible, stay in locally-run accommodation rather than corporate resorts (unless they have vigilant, ethical policies in place to help the local economy and are taking measures to help the environment)

· Purchase locally-made goods, eat local, and make a genuine effort to speak the native language for greetings and thankyous; keep an open mind

· Get involved with local causes, take measures to help preserve and protect the surrounding region, and contribute wherever you can 

Especially when visiting fragile, precious ecosystems like those in Hawaii, familiarizing oneself with the ecosystem beforehand, and learning about the current environmental issues is instrumental. Having among the highest numbers of  endangered species on the planet, conscientious tourism is more important than ever, and tourists can also go above and beyond during their visit and even volunteer in programmes and initiatives to help the wildlife.  Preserve Hawaii is one such organization which gives people the chance to work on several hands-on projects across the islands for both long-term and short-term basis.

About the Author: Susie Carter now spends her time as a freelance writer, but before this she worked in the travel and hospitality industry, making her way round the world. Now, she travels with her growing family for regular holidays and is hoping that her two children have inherited her wanderlust gene.