Hawai’i is filled with pristine nature, beautiful beaches, amazing local culture and it’s where they filmed Jurassic Park, for crying out loud. But it’s also a popular travel destination that is feeling the impact of tourism on its ecosystem. So how can you tick Hawai’i off your bucket list, while being a sustainable tourist?
One of the most absolutely naïve points of me as a world traveller is that I will (initially) drink the tap water wherever I go without a second thought.* Why? Well, I grew up in Aotearoa, where our tap water is mostly straight-up delicious. And secondly, buying bottled water is one of my biggest sustainability pet peeves, so I just won’t do it. But that’s all well and good until you start travelling long-haul for the first time in three years and need to stay hydrated as hell because you once got a kidney stone in Venice after 30 hours of flying and ended up in the urology wing on Christmas Eve.
Whether or not your personal journey to becoming a more sustainable tourist involves a hospital stay is your business, but the fact is – sustainability has become a massive factor for travellers, with a recent booking.com survey finding that 72% of Kiwi travellers confirm that sustainable travel is important to them, with almost half saying that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices.
This comes at a particularly complicated time for the planet as borders are now open around the world for the first time in over two years. People are itching to travel, but we’re also more aware than ever that our travel choices matter. My big trip for 2022 was a week in Hawai’i for my best friend’s wedding – maybe the greatest and most fun reason to get to leave Aotearoa in a pandemic world! – so there was no way I was missing that.
Hawai’i has a well-deserved spot on many a traveller’s bucket list, due to it’s unbelievable nature, laid-back attitude and overall beauty. But, like so many a sparkling tourist destination, the impact of us travellers is a mixed bag.
The hotel estimates that getting rid of plastic water bottles will prevent the creation of 75,000 pieces of single use plastic a year.
It’s estimated that 21% of jobs on the islands are tourism-related, but the constant onslaught of tourists affects the climate in a big, bad way. In that same survey, almost 60% of Kiwi travellers said they wanted to leave their travel destination better than they had found it… so how can we travel to Hawai’i and enjoy all that natural wonder, while prioritising being a sustainable tourist?
How to Travel More Sustainably in Hawai’i & Beyond
1. Pick Sustainable Accommodation.
One in four travellers surveyed said they picked a sustainable option while booking accommodation, which is great, but that number can easily be higher. Sustainability doesn’t equal more expensive, it just means that both you and the hotel are putting your money where your mouth is. I picked Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club because it was out & proud about the simple ways it helped with sustainability – having a restaurant where the food was locally sourced (this is a big deal for Hawai’i, where it’s estimated 60% of groceries are imported) and by having free water bottle stations around the hotel and free coffee in the morning.
So all you had to do is bring your own reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup and that’s already two less pieces of plastic per person, per day. What impact does that make over a year? The hotel estimates that getting rid of plastic water bottles will prevent the creation of 75,000 pieces of single use plastic a year. And that’s ONE hotel.
2. Pack Your Reusables
The solution to my tap water problem has become easier thanks to airports and hotels like Surfjack’s alike having water stations, but you need to remember to BYOR (bring your own reusable) in order to make it work. One of the greatest joys of travelling is buying a coffee first thing in the morning and wandering along a new street – but if you’re buying a takeaway coffee in a throwaway container every day, then your morning moment of Zen is costing the environment around you. I packed a reusable drink bottle, coffee cup, container and spoon for my breakfasts that I ate on the beach. Was it a sexy moment washing out my containers in the sink every night? Not particularly. But did I feel smug while doing so? You betcha.
3. Spend Your Money Locally
Because places like Hawai’i are a tourist trap, it can be very easy to eat at big, chain restaurants because it’s one million degrees and you just need to sit down, okay? But if you can seek out locally run operations – whether it be restaurants, tours or boutique hotels, rather than chains, you’re putting your money back into the local economy. The non-for-profit Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawai’I has a travel planner where you can load in the island you’re visiting and your time frame, and get a huge range of options of eco-friendly options.
4. Pick Your Sunscreens Carefully
Because of the high numbers of tourists swimming in the seas around Hawai’i, chemicals from sunscreen have actually contributed to the killing off of coral in places like Maui. From early 2021, Hawai’i was the first place in the world to ban the sale of sunscreens that include chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. So it’s important wait until you’re in Hawai’i to buy your sunscreen, so you don’t inadvertently kill marine life while snorkelling (Yikes!!!)
This is a good lesson no matter where you’re travelling, as it’s estimated that 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen – around 25 to 60 million bottles – wash off of snorkelers and swimmers into coral reef environments each year. Make reef-friendly sunscreen a priority for your summer swimming!
5. Travel In The Off-Season
Tbh, the most sustainable choice for places like Hawai’i is actually… not to go at all. However, for a country that relies on the tourist dollar to survive, that also leads to other issues. But that’s why it is so important to take your role as a guest on this island seriously and prioritise being a sustainable tourist.
If you can travel in the off season – avoiding our school holidays and especially avoiding the US school holidays, you’ll be adding less pressure to an already swamped system AND you’ll have less tourists getting in your space. Win win for everyone. Because Hawai’i is basically always 28 degrees, you don’t need to worry about the weather, so aim for April through to June or October through to early December to avoid the big crowds.
*I do not recommend this travel strategy and yes, I have had more runs of gastro than the average person.
Part of Emma’s stay at Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club was sponsored by booking.com