Did Hawaii Tourism Authority Kill Tourism in the Aloha State?

Flying to Hawaii
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Kulena means responsible tourism. Did Hawaii go to far? Tourism is in crisis becoming unaffordable for the average visitor,


A short film shows exciting visitors heading to Hawaii on their American Airlines flight a lesson about “kuleana,” the Hawaiian word for “responsibility.”

“Kuleana is at the heart of our culture,” the narrator intoned over images of a group joyfully digging their hands into mucky earth. “And as guests in our home, we ask that you share our kuleana during your stay.”

Some locals are fed up with the number of tourists, which has led to the destruction of ancient traditions. This included the leadership of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which was paid for by taxpayers to promote and increase tourism but worked hard to do the opposite.

What about Tourism as a business?

The State of Hawaii invested enormous resources to discourage tourism and only attract those who are interested in local culture and want to support ancient Hawaiian values.

This is the mandate Hawaii Tourism marketing leaders give to its overseas representatives in Europe, Japan, Korea, or Australia.

Political leaders go along, and so do industry leaders out of fear of disrupting the endless flow of favors, corruption, and face-saving.

Many of those leaders are moved from one job to another over many years, and no one knows where those go who can be helpful for their priorities in the future.

It appears Hawaii stopped seeing tourism as a business. Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to convert the once fun and vibrant party district of Waikiki into a heaven for responsible travelers, which is as far-fledged as converting Times Square into a nature reserve.

Hawaii Tourism Authority may have succeeded in destroying tourism

Hawaii Tourism may finally have succeeded in its wish, driving small and medium-sized businesses such as family-owned restaurants, attraction operators, or street vendors out of business.

Many high-end shops at the Ala Moana Shopping Center also disappeared or are fighting for their survival. Even the Apple Store closed at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

Responsible travelers may not be the same as the high spending traveler.

Waikiki has not been what it once was

Since the 90s’ Waikiki has not been what it once was: A vibrant place to have a good time, party through the night, have some excellent food, and get a reset from the normalities at home. After 2 am, Waikiki is dead, even on weekends.

Paying hundreds of Dollars for a night in a half-empty often run-down budget hotel does not compensate for the cheapest flight tickets available to the Aloha state.

It keeps visitors choosing a reggae pool party in Jamaica, beaches in Thailand, a taste of luxury in Dubai, or a safari in Africa. It’s not only cheaper but something different – and tourism strives for variety.

Hawaii’s Competition is not asleep

The Hawaii Tourism Authority may not have realized that Hawaii has competition worldwide, not only for visitors from California, New York, or Canada but also for visitors from Japan, Korea, and Australia. Younger travelers are looking for a time out and fun- and Hawaii is no longer the hottest and trendiest place to go unfortunately.

LGBTQ travelers had been abandoned, with two mostly empty bars remaining. The elderly traveler could not find the shampoo bottles they could read.

A leading lawmaker who did not want to be mentioned told eTurboNews last week: Visitors who spend $1500.00 for a hotel room in Maui find no more open restaurants; they cannot go to those attractions that they enjoyed to go, because all of them are out of business.

He said he had a hard time responding to some who wanted the values of the Hawaiian Kingdom to return, not tourists. “They are not living in the real world,” he added.

Highest Hotel Rates, low air fares

Hotel rates are artificially kept high to compensate for lost business and empty rooms, but it comes with all the challenges of an abandoned destination.

Repeat business is down, but the magic word of Aloha still works to get fresh tourist bodies to flog to the state.

Airlines are sacrificing low rates based on lower demand so airport slots can be kept.

Shift in Hotel Rates on the Horizon

There seems to be a shift on the horizon. A quick check on Expedia shows that hotel rates appear to decrease starting at the end of April, making Hawaii more affordable. Whether this plan will pay off will be seen.

However, the fun of a vacation on one of the Hawaiian islands is now more based on memories, while the responsible tourism campaign is kicking in.

Homeless Attraction in Hawaii

The housing shortage adds more people to the homeless camp with little hope of getting out of this human catastrophe. It’s unfolding in plain view of visitors who spend thousands of dollars on their short vacation to paradise.

Malama Hawaii

The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s “Malama Hawaii” campaign is in the center. Malama means to care for, protect, and preserve.

The state is asking visitors to give back to alleviate the pressure of over-tourism on its culture and natural resources. This appeal has grown even louder following the August wildfires that devastated Lahaina.

Some locals are fed up with the number of visitors but often forget that the state economy depends on this sector, even for those not directly employed in this industry.

The economy in the Aloha State is in deep trouble – and it shows everywhere. The worst roads, the worst health system in the nation, and working 2 jobs unable to afford a private apartment is the norm.

People are leaving, including those who are needed to provide maid services or serve tables at restaurants.

Crackdown on short-term vacation rentals

The recent crackdowns on short-term rentals could obliterate jobs and incomes and stifle travel and tourism innovation, such as the new trend of remote workers combining business and travel.

Tourism comprises 21% of the state’s economy, plus many of Hawaii’s largest industries revolve around the constant flow of tourists.

In January 2024, total visitor arrivals to the Hawaiian Islands (763,480 visitors, -3.6%) and total visitor spending measured in nominal dollars ($1.81 billion, -4.5%) declined compared to January 2023, according to preliminary statistics from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

Since the August 2023 Maui wildfires, total visitor arrivals have been down in five out of the last six months, while total visitor spending has recorded six consecutive months of decreases from 2023.

When compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, January 2024 total visitor arrivals represent a 93.4 percent recovery from January 2019, and total visitor spending was higher than January 2019 ($1.62 billion, +11.9%).

Hawaii restaurants are facing steep increases in costs from food to labor, rent to insurance, and more. Those end up being charged back to customers. According to the US Dept. of Labor Statistics, the cost of eating out in Honolulu just rose 8.5%.

Hawaii lagging behind other states in COVID recovery

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Hawai‘i’s actual gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2023 recovered to 97.7 percent of the same period in 2019.

Hawai‘i’s non-tourism sectors were fully recovered in 2023. Still, the tourism sector, including transportation, retail trade, entertainment and recreation, accommodation, and food services industries, recovered only to about 90 percent of the 2019 level in the third quarter of 2023.

Hawai‘i is one of three states that have not fully recovered from the 2020 recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The other two states are North Dakota and Louisiana.

The recent Census data shows that in 2022, Hawaii ranked No. 4 in the country in terms of the rate of net outmigration. People are being priced out of paradise. Only New York, Illinois, and Louisiana are worse. A tourist-based economy cannot support the state with the nation’s highest cost of living.

How to be a mindful traveler?

  • Respect nature: Avoid taking rocks, lava, flora, fauna, or sand. Clean your shoes before hiking to help plants. Hawaii has banned sunscreens that can harm coral reefs.
  • Reduce plastic use: Plastic pollution is a threat to Hawaii’s marine life and ecosystems.
  • Use sustainable transportation: Consider biking, walking, or public transportation.
  • Conserve water: Hawaii is a tropical destination with limited freshwater resources.
  • Be respectful to locals: Don’t litter, and don’t take anything from the beaches or hiking trails.
  • Visit local events: Try the local food and experience the culture.
  • Learn about Hawaiian culture: Get to know the Native Hawaiian culture, and use Hawaiian place names.
  • Volunteer or give back: Remember that your actions and energies impact those around you. 


  • It keeps visitors choosing a reggae pool party in Jamaica, beaches in Thailand, a taste of luxury in Dubai, or a safari in Africa.
  • Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to convert the once fun and vibrant party district of Waikiki into a heaven for responsible travelers, which is as far-fledged as converting Times Square into a nature reserve.
  • A vibrant place to have a good time, party through the night, have some excellent food, and get a reset from the normalities at home.

About the author

Avatar of Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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