In the wake of Hawaii’s deadly wildfires, it’s better to give than to take
The video is part of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s “Mālama Hawai’i” campaign. (Mālama means care, protection, and preservation.) To ease the pressure of overtourism on its culture and natural resources, the state is asking visitors to give back. That call became even stronger after the August wildfires that devastated Lahaina.
The phased reopening of West Maui that began on October 8 has ushered in a new era in tourism, so these instructions may be more important than ever.
“We want you to leave the place better than you found it,” said Mufi Hanneman, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.
For visitors new to regenerative tourism, Hawaii officials and residents offer tips for traveling “pono,” or righteously. And unlike the fruits and vegetables of the islands that have to stay stateside, you can take these best practices home with you and even bring them on future trips.
As we have learned during the coronavirus pandemic, you never know what difficulties someone may be experiencing. In Maui, this is especially true.
When interacting with locals, be considerate and polite. Even a seemingly benign question like “How are you?” can be loaded. When dealing with hospitality workers, be empathetic and practice patience. Some establishments are still understaffed or have recently taken in islanders who have lost loved ones or their homes.
“Please be aware of what everyone is going through,” said Greg Nelson, general manager of Napili Kai Beach Resort, which reopened Oct. 8. “Staff are ready to welcome people back, but at the same time they’re a bit worried and worried about what guests are going to ask them.”
Keep the exchange simple with “Aloha” and “Mahalo” if you’re comfortable using the Hawaiian language.
Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture
For a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s centuries-old culture and traditions, go beyond buffet surfing at a luau.
“People come here and want to experience paradise,” said Paula Martinez, volunteer coordinator at Hua Momona Farms, “but it would be more valuable if tourists could immerse themselves in more than the culture and really learn about the history of Hawaii.”
Although the wildfires destroyed Lahaina’s historic district, the island is home to many other historical and cultural attractions, such as the Iao Valley State Monument (reservations required for out-of-state visitors) and the Sugar Museum. In addition to an art gallery, the Maui Arts and Culture Center hosts some of the island’s largest events, such as the Maui Ukulele Festival, the Hawaii International Film Festival, and the Hawaiian Airlines Made in Maui County Festival, which combines two of regenerative tourism — a deep cultural dive focused on local products.
To go from observer to participant, attend a cultural workshop. Whalers Village in Kaanapali has resumed its free classes in ukulele, coconut leaf weaving and hula dancing. On a recent Friday morning, Ron Mikala Ancheta taught a group of Californians and Canadians how to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the Hawaiian Kingdom’s national instrument.
Volunteer in the kitchen or with pets
On Maui, taking a few hours out of your vacation to help others is more important and appreciated than ever. After the emergency needs subside, visitors can continue to volunteer.
“Tourists who come may clean up the beach or plant trees,” Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said. “They can do something that benefits the island.”
Visitors to Maui can easily find volunteer opportunities that fit their interests and schedules. Maui Nui Strong and Hungry Heroes Hawaii (HHH) are valuable information centers. For example, HHH has registrations for Upcountry Kitchen at Kula and Hua Momona Farms, who in addition to food preparation shifts are looking for help with harvesting.
For guests who enjoy working in nature more than in the kitchen, Maui Cultural Lands hosts volunteer outings every Saturday. Guests help with conservation projects in the Honokowai Valley, an archaeologically and ecologically rich area. Tasks include clearing rock walls and a heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple, and planting native flora.
“We do 90 minutes of work, have lunch and tell stories,” said Ekolu Lindsay III, the organization’s president. “I’ll walk people around and introduce them to anything they’re interested in.”
The Maui Humane Society rescued so many animals from the Lahaina burn site that it had to open a second facility. At its main center in Puunene, volunteers can comfort cats recovering from burnt whiskers and burnt paws. The nonprofit has discontinued its Beach Buddies program, but still maintains Dog on Demand, a similar experience. Subject to availability, visitors may take a dog on a day adventure. Each pup comes with a doggie backpack filled with supplies and recommendations for dog-friendly beaches and hikes.
Due to airline restrictions on transporting animals from Hawaii, the organization is looking for volunteers who can escort a dog or cat to the mainland. Upon arrival, the foster shelter will oversee the animal’s care and adoption, unless you happen to fall in love with your companion.
For volunteer opportunities on other islands, check out Hawaiian Airlines’ Travel Pono and the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s volunteer tourism sections.
Protect the ocean environment
As director of sustainable tourism at Trilogy Excursions, Captain Riley Coon has a strong opinion about skin care. “Spraying sunscreen is not cool,” he said, referring to the harmful nanoparticles contained in some types of sprays that can harm the environment. For an eco-friendly alternative, he recommends sunscreen or UFB clothing and some zinc oxide on the face.
If you can’t change your sunscreen preferences, choose a reef-safe option. Starting in 2021, products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which threaten coral, are banned in Hawaii.
On the beach and in the water, breed marine life to avoid stressing the animals and, depending on the species, breaking the law. (Hawaii’s laws protect threatened, endangered, and native species, including humpback whales, Hawaiian monk seals, numerous species of dolphins, and all turtles.) Also, don’t use the coral as a bench or stepping stone.
Before heading to the beach, pick up a marine debris collection bag at PacWhale Eco-Adventures’ Ocean Store in Wailuku. The MOC Marine Institute also offers beach cleanup kits with 72 hours notice. Elsewhere in the state, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii organizes large-scale cleanups and outreach events. The Ocean Conservancy offers a guide to do-it-yourself beach missions.
The Marine Institute rescues, rehabilitates and releases injured sea turtles. Because of limited access in Lahaina, his staff has not been able to closely monitor the sea turtles as they did before the fires. If you spot a turtle in distress, call the hotline at 808-286-2549.
When a bag of potato chips costs $6, you can’t be blamed for pulling out your Costco card for the essentials. However, for everything else – restaurants, souvenirs, activities, accommodation, tropical clothing – support local businesses.
“Wearing Hawaiian shirts is fine,” Coon said, “just don’t buy them at Target.”
Maui Nui First created a directory of “Support Local” businesses to eat, shop, play and stay. The Maui Ocean Center and the Pacific Whale Foundation, which occupy the same commercial complex in Wailuku, stock locally made and sustainable products, such as bracelets made from recycled ocean plastic, earrings made from cereal boxes, and bags and purses from Aloha Collection, a Hawaiian company that donates 5 percent of its profits to environmental organizations.
After the fires, the Napili Farmers Market, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in August, moved to the Sugar Train parking lot and is providing free produce to displaced residents. You can still visit to see what’s in season (star fruit, papaya, coconut) and donate. The provincial farmers market is still going strong after more than 40 years.