Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

With its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant culture, Hawaii is on many people’s bucket list of places to visit. However, its popularity as a tourist destination raises questions around sustainability and cultural sensitivity for those wanting an ethical vacation.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to visiting Hawaii ethically: Respect native Hawaiian culture by learning about it in advance, choose eco-friendly accommodation and tours, spend money at locally-owned businesses, avoid damaging environments like coral reefs, and educate yourself on issues locals face.

In this guide to an ethical Hawaii trip, we will cover choosing responsible tourism options, respecting native Hawaiian culture, supporting local communities economically, treading lightly environmentally, and taking historical issues into consideration.

Opt for Responsible Tourism in Hawaii

Book tours and activities from sustainable companies

When planning your Hawaiian vacation, consider booking tours, activities, and experiences through companies that prioritize sustainability, support local communities, and protect Hawaii’s natural landscapes.

According to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, over 10.4 million visitors came to the islands in 2019, putting strain on natural resources and cultural sites.

Seeking out responsible tourism operators is one way visitors can enjoy the islands while directly supporting conservation. For example, Holoholo Charters runs snorkeling tours utilizing strict eco-friendly guidelines to protect coral reef ecosystems.

The company’s captains educate guests on reducing environmental impact during ocean activities. Responsible companies like Holoholo also tend to hire local guides, providing economic benefits to Hawaiians.

In addition to protecting ecosystems, opting for sustainable tour providers promotes the preservation of native Hawaiian culture. Operators like Hawaiian Paddle Sports incorporate authentic cultural history into their tours.

Their guides share ancient traditions surrounding sports like outrigger canoeing, allowing visitors to engage respectfully with long-standing island practices.

Select eco-friendly and culturally sensitive lodging

Choosing the right hotel or vacation rental is another key element in sustainable Hawaiian travel. Seek out eco-certified accommodations dedicated to protecting the islands through renewable energy usage, waste reduction initiatives, locally-sourced foods, and employment of Native Hawaiians.

For example, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island operates an onsite ray and shark aquarium providing research benefits. Their cultural center area offers classes like lei making, hula lessons, and ukulele playing.

Revenues generated go towards cultural education and sustainability projects benefitting island communities.

Vacation rentals can also promote ethical tourism through culturally sensitive offerings. The rental company Hawaiian Beach Vacation partners with the nonprofit Hui Aloha ʻĀina Momona to facilitate voluntourism opportunities for guests, such as beach cleanups, native species protection programs, and loʻi restoration work days to preserve ancient Hawaiin taro fields.

Sustainable Company Environmental Practices Cultural Support
Holoholo Charters Coral reef protection guidelines Native Hawaiian owned
Hawaiian Paddle Sports Carbon-neutral tours Cultural history education
Four Seasons Hualalai Onsite ray research Hawaiian cultural center

By consciously selecting responsible tourism providers for activities, lodging, and more, visitors play a direct role in sustaining Hawaii’s natural resources and native communities for generations to come.

Respect Native Hawaiian Culture and Traditions

Learn about the history and cultural customs

Native Hawaiians have a rich culture spanning centuries with unique traditions, beliefs, and practices. Before visiting Hawaii, spend time reading about Native Hawaiian history, cultural stories, customs around greetings and protocols, and the spiritual significance of natural sites.

This knowledge will allow you to be more respectful and appreciate sites and experiences more fully during your trip.

Participate in experiences authentically

While in Hawaii, seek opportunities to genuinely engage with and learn from Native Hawaiian people, culture, and land. Consider attending cultural events hosted by Hawaiians, taking educational tours focused on Hawaiian heritage, shopping at stores supporting local Hawaiian artisans, or dining at restaurants serving traditional cuisine.

Participate mindfully by following proper etiquette and protocols. Avoid treating traditions like hula as spectator entertainment without context. The more visitors educate themselves and participate respectfully, the more Hawaiian culture will thrive.

Ask permission before visiting sacred sites

Hawaii’s islands contain many historic and sacred places of spiritual significance to Native Hawaiians. Visiting these unique natural sites without permission can be extremely offensive.

Places like temples, burial grounds, and geographic formations tied to Hawaiian gods may have strict guidelines around access, photography, and behavior.

Before going to sensitive areas, always consult proper local authorities to ask permission, learn protocols, get access, and receive a guided tour if possible for context. Acting as a respectful steward helps preserve Hawaiian culture and heritage.

Support Local Hawaiian People and Businesses

When visiting Hawaii, it’s important to ensure your tourism dollars go back into the local economy. Here are some tips for supporting Hawaiian-owned businesses and providing economic benefits to native communities:

Spend Money at Locally-Owned Shops and Restaurants

Seek out restaurants, cafes, shops and markets that are Hawaiian-owned. This infusion of money directly helps local families and preserves small businesses integral to communities.

A 2021 study found visitor spending at local establishments generated 2.5 times more income for Hawaii’s economy compared to non-locally owned tourism corporations.

Buy from Hawaiian Makers and Artisans

Purchase traditional Hawaiian arts, crafts and products directly from native creators and artisans. Attend cultural festivals, local craft fairs and farmers markets to meet producers.

This provides income and helps Hawaiian cultural practitioners preserve ancestral knowledge and livelihoods passed down generations. Look for the “Made in Hawaii” sticker.

Choose Tour Companies Owned by Hawaiians

When booking luaus, boat tours, hikes and other excursions, purposefully choose those owned by Hawaiians. This gives local people more authority over how their heritage is represented and means revenue goes back into the community.

Hawaiian-guided experiences also provide more authentic and educational encounters with the islands’ history and culture.

Making mindful decisions to economically support Hawaiian people and enterprises ensures Hawaii residents equitably share in tourism profits. It enables communities to thrive and have agency in how their home is portrayed and impacts them.

Tread Lightly and Avoid Environmental Harm

Don’t litter or damage ecosystems like coral reefs

It’s critical that visitors respect Hawaii’s sensitive natural habitats. Trash like plastic bags, bottles, and straws can choke marine animals or leach chemicals into soils and waterways. Over 8 million pounds of debris wash up on Hawaii’s coasts annually!

Be exceedingly careful not to touch or break coral, which grows slowly—only 0.2 to 2 inches a year. Stand up paddleboarding and kayaking should be done in designated areas to avoid accidentally harming coral colonies with paddles.

Also read: Can You Take Coral From Hawaii?

Reduce plastic waste from your trip

Plastic waste is a huge problem across the islands. Visitors should aim to avoid single-use plastics like bottled water, plastic bags, straws, and to-go containers. Bring reusable bags and bottles. Choose tours, hotels, and restaurants that reduce plastic waste.

For example, Trilogy eco tours serves food buffet-style rather than using single-use dishware.

The state has strict laws banning common pollutants like plastic bags at grocery checkouts and plastic straws at restaurants and bars. Mahalo for supporting Hawaii’s sustainability efforts by following these regulations during your stay!

Choose reef-safe sunscreen

Many typical sunscreens contain ingredients that bleach and kill coral reefs, which provide invaluable coastal protection, among other ecological services. Hawaii has banned products with oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are frequent culprits. Use mineral or non-nano zinc sunscreens instead.

Brands like Badger and Stream2Sea make great reef-safe options.

By taking care to tread lightly, we can preserve Hawaii’s unparalleled natural majesty. Follow leave no trace principles and avoid harming ecosystems and wildlife. Consider offsetting flights’ environmental impact by donating to conservation groups like Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance that protect endangered native species.

Understand Complex History and Land Issues

Learn about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy

In 1893, a group of American businessmen and plantation owners, with the support of the U.S. military, overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. Queen Lili’uokalani was deposed, ending the Hawaiian Kingdom. This complex history has lasting impacts today.

When visiting Hawaii, take time to learn about the overthrow and its long-term implications for native Hawaiians.

Also read: What Happened To The Hawaiian Royal Family?

Consider indigenous land rights in your activities

Many attractions and hotels in Hawaii sit on land that originally belonged to native peoples. As you plan your vacation, research who owns the properties you’ll be visiting and consider how they have impacted native communities. Seek out indigenous-owned businesses to support where possible.

  • Nearly 1.4 million acres in Hawaii could potentially be reclaimed as native Hawaiian lands, according to a state-commissioned study in 2022.
  • Organizations like the Hawaiian Community Assets nonprofit work to help native Hawaiians reclaim ancestral lands.

Be respectful discussing sensitive topics

Certain parts of Hawaiian history, like the overthrow, annexation, and cultural losses, are very sensitive subjects. Be thoughtful discussing them. Recognize and respect the intergenerational trauma faced by many locals. Consider:

  • How would I feel if outsiders took over my homeland?
  • What losses would my family and community experience?

Let this perspective guide you as you seek to understand Hawaii’s culture and people. An open, learning mindset goes a long way.

Also read: How To Visit Hawaii Without Being A Colonizer


By being thoughtful in choosing tourism businesses, respecting native culture, supporting local economies, protecting fragile ecosystems, and educating yourself on complex Hawaiian history, you can ensure your trip aligns with ethics around sustainability and social responsibility.

An ethical Hawaii vacation allows you to fully appreciate all the islands have to offer, while making positive impacts on Hawaiian people and lands that will preserve them for future generations. With some mindful planning using these tips, you can check Hawaii off your bucket list the right way.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts