Offering lush rainforests, magnificent volcanoes, and bewitching caves, among a multitude of other natural beauties, Hawaii is a constant on bucket lists, luring millions of people each year wanting to escape their real lives for a land of adventure and magic. However, native Hawaiians are facing the brunt of the ever-growing tourism. We must be more conscious of the history and effects of tourism to prevent the grim direction that the state is headed.
The History Of Tourism In Hawaii
Around A.D. 400, the earliest settlers in Hawaii traveled the 2000 miles from Polynesiana in canoes. They developed small, well-functioning societies, working as farmers and fishermen, and killing off any threats including Captain James Cook in 1778, the first European to arrive.
However, word spread about the islands quickly, causing many to venture from western countries. For example, in 1866, Mark Twain worked as a reporter for several months in Hawaii, sharing his findings nearly a hundred times after his return to the United States.
Furthermore, in 1875, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began using Honolulu as a layover for ships traveling between San Francisco to Australia. Observing the boost that this had on the economy, which until that point was fueled by the volatile sugar industry, the Hawaiian government worked to increase promotion of the islands in major cities.
In 1893, the United States invaded the islands, causing Queen Lili‘uokalani to surrender out of fear.
"[The] government of Hawaii surrendered its authority under a threat of war, until such time only as the Government of the United States, upon the facts being presented to it, should reinstate the constitutional sovereign."
-Walter Gresham, Former U.S. Secretary of State (1893-1895)
The United States formally annexed Hawaii in 1898 upon the Spanish-American War.
As aircraft have become more advanced, Hawaii's economy has grown to depend on tourism. While it has created more economic opportunities, we must understand the ways Hawaiians have been exploited.
The prevalence of tourism requires a permanent lower class of Hawaiians to serve these visitors. Their emotional and financial needs are neglected, and they are subjected to mistreatment because of the lack of career opportunities.
"Tourism brings and expands the evil of an economy which perpetuates the poverty of Native Hawaiian people and which leads to sexual and domestic violence and substance abuse among the Native Hawaiian people."
-Kaleo Patterson, member of the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism
As tourism increases, the state needs to build more resorts, causing gentrification. With the highest housing costs of the country coupled with incredibly low wages, it's no surprise that Hawaii has the second-highest homelessness rate in the country.
Hawaii has been harmed by diseases for centuries: European diseases wiped out half the population in the early 1800s, measles broke down the monarchy decades later, and Hansen's disease isolated thousands of sick natives.
Recently, COVID-19 has become an imminent threat, having destroyed societies and economies, and Hawaii is no exception to this. Tourists can bring the virus, along with others like monkeypox and influenza, onto the islands, with the laxity of regulations. Hawaiians are often exposed to foreigners with such diseases, and many earn low wages and live in poor communities, causing it to be hard to access and afford medicine. This means that their possibility of becoming severely sick is real.
Visiting Hawaii is more than a serene week on the beach, but an immersion in the diverse culture that the islands offer. By learning about the traditions and customs among Hawaii, some tourists understand the impact their trip has on natives. However, others take the wrong approach and perpetuate cultural appropriation, such as by wearing plastic leis, hula dancing, and using Hawaiian culture as a theme for events, and bringing this to the mainlands.
"When people throw those parties and give those lei, they look like they’re eating vomit, culture vomit to be exact. Because that’s what it is...it’s a specific appropriation of something traditionally Hawaiian, so there’s a little race hatred mixed in."
Tourists in Hawaii have remained ignorant towards the islands' history and current condition. They have forced natives to work low-paying jobs to sustain the high costs of basic necessities that are only increasing with tourism. The economy has become so dangerously dependent on tourism that it must keep resorts open despite the pressing concerns for COVID-19, along with dismissing and even profiting off of cultural appropriation. By understanding the impact that our tourism has on Hawaii, we can preserve it for those it belonged to first.