Tourism in Hawaii

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The Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii is a U.S. state that is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. Of the eight major islands, Hawaii, Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi have major tourism industries, while it is limited on Molokai and Lānaʻi and access to Niihau and Kahoʻolawe is restricted.

In 2017 alone, according to state government data, there were over 9.4 million visitors to the Hawaiian Islands with expenditures of over $16 billion.[1] Tourism makes up 21% of the state's economy, with many of Hawaii's largest industries revolving around the constant flow of tourists.[2]

Due to the mild year-round weather, tourist travel is popular throughout the year. The summer months and major holidays are the most popular times for outsiders to visit, however, especially when residents of the rest of the United States are looking to escape from cold winter weather. The Japanese, with their economic and historical ties to Hawaii and the US as well as relative geographical proximity, make up the largest group of inbound international travelers to the islands, reaching 1,568,609 in 2017.[3] The average Japanese stays only 5 days while other Asians stay over 9.5 days and spend 25% more.[1]

History of travel to Hawaii[edit]

Hawaii was first populated no later than the 2nd century CE by people of Polynesian origin, most likely from Tahiti.[4] Subsequent Western contact began as a consequence of European Enlightenment exploration and was continued by Protestant ministers of New England origin in the early 19th century.

18th century[edit]

The first recorded western visitor to Hawaii was Captain James Cook on his third and final fatal voyage in the Pacific. In 1555 Spaniard Juan Gaetano reports finding a group of islands at the same latitude as the Hawaiian Isles, but he reports the longitude incorrectly. Debate continues as to whether the Spanish visited the islands before James Cook.

19th century[edit]

19th-century travelers included journalist Isabella Bird.[5] American writers include Mark Twain aboard the Ajax as a travel journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle,[6] and Herman Melville as a whaler. Twain's unfinished novel of Hawaii was incorporated into his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, with King Arthur bearing striking similarities to Kamehameha V, the first reigning monarch Twain was to meet. The "modernizing" potential offered by the Connecticut Yankee from the future is a satire of the potentially negative Protestant Missionary influence on Hawaiian life. Melville's writing of the Pacific includes Typee and Omoo (considered factual travel accounts when published) and his Pacific experiences would develop into the portrayal of Queequeg in Moby-Dick.

British writers include the Scot Robert Louis Stevenson, whose subsequent In the South Seas was published based on his voyages.[7] During his stay in the islands, he wrote a stunning defense of Father Damien's work with the lepers of Kalaupapa against the politicized views of Father Damien's Protestant detractors. Consequently, Hawaiʻi is home to the eponymous Stevenson Middle School. Stevenson later died in Samoa.[8]

19th Century development in Hawaii played a big part in the increase of tourism that continued into the 21st century. Advanced technologies including cars, marketing, hotels, and shopping malls allow vacationers to visit a modernized tropical island, which contributes heavily to steady growth in tourism. Conversely, the Native Hawaiian population continues to decrease, resulting in a loss of authentic Hawaiian culture on the islands, similar to other Oceanian islands.[9]

20th century[edit]

In 1907, Jack London and his wife Charmian sailed to Hawaii learning the "royal sport" of surfing and travelling by horseback to Haleakala and Hana as chronicled in his book The Cruise of the Snark. 1929 saw 22,000 tourists visit Hawaii, while the number of tourists exceeded 1 million for the first time in 1967.[10]

Native Hawaiian academic and activist Haunani-Kay Trask's "Lovely Hula Hands" is severely critical of the huge influx of tourists to Hawaiʻi, which she terms a "prostitution" of Hawaiian culture. She ends her essay with "let me just leave this thought behind. If you are thinking of visiting my homeland, please don't. We don't want or need any more tourists, and we certainly don't like them."[11] However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has condemned Trask for her anti-American statements, stating that such vitriol helps fuel racism in Hawaiʻi.[12]

21st century[edit]

Although 2006 and 2007 saw a big increase of tourism, it soon took a turn for the worse when Hawaii's economy plummeted, but later recovered. Tourism officials said several factors have kept sightseers away: Two major airlines and two cruise ships stopped operating in the Aloha State, reducing options for visitors, high fuel prices last summer deterred travel, then recessions in Japan and the U.S., as well as California's economic meltdown, slowed the flow of tourists.[13]

In 2007, Japanese tourists on average used to spend more money than American tourists; because of this, tourism-related businesses in Hawaii used to value Japanese customers. However this has all changed with the collapse of the value of the yen and the Japanese economy. The average Japanese now stays only 5 days. The average Asian from China and Korea stays more than 9.5 days and spends 25% more.[14][15]

Hawaii has been seeing increased numbers of visitors from South Korea and China.[16][17][18]

In 2011, Hawaii saw increasing arrivals and share of foreign tourists from Canada, Australia and China increasing 13%, 24% and 21% respectively from 2010.[19] In 2014 a record 8.3 million visitors arrived to Hawaii (39.4% from the U.S. West, 20.8% from the U.S. East, 18.3% from Japan, 6.3% from Canada, 15.2% others), spending $14.7 billion.[20] The amount increased to 9.4 million visitors spending over $16 billion in 2017.[1]

Impacts of tourism in Hawaii[edit]


As Hawaii changed from a Kingdom to a Territory to a State, so too did the dominant industries change. Being a primarily agricultural land, producing around 80 percent of the world's pineapples in the 1960s,[21] the addition of Pan Am’s flight route to Hawaii rapidly increased the number of visitors going to the islands. The years following statehood led to more than double the number of passengers arriving at Honolulu airport.[22] As this trend continues to increase, Hawaii's economy has become heavily dependent on the tourism industry. Although the economy has seen significant growth with the addition of this industry, some researchers believe this will leave Hawaii susceptible to external economic forces. Some examples of these are an economic recession, airline strikes, or varying fuel prices which could devastate the local economy.[23] The devastating national economic recession of 2008, hit Hawaii's tourism industry hard. In 2008, hotel occupancy dropped to 60 percent, a level not seen since the terrorist attacks in 2001.[24]

As the economy has returned to normal levels, the tourism industry has continued to grow in Hawaii with the majority of tourists visiting Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the big island of Hawaii.[25] Job creation is another benefit of tourism to the islands. In 2017, reports say 204,000 jobs were related to tourism. This led to $16.78 billion in visitor spending with $1.96 billion generated in tax revenue in that year alone.[26] Resorts and the airline business are the primary benefactors of this increase in tourism and wealth



Hotels are often placed near beaches, in areas with little rainfall, causing 2000 to 10000 liters of water used per capita.[27] This is significantly more than the average resident and has led to a number of droughts throughout the islands.


The number of hotel rooms from 1985 to 2010 nearly doubled from 65 to 132 thousand rooms.[28] Tourists visit destinations with developed infrastructure, groomed activities and pristine conditions, which boosts the economy and finances needed to uphold these facilities. On the other hand, the very creation of these institutions degrades the environmental factors tourists are drawn to.[29] Having perfect conditions requires an amount of upkeep fueled by the revenue of the visitors but the visitors also degrade the environment at a faster rate than residents alone.

A direct effect of the increase in infrastructure is the depletion of the natural landscape. As buildings are constructed the amount of natural land becomes smaller and smaller. As hotels are constructed in prime real estate the environmental problems created are not weighed equally with the potential upside of profit.[28] The government sees the creation of jobs and the increase in visitor spending in the state as a good thing. Those are quantitative variables that can be directly measured in terms of dollars and number of jobs. However, the impact to the environment or the indigenous people is harder to measure in term of absolutes. Hawaii only holds 0.2 percent of the United States land but has a 72.1 percent extinction rate, and more than half of the natural communities in the islands are endangered by developments.[23] An example of this is natural ponds being destroyed during construction of large buildings which were previously home to migrating birds. The ponds are no longer there, which throws off the natural flow of the ecosystem. Another staggering statistic says that nearly 60 percent of the plant and animal species in Hawaii are endangered.[28] This includes the loss of habitats for animals and the diverse flora that gives Hawaii its beauty being degraded at an alarming rate.


The beaches in Hawaii are becoming increasingly filled with trash, especially plastics. This becomes a problem not only environmentally, but also could have a negative impact on the economy as visitors come for the sandy beaches and pollutants such as trash or plastics decrease the appeal of Hawaii as a vacation destination.

Social effect[edit]

Some Native Hawaiians believe strongly in the independence of Hawaii and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. The creation of this grassroots organization leads to a negative view towards visitors and the disruption of the natural land. This leads to a strong contention between developers and natives who believe the land should not be transformed into a commercial or residential development. Many of these individuals are reliant on the land as a means of living. The loss of the environment affects the socio-psychological well-being of those reliant on land and marine resources.[23] Native Hawaiians and residents alike become limited in job opportunities with a heavily skewed job-base in the tourism industry.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Annual visitor report" (PDF). 2017.
  2. ^ Wilson, Reid (2013-09-27). "Hawaii's $14 billion tourism industry back to pre-recession levels". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  3. ^ "2017 Preliminary Visitor Arrivals by Month and MMA (Arrivals by air)" (PDF). State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  4. ^ Young, Kanalu G. Terry (1998). Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8153-3120-9.
  5. ^ Bird, Isabella (1875). The Hawaiian Archipelago. London: John Murray. p. 473.
  6. ^ "Samuel Clemens". PBS:The West. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  7. ^ In the South Seas (1896) & (1900) Chatto & Windus; republished by The Hogarth Press (1987). A collection of Stevenson's articles and essays on his travels in the Pacific
  8. ^ "Stevenson's tomb". National Library of Scotland. Archived from the original on 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  9. ^ Tracie Ku'uipo Losch & Momi Kamahele, Hawai'i: Center of the Pacific(The Contemporary Pacific, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993),495–499.
  10. ^ Merrit, Clifton (October 2011). "Why shipping live pigs to Hawaii did not end with the ancient Polynesians & Captain Cook". Animal People. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  11. ^ Trask, Haunani-Kay. "Lovely Hula Hands." From A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaiʻi. Maine: Common Courage Press, 1993. 195–196.
  12. ^ Keller, Larry (August 30, 2009). "Hawaii Suffering From Racial Prejudice". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  13. ^ WOO, STU "Heavy Reliance on Tourism Has Hawaii's Economy Hurting." Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition 17 Aug. 2009: A3. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
  14. ^ "" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Hawaii tourism officials concerned about Japanese visitor decline." USA Today. February 2, 2007. Retrieved on October 10, 2010.
  16. ^ Wiles, Greg (October 2010). "Hawaii's Fast-Growing Source for Tourists". Hawaii Business. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  17. ^ Kubota, Lisa (23 November 2010). "Surge in tourism from South Korea". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  18. ^ Yonan Jr., Alan (17 March 2010). "S. Korea tourists on rise". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  19. ^ O'Neill, Sandler (9 September 2011). "Bank of Hawaii Offers a Safe Port". Barrons Online. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  20. ^ "A record 8.3 million visitors came to Hawai'i in 2014" (PDF). Hawaii Tourism Authority. 29 January 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  21. ^ "History of agriculture" (PDF). 2013.
  22. ^ "How Statehood Changed Hawaii's Economy". Time.
  23. ^ a b c "Info".
  24. ^ "Hawaii's Tourism Hurt By Economic Downturn".
  25. ^ "Selecting the Best Hawaiian Island".
  26. ^ "David Y. Ige - Hawaii Tourism Industry Set New Record Totals in 2017".
  27. ^ Ishihara, Hayato; Nagahama, Koichi (March 2017). "Tourism Development and Environmental Problems on Hawaii in the late 20th Century" (PDF). 東アジア評論. 9: 77–85.
  28. ^ a b c d LURJ. "Negative Impact of Tourism on Hawaii Natives and Environment :: Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal". Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  29. ^ "Data" (PDF).

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