People on a beach surfing, surrounded by palm trees; photo via Jess Vide/Canva.
Climate Action

Focusing On How To Become a Responsible Tourist

Aspects of responsible tourism include finding ways to support local communities while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. Our travel choices should aim to respect and maintain natural and cultural resources while also contributing to their preservation and growth — particularly within Indigenous populations.

Bringing awareness to this and the many other issues our planet currently faces is why I joined the Climate Change Collective; a group of environmentally-minded bloggers who want to share climate action news that motivates and informs — keeping the subject at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Created by Michelle from Eco Boomer Crusader and Jamie of Jamie Ad Stories; each month a different member of the collective takes turns to write a lead/focus post that shares key details, concerns and/or unique perspectives about climate change. Once the post is published, the rest of the group will link to it in a response-style blog on their own sites; discussing any thoughts and ideas about the information/issues raised.

The collective is currently open to any other bloggers who want to join; if you’re interested, get in touch.


Collective Climate Action

The eighth installment and most recent lead/focus post for the collective was written by Michelle from Eco Boomer Crusader; where she writes about how to reduce the environmental impact various enriching experiences can have (like music festivals, traveling, creative activities, etc). As mentioned in her post, Michelle highlights how an increasing shift away from accumulating material possessions/gifts is being replaced with a desire to receive fulfilling experiences instead. Encouraging this sounds like it could be a more sustainable option, however, this may not always be the case.

They don’t come with a physical object, so it’s easy to overlook their environmental impact. In reality, there are environmental costs associated with both goods and services. In some cases, replacing physical goods with experiences may increase our carbon footprint. | 6 Ways to Reduce the Environmental Costs of Experiences – Eco Boomer Crusader

The information explored in Michelle’s post got me thinking about the environmental implications of travel and tourism, particularly with regards to how this impacts Native communities — who are often disproportionately impacted by climate change due to their close relationship with the land and a reliance on natural resources for their livelihoods and traditional practices. Facilitating growth of the tourism industry, for example, can increase extractive practices that restrict Indigenous land rights and access to culturally significant areas. It can even put a strain on the availability of everyday amenities by monopolizing/minimizing access to everyday supplies.

To explore this further, I decided to look at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world; Hawaiʻi …

A close-up of the bright yellow Ma’o Hau Hele flower, an endangered hibiscus species only be found in Hawai’i
Ma’o Hau Hele flower, an endangered hibiscus species found only in Hawai’i; photo via Noppharat/Canva

The Economic Impacts of Tourism in Hawaiʻi

It’s clear that Hawaiian tourism helps to drive the local economy; in recent years it has brought in about 20% of the state’s revenue — undoubtedly helping to create job opportunities, support small businesses and fund vital state infrastructure. However, this financial boon can often come at a detrimental cost to Native Hawaiians.

While homelessness has been an issue long before the state became a prime vacation destination; tourism is helping to fuel the crisis. Hawai’i currently has the second highest rate of homelessness in the United States — with Native Hawaiians accounting for 51% of homeless people, even though they only represent about 10% of the state’s population.

Communities around the islands are experiencing a loss of land and housing to increasing numbers of properties being turned into holiday rentals or other forms of tourism-related development (hotels, bars, entertainment districts). The demands created by the tourism industry for land and housing drives up the price of real estate making it harder for locals to afford homes. This cycle of being priced out of an area disproportionately impacts Native Hawaiians; according to a 2022 ALICE report Native Hawaiians are more likely to live at or below the poverty line than any other ethnic group in the state. Finding affordable housing is increasingly being limited in favour of expanding tourism.

The tourism industry in Hawaii powers its state revenue, but that reliance on tourism has resulted in Native Hawaiians getting priced out of their homes, climate change wreaking havoc on the natural landscape, and a lack of respect for the 50th state that is also the ancestral land of more than half a million people. | How a Vacation to Hawaii Can Be Relaxing for Tourists – and Harmful to its Residents – CNN

The Cultural Impacts of Tourism in Hawai’i

Vast numbers of visitors coming to Hawaii each year can have both positive and negative outcomes for Native Hawaiians; it’s important that all tourists are mindful of this and behave in a way that minimizes as many adverse effects as possible.

On one hand, tourism can provide opportunities for Indigenous businesses and help fund cultural preservation projects (such as securing and protecting sacred sites) as well as supporting organizations/programs that improve everyday life. It can also help educate people from around the world to be more aware of Native Hawaiian history and culture. In contrast, tourism can lead to cultural appropriation and commodification when visitors treat a culture as a commodity to be consumed rather than a living, evolving tradition. This can occur when tourists engage in sacred or meaningful practices to a culture without understanding or respecting their significance. It can also happen when tourism businesses profit from selling cultural experiences or products that may not accurately represent the culture or exploit the people who create them.

While in Hawai’i, tourists should make sure they support Indigenous-led, community-based organizations like ‘Āina Momona which is dedicated to improving environmental sustainability through restoring social justice and Hawaiian sovereignty.

Ever since wealthy, self-interested U.S. businessmen (with U.S. Navy support) illegally overthrew the Hawaiian government and forced the abdication of Queen Lili‘uokalani in January 1893, Indigenous Hawaiians have seen access to their lands, language and culture persistently restricted and under threat. And while these particular events reflect the history of Hawai’i; it’s pretty much what the vast majority of Indigenous Peoples around the world have experienced (and continue to experience) because of colonialism and imperialism — sadly, tourism can further perpetuate these issues.  

An Indigenous Hawaiian woman wears a Haku Leis made of green leaves on her head.
An Indigenous Hawaiian woman wears a Haiku Leis; photo via Elysiumm/Canva

The Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Hawaiʻi

Our need for idyllic destinations and vibrant holiday experiences play a part in encouraging (and even funding) the destruction of land throughout Hawai’i. Central to Native Hawaiian’s cultural identify and spiritual beliefs is Aloha ʻĀina, which translates to ‘love of the land’ or ‘that which nourishes you’. The land is viewed as a sacred, living entity with its own consciousness and life force and is treated with profound respect and reverence — it’s family. Being aware of this while visiting and making choices that protect this bond cannot be separated from environmentally conscious tourism.

I think at this point everyone understands how travel for tourism contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. There are, however some other significant environmental impacts that tourism plays a part in. For example, Hawai’i also experiences:

  • Overcrowding and Resource Depletion: Large numbers of visitors can put a strain on natural areas and damage sensitive ecosystems. It can also lead to overuse of water, energy and food, which many locals worry will not sustain them. An issue compounded by the fact that Hawaii is the most isolated archipelago in the world and currently imports around 90% of its food.
  • Pollution: Increased tourism can result in more pollution from transportation, waste/garbage and other sources, which harms wildlife, sacred sites and the everyday health of residents.
  • Habitat Destruction: Development of tourist infrastructure, like hotels and resorts can displace wildlife as well as increase pollution. Tourists can also lead to the destruction of natural habitats — one example being the degradation of delicate coral reefs by snorkellers and scuba divers through pollution and/or physically breaking them (either accidentally or on purpose).

Ecologically, the tourism industry consistently creates problems of sustainability and environmental degradation for the land of Hawai’i. Housing an ecology with many endangered flora and fauna, the environment of Hawai’i is constantly tested by land development and tourists themselves. | Paradise Lost; The Damage Done by the Tourism Industry in Hawai’i – Drew Pagaduan/SnoQap

How To Be a Responsible Tourist

Hopefully, this brief look into Hawai’i reveals just how intricate and complex the impacts of tourism can be — perhaps most notably when it involves Indigenous communities and their cultural identity, traditions and sacred sites. Being mindful of local customs, respecting the environment and supporting local businesses in a sustainable way is all part of how we become better travellers.

No matter the destination; here are twelve ways to become a more responsible tourist:

1.| If applicable to the country/area you’re visiting; choose local Indigenous-led tourist initiatives and experiences that provide unique and authentic insights into their history, culture and traditions.

2.| Donate to, volunteer at or visit cultural revitalization organizations that support preserving and restoring cultural heritage, languages, traditions and customs.

Lush green forest covers a mountainous region in Oahu, Hawaii, USA.
Hawaii’s native forests shelter more than 10,000 unique species; photo via Cole Keister/Unsplash

3.| Learn about and respect local customs; carefully follow rules and regulations of the places you visit, especially if they are areas or sites of environmental, spiritual or cultural significance.

4.| Support the economy by shopping and eating at local stores and restaurants.

5.| Choose eco-friendly accommodation with a clear, specific sustainability policy. Make sure it includes being certified by credible independent organizations, such as Green Key Global, Green Tourism Active, EarthCheck and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Look for places that have/use:

  • Eco-friendly products.
  • Energy-efficient lighting and appliances.
  • Water conservation practices such as low-flow toilets and showerheads.
  • Recycling and composting programs for waste management.
  • Support of local businesses and products.
  • Green transportation options like bike rentals or electric car charging stations.
  • Support for local and sustainable food sources in their restaurant and room service offerings.

6.| Donate to, volunteer at or visit environmental revitalization organizations that focus on local sustainability projects and ecosystem conservation.

7.| Safeguard the natural environment by leaving no trace: take your trash with you and dispose of it properly; avoid disturbing natural features and wildlife; use designated camping areas and follow all fire ring and portable stove regulations when cooking, etc.

8.| Avoid single-use plastics and travel locally by public transportation or walk/bike whenever possible.

9.| Steer clear of activities that potentially interfere with animal welfare; seek out genuine sanctuaries that focus on conservation and do not support experiences that involve animals in captivity or exploitative conditions.

10.| Do not get too close to animals in the wild as this can cause them stress and put them (and you) in danger; they may perceive you as a threat and react to defend themselves. Feeding them should also be avoided as this can disrupt their natural behavior by leading to dependency on human food — which can be toxic and cause health problems.

11.| Do not travel during peak tourism seasons to help reduce overcrowding and limit damage to local trails and other areas of nature.

12.| Reduce travel-related pollution by enjoying a staycation instead of travelling aborad.

In Summary

Hopefully this post has made clear that focusing on responsible tourism involves much more than just finding sustainable holiday accommodation, for example. It’s also fundamentally important we understand how our presence as visitors disrupts local biodiversity and impacts the lives of local people — which, as highlighted here can be devastating and far-reaching. It’s our responsibility to make sure we travel with integrity and genuine care.

The desire to have experiences that enrich shared memories, develop connections to family and friends and nurture our own growth and enjoyment can be more meaningful than material possessions. There are so many positives to going out into the world and exploring/celebrating it’s diversity and beauty — how we go about achieving that should never aid the degradation of either of those things. Every choice we make has an impact, what that ends up being is on us. 

How are you making sure your tourism is sustainable and responsible?

Further Info:

What Native Hawaiians Want You to Know Before Your Visit – Lonely Planet

Ecotourism: What Is It and Why It Matters in 2023 – Earth Org

31 thoughts on “Focusing On How To Become a Responsible Tourist”

  1. You raise so many excellent points here, Molly. In so many countries, Indigenous people have paid a high price for the curiousity of others. I’m very dubious of Indigenous crafts and art, because much of it is not made by Indigenous people. I always look for things made by local Indigenous people.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, and for being part of our Climate Change Collective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, so many of the art or crafts that are marketed as Indigenous are far from being authentic. There are many Indigenous artists and businesses to support but they often have to fight for space amongst those who are trying to commodify their culture. Thanks so much for your great post that inspired my response!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think overcrowding is a massive issue. Expanding holiday resorts often is done in a rush and with thoughtless disruption to ecosystems. Great post with plenty of details that highlight the cost of tourism on locals and wildlife.


  3. I am surprised to know that everywhere in the world, tourism instead of giving jobs and better lifestyle to locals actually end up polluting and making things worse than before. I have only heard about Hawaii in connection with perfect holiday destination especially for the rich but this is the first time that I have heard about homelessness in Hawaii. I hope our leaders take climate change more seriously and build plan that respects the local economy and culture. As a tourist, we should rethink about connecting to the locals and learn every way to live sustainably.


    1. I hope our leaders, including the tourism industry leaders too start to make active changes that protect and preserve Hawaiian lands and culture. All locals to Hawai’i deserve this and I hope the idea of sustainable and responsible tourism becomes more realized in the future. Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a great post! I’ve actually followed a lot of Native Hawaiians in the past two years, and I have learned so much about the situation going on over there. I wish the US would make changes to help the indigenous people there, especially with overcrowding and homelessness. There is a limited amount of resources there, which you saw became a huge problem during covid. And instead of prioritizing the people who lived there, the tourists were still prioritized the most. Something needs to change.

    Melina |


    1. Covid really laid bare how disregarded local Hawaiian people are in relation to tourism; I remember reading about it at the time. There needs to be huge changes made and I hope that more and more people become educated about this. Thanks so much for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This was an excellent read and an eye opening subject. We live in a tourist hotspot and see the damage caused to our local environment first hand. Thank you for sharing.

    L and J

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was such a good read Molly, thank you for sharing. It’s so important to be a responsible tourist when you decide to visit other countries and population. I’ve never been to Hawaii, I think one of the best ways you can be a responsible tourist is sticking to your continent and avoid getting on long (and short!) plane journeys as much a possible, like you said with a staycation… Thanks for sharing!! x

    Em /


    1. I think avoiding getting on plane journeys as much as possible is a great idea; tourism is still a worthy and beneficial pursuit but not when it causes so much upheaval for local people or destruction of the environment. It has to be weighed against its impact so hopefully more people will start to travel in this way!


  7. It is easy to forget about the environmental impact when we go on holiday as we are so excited about getting away from daily life. I will definitely consider the tips in this post the next time I go away.


  8. Staying away from activities and companies that support animal cruelty is soooo important! Thank you for bringing awareness to this, as being a more responsible tourist is so necessary!


  9. These are all wonderful ways to become a responsible tourist. A year ago, I came across a book called Sustainable Travel by Holly Tuppen, and it really opened my eyes about how much of an environmental impact we have when it comes to travelling. These are very important things to keep in mind, especially for those who plan to travel this year. Thank you for sharing!


  10. Thanks for sharing, your thoughts on this topic, sometimes we all try to be a responsible tourist, but the countries themselves have not developed that yet, I found that in South East Asia in hotels, there was no recycling for plastic water bottles, and in every shop you went in put things in plastic bags which were not needed, so it’s also about educating these countries as well 🙂


    1. I agree, if places are unable to ensure all aspects of tourism are responsible (including, and beyond hotels, etc) then a wider discussion needs to be had about initiatives that can support a transition to sustainability. For South East Asia, for example, following the work of the Southeast Asia Sustainable Tourism Hub has some great info about organizations and programs being done to do just this — I hope all tourist get behind it!


  11. Firstly, this is such a great way to share important information of climate change! I love that there is a collective dedicated to taking turns on sharing different posts that highlight various aspects.

    I think it’s imperative to be self aware and socially conscious tourists because the planet needs us to do our bit and look after all different spaces, not just our own home space. But not only that, we need to do our bit to make sure that the mark we leave on anywhere we visit isn’t harmful to locals! Don’t leave trash, respect culture and customs, add to the economy, be respectful of land and so much more.


    1. It is so great to be a part of this collective; it’s a great way to learn and share so much. I am just glad to be able to add my own voice to something so important.

      Being a responsible tourist will take a mindset shift and I hope that this will soon become the norm. We can do all sorts of things to be responsible; hopefully this post helps!


  12. This is such a thoughtful and informative post, Molly. It’s really impactful to look at a specific region and how tourism impacts that area. And at the same time I can also see how similar issues impact touristy areas around me–especially with respects to housing, which is a huge issue right now.


    1. It was so useful to see how tourism impacts Hawai’i as it also made me realize the depth of understanding and responsibility we need to have/use no matter where we go as tourists. We cannot separate ourselves from the impact we have so I hope this proves useful to anyone thinking of championing sustainable travel.


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