How to embrace responsible travel in Hawaii

There really is no other place in the world like Hawaii. It’s a place of stunning natural beauty, precious resources, rich culture, diverse communities, and modern American society — all packed into a relatively small strand of isolated islands in the North Pacific.

To fully appreciate Hawaii as a destination is to understand and embrace what lies beyond the typical tourist experience, and it goes both ways.

For the State of Hawaii, responsible travel starts with adopting the Mālama Ku‘u Home philosophy, which translates to “caring for our beloved home.” Mālama Ku‘u Home emphasizes balancing tourism’s economic benefits with the wellbeing of Hawaii’s people, resources, and culture so that residents and visitors can enjoy the islands for generations to come.

Visiting Hawaii “the right way”

Hawaii is so much more than a destination — it’s a sacred land with a rich history and vibrant culture. The islands have been inhabited for about 1,500 years, first by Polynesians and later experiencing significant changes due to Western contact. The relationship between the land and its people is central to Hawaiian culture, making it unique worldwide.

To visit Hawaii responsibly, we encourage visitors to embrace the concept of Mālama Hawai‘i – caring for and giving back to Hawaii. This means participating in the community and respecting the land, its people, and their traditions.

Be more than just a traveler; be a mindful visitor who contributes socially, environmentally, and spiritually.

Respecting the land and its people

Respect for Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources is vital. This includes understanding the significance of sacred sites and cultural icons like heiau (temples) and ki‘i (images or statues), and engaging with them respectfully. Avoid activities that might harm the environment and engage in sustainable practices.

Hawaii’s history is integral to its identity. From the arrival of Polynesians to the impact of Western contact and the emergence of tourism, each phase has shaped the islands. The Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1960s brought a much-needed focus on Native Hawaiian perspectives, crucial for understanding the islands’ past and present.

Practical tips for responsible tourism

  1. Learn and use correct Hawaiian terms: Understand the proper use of Hawaiian language, like the ‘okina and kahakō, which are essential for correct pronunciation and meaning.
  2. Respect wildlife and flora: Be mindful of Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna, many of which are endemic and endangered. Keep a respectful distance from wildlife and avoid disturbing their natural habitats, including honu (sea turtles) and Hawaiian monk seals.
  3. Support Native Hawaiian culture: Engage with genuine experiences that support and honor Native Hawaiian culture and the local community. This can be as simple as watching a hula performance, learning some basic Hawaiian words and phrases, and understanding aloha and show it to others.
  4. Avoid stereotypes and cultural appropriation: Steer clear of clichés and inaccurate portrayals of Hawaiian culture, such as misusing the hula, “celebrating” with a “lūʻau.”
  5. Give back to the community: Volunteer for local initiatives or contribute to organizations that work towards the preservation of Hawaiian culture and the environment, aka “voluntourism.”

These are just a few ideas to get you inspired. To learn more, visit Go Hawaii.

Image credits: Jamie Fenn, Mario Häfliger, Jeremy Bishop, Brian Kairuz, Leo

Need a hand with your next Maui vacation? Please contact the Sunny Maui Vacations team at or call 808-240-1311, ext. 21. We’ll find you the best vacation rental condo or rental home in South Maui and help you with any and all recommendations and activities across Maui.