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Melbourne School

Seeds of Transformational Tourism Found at Fairmont Orchid in Hawai‘i

01 Dec 2021 By travelpulse

Seeds of Transformational Tourism Found at Fairmont Orchid in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i is open for holiday travel, and a surge in tourist arrivals is imminent. But many living in Hawai‘i are frustrated with the effects of “over-tourism.” Locals say that Hawaiian values and lifestyle are eroding due to the sheer number of visitors and that many are disrespectful to their island home. Are some visitors willfully rude or only ignorant of the culture? How do we direct change in a state that has built most of its economy on tourism? Can the seed of a paradigm shift to Hawai‘i‘s tourism woes be found in a quiet garden on the Kohala Coast of Hawai'i Island? We think so. But first, here’s the backstory.

In July of 2021, tourist arrivals reached a high of over 879,551. Islanders reported over-crowded beaches and impassable roads in popular sightseeing areas. Shortages of supplies and food caused rural residents to drive miles away for the basics. Rental cars were scarce, and rates were astronomical. Tourists rented U-Hauls and pick-up trucks for touring, making it impossible for locals to rent them for household moves. Visitors in rental vans slept illegally in state parks and on neighborhood streets. They trespassed through private property to hike, following the advice of pay-for-play tour apps. Feeling that the State of Hawai‘i was placing tourism before their quality of life, residents and native Hawaiians rallied, holding protests at airports and government offices.

Pent-up demand for travel and low airfares are attracting more first-time tourists to Hawai‘i. Many are not ideal visitors. In checking social media channels and groups, images show tourists ignoring mask directives, harassing endangered wildlife, stepping on live reefs and trespassing in culturally sensitive areas. The natural resources are stressed. Hawai‘i is home for residents, but most tourists come for that “good time” vacation promised by the advertising hype. It is at this intersection of visitor expectation vs. quality of local life that Hawai‘i now finds itself. So what to do?

Some airlines, hotels, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) and the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA) have implemented initiatives to inform tourists of proper behavior while being a guest in Hawai‘i. Visitors can take the Malama Pono Pledge or sign up for volunteer programs via the Malama Hawai‘i Program. Albeit these are voluntary and there is no way to ensure their efficacy. But they are the start of a redirect and revamp of the broken tourism model, which focuses primarily on increased visitor numbers to Hawaii.

Most feel this fractious “selling of aloha” has played out, and the time is right for a thoughtful change. To this end, much of the visitor advertising messaging has evolved from “party in paradise” to one of more profound appreciation for this unique place. Instead of “taking” from Hawai‘i, caring for Hawai‘i via voluntourism is the new message. Many moving parts of Hawai‘i tourism must be overhauled, but reaching out to visitors directly with education about Hawai‘i seems to affect the most immediate change.

Charles Head, General Manager of the Fairmont Orchid, says, “Respecting and caring for the land is integral to the Hawaiian culture. Visitors who engage in the practice of malama (caring for) Hawai‘i enjoy a more meaningful experience during their time here. It’s a priority for us to promote practices that protect our land and sea. We have a deep respect for this special place we call home and aim to take strides to build a more sustainable world for future generations.”

Many resorts and hotels share Hawai‘i‘s unique stories and experiences through their cultural programs, encouraging their guests to become conscious travelers. The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast of Hawai‘i island offers an exceptional array of enjoyable Hawaiian cultural activities that nurture the creation of a personal relationship with Hawai‘i.

The Ulu Pono Garden Experience is one of their programs, offered complimentary to guests. The Director of Hawaiian Culture at Fairmont Orchid, Ka’iulani Blankenfeld, a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, guides guests on a walk through the Chef’s Garden. She shares about the plants, trees and their importance to Hawaiian culture. Native plants used for medicine, cordage for Hawaiian canoes, lamp oil, kapa cloth, water storage, food, fishing lures and myriad other uses are a fascinating study of Hawaiian life only a few centuries ago on this land.

The fundamental precept of “aloha” is sharing, and guests participating in the garden experience are welcome to harvest and taste from the cultural and culinary garden. Each participant receives a gift of the coveted Hawaiian chili pepper seeds grown here on the ‘aina (land) of Chef’s Garden to plant at home. Ka‘iulani explains, “The word ‘aina is used to describe ‘land,’ but the literal translation is ‘that which feeds.’ Our job is to be stewards of the land so it can care for us and so what we produce on it is nutritious and helps us grow. During this tour, we will share mo‘olelo (stories) about special plants native to Hawai‘i, such as ‘ulu (breadfruit) and kalo (taro), as we work together in the garden. I hope this tour inspires our guests to care for the land of Hawai‘i—and to return to the land from which they came and think of how the malama (caring for) concept applies to everything in life.”

Teaching a visitor to embrace the land, people, ocean, wildlife and culture of Hawai‘i to enhance their own island experience and improve the quality of life for Hawai‘i‘s people may be as simple as a meaningful interaction with a Hawaiian practitioner or by volunteering with a local work project. Once planted, the seed of knowledge and malama will grow into a deep appreciation and respect for Hawai‘i. And in the garden with Ka‘iulani is a natural place to start. The Fairmont Orchid’s Ulu Pono Garden Experience for hotel guests debuted on Tuesday, November 23, 2021.

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