A couple in tourist Hawaiian shirts walk on a beach.

The Impact of Tourism on Hawai’i

Polluted oceans. A growing water crisis. The rising cost of living. Cultural appropriation. Wildlife extinction. And most recently, the devastating fires in Maui, which have killed over 90 people and becoming the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century (PBS). Hawai’i, a state already challenged by the climate crisis, is being devastated by over-tourism. The environmental and economic impact affects all residents—especially Native Hawai’ian communities, who have weathered centuries of displacement and exploitation (The Yappie). 

There are 1.4 million people that call Hawai’i home, but the islands receive over 10 million tourists each year (Hawaii Tourism Authority). Maui is the second-most visited Hawaiian island after Oahu, and $4 of every $5 the island generates comes directly or indirectly from tourism. It also accounts for 75% of all private-sector jobs (Maui Economic Development Board).


• Continue to support the ongoing recovery efforts for the Maui community:

– Donate to Maui Mutual Aid to provide fast and direct relief to those in immediate need.
– Donate to The Maui Strong Fund created to provide community resilience with resources for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
– If you’re a Maui resident, or have community living there, use the Maui Fires People Locator to mark someone missing or help confirm the whereabouts of others not yet located.
Use this form to offer tangible impact or ask for specific support.

• Before you travel somewhere, research what the Native communities have to say about visiting their lands and best practices.

• Support Native-led tourism initiatives in spaces you want to visit. Here are some examples in AlaskaCalifornia, and throughout Canada.

The greenhouse gases, overcrowding, coastal erosion, and pollution that tourism causes are having an immediate and irreversible effect. Water reserves are overexploited and tainted. The state has become the bird extinction capital of the world, where 95 of 142 bird species found nowhere else have become extinct (American Bird Conservancy). Tourist-trafficked places are directly attributed to the decline of coral reefs (Nature). And Kamilo Beach, located on the south-eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, is considered one of the most plastic-polluted places on Earth—not just from local tourism but commercial fishing and nearby garbage patches (earth.org).

And tourism is always prioritized over residents. Last year, when the state was experiencing a drought, residents were asked to conserve water – not the major resorts (CNN). The home prices in tourist-heavy areas are so high that residents can’t afford them, and right now, Maui locals that have been displaced from the fires are worried they might lose their homes to greedy developers (NYTimes).

Although the impact of tourism is clear, it’s obvious that tourism is important to Hawaii’s economic stability. So, many local individuals and organizations—including the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and the Hawai‘i Visitors & Convention Bureau—don’t wish to see an end to tourism altogether but a more intentional, regenerative practice. Some of these practices are the responsibility of the islands, like creating a tourism fee, restricting tourist access to endangered coral and vulnerable coastlines, and setting stronger boundaries for new businesses. Others call for tourists to be more mindful of the land, work directly with Native-owned travel agencies, hotels, and excursions, give directly to tribal funds, and volunteer their time (Vogue). 

 In a recent article, Mālia Sanders notes that instead of understanding how Native communities fit into Hawaiian tourism, the question should be, “What is tourism’s role in our place, and how do we achieve hoʻokaulike, true balance?” (Ka Wai Ola). 

Right now, travel to the state is far from balanced. So despite our best intentions, there’s no ethical way to travel to Hawai’i, and it’s wise to plan your next getaway elsewhere. Some of you might ask: if the state relies on our dollars, why shouldn’t we go? After all, won’t abruptly ending tourism hurt residents even more? It’s unlikely that advocacy efforts will change the hearts and minds of every tourist on the planet tomorrow. But direct action—like choosing not to participate—is a powerful step towards building broader change and can help encourage state officials and other stakeholders to reassess state funding sources and double down on regenerative tourism practices.


• Over-tourism in Hawai’i is causing significant environmental and social issues, including pollution, displacement, erosion, and wildlife extinction.

• Native communities are disproportionately affected by the 

• Due to over-tourism’s impacts, there’s no ethical way to travel to Hawai’i. Direct action by choosing not to participate in unsustainable tourism can contribute to broader change.

1920 1281 Nicole Cardoza

Nicole Cardoza

Nicole is an entrepreneur, author, investor, speaker and magician passionate about reclaiming our right to be well.

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