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Why Is Tourism Bad For Hawaii


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Stacy Garr



Hawaii, with its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant culture, has long been a sought-after destination for travelers from around the world. However, the rapid growth of tourism in Hawaii has brought with it a plethora of issues that threaten the very essence of this idyllic paradise. While tourism brings economic benefits to the island, it also has negative consequences that cannot be ignored.


One of the major concerns is the environmental impact. The influx of visitors puts a strain on Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem. With more people comes increased waste and pollution, leading to damage to the fragile coral reefs, marine life, and natural habitats. The heavy footfall of tourists also exacerbates coastal erosion, as popular beach areas become overcrowded and trampled upon.


Furthermore, the sheer volume of tourists leads to overcrowding and strains the existing infrastructure of the island. Traffic congestion becomes a daily struggle, making commuting a daunting task for both residents and visitors alike. Public facilities such as parks, public restrooms, and hiking trails become overwhelmed, causing inconvenience and frustration for locals and degrading the overall visitor experience.


In addition to the strain on the environment and infrastructure, tourism often results in the exploitation of local resources. Large hotel chains and tour operators often prioritize profit over sustainability, leading to overuse of water, energy, and other resources. This exploitation can have long-term detrimental effects on the island’s ecosystems and scarcity of resources.


Cultural appropriation is another issue that arises in Hawaii due to tourism. Hawaiian culture is rich and deeply rooted in traditions and customs. However, tourism can often commodify and dilute these cultural practices, reducing them to mere tourist attractions. Indigenous sacred sites and practices are often commercialized, leading to the loss of cultural authenticity and respect.


As the tourism industry expands, the cost of living in Hawaii has skyrocketed. Local residents, including those who have called the island home for generations, are being priced out of their own neighborhoods. The demand for housing from tourists often drives up property prices, making it unaffordable for many locals to live in the places they have called home for generations.


Finally, the influx of tourists can lead to a loss of local identity. As the island becomes more dependent on tourist dollars, there is a growing pressure to cater to the preferences and desires of visitors. This can lead to the commodification of Hawaiian culture and an emphasis on superficial aspects, eroding the authentic local experience and diminishing the unique charm that once attracted visitors in the first place.


While tourism undoubtedly brings economic benefits to Hawaii, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the negative consequences that accompany it. Sustainable tourism efforts should be implemented to minimize the environmental impact, support the local community, and preserve the cultural heritage of the islands. By striking a balance between tourism growth and responsible practices, we can ensure a future where Hawaii remains a beloved destination while preserving its natural beauty and cultural integrity.


Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of tourism in Hawaii cannot be understated. The sheer number of visitors to the islands puts a tremendous strain on the delicate ecosystems that make Hawaii such a unique and stunning destination.


One of the most significant concerns is the damage to the coral reefs. Hawaii is home to some of the most vibrant and diverse coral reefs in the world. However, the increased number of snorkelers, divers, and boat activities have led to physical damage and pollution that pose a significant threat to these fragile ecosystems. Coral bleaching, a phenomenon caused by increased water temperature and pollution, is becoming more prevalent, endangering the marine life that depends on the reefs.


Additionally, the increased waste generated by tourism contributes to pollution on the islands. Plastic bottles, food packaging, and other single-use items find their way into Hawaii’s landfills and waterways, impacting the native plants and wildlife. The beautiful beaches and hiking trails that attract visitors also become littered with trash, detracting from the natural beauty and potentially harming native species.


Coastal erosion is another environmental consequence of high tourism. Popular beach areas are often overcrowded and trampled upon, resulting in the degradation of the sand and destruction of natural dunes. The loss of sand not only impacts the aesthetic appeal of the beaches but also exposes the land to increased erosion by wind and waves. This erosion not only affects the natural habitat but also threatens the infrastructure, such as hotels and homes, located along the shoreline.


The high demand for water by the tourism industry magnifies the issue of water scarcity in Hawaii. The islands already face challenges in terms of freshwater availability, and the increased usage by hotels, resorts, and golf courses can strain local water supplies. This leads to competition with the needs of local communities and agriculture, exacerbating existing water scarcity issues.


Efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of tourism in Hawaii are crucial. Implementing strict regulations on waste management, promoting recycling and reducing single-use plastics, and enforcing responsible snorkeling and diving practices are steps that can greatly minimize the negative impact on the environment. Education and awareness campaigns can also play a vital role in educating visitors about environmental conservation and the importance of leaving no trace.


Furthermore, the promotion and support of sustainable tourism practices are essential. Encouraging eco-friendly accommodations, transportation, and activities that prioritize the protection and preservation of the environment can help ensure that the beauty of Hawaii will continue to be enjoyed by future generations.


Overcrowding and Infrastructure Strain

The rapid growth of tourism in Hawaii has led to significant issues of overcrowding and strain on the island’s infrastructure. As more and more visitors flock to the islands, the existing systems are struggling to keep up with the demands placed upon them.


One of the most immediate and noticeable effects of overcrowding is the traffic congestion that plagues many areas of Hawaii. The narrow roads and limited transportation options, combined with the influx of rental cars and tour buses, result in frustrating and lengthy commutes for both locals and tourists. Traffic jams have become a daily occurrence, especially in popular tourist destinations and during peak travel seasons, further adding to the stress and frustration of navigating the island.


The strain on transportation infrastructure is not limited to roads alone. Airports and harbors experience a surge in activity as tourists arrive and depart, putting stress on the existing facilities and leading to longer wait times and crowded terminals. Public transportation, often limited in scope and availability, struggles to meet the needs of both residents and visitors, exacerbating the issues of traffic congestion.


Public facilities and amenities also suffer from the overwhelming number of tourists. Parks, hiking trails, and other recreational areas become crowded and overused, leading to wear and tear on the natural environment. Public restrooms and facilities often become overwhelmed, resulting in long lines and unsanitary conditions for both locals and visitors.


Another consequence of overcrowding is the strain on housing availability. As the demand for accommodations rises, housing prices increase, making it difficult for local residents to afford homes and apartments. This not only leads to an affordable housing crisis but also contributes to the displacement of local communities as they are priced out of their own neighborhoods.


The strain on infrastructure also extends to water and energy resources. The increased water demand from hotels, resorts, and other tourist facilities puts pressure on local water supplies, further exacerbating the water scarcity issues already faced by the islands. Additionally, the energy consumption of hotels, resorts, and other tourism-related establishments contributes to Hawaii’s reliance on fossil fuels and its impact on climate change.


To address the issues of overcrowding and infrastructure strain, careful planning and management are essential. Investing in transportation infrastructure, including expanding roads, improving public transportation options, and increasing airport capacities, can help alleviate some of the congestion. Implementing smart growth strategies and promoting sustainable tourism practices that prioritize the well-being of the island’s infrastructure and natural resources is crucial for the long-term sustainability of Hawaii’s tourism industry.


Exploitation of Local Resources

One of the negative consequences of tourism in Hawaii is the exploitation of local resources. The surge in tourism brings with it a high demand for goods and services, which often leads to unsustainable practices and the overuse of natural resources.


One of the prime examples of resource exploitation is the excessive consumption of water. The tourism industry heavily relies on water for activities such as swimming pools, landscaping, and irrigation. Hotels and resorts, in particular, consume large quantities of water, putting significant strain on local water supplies. This can lead to water scarcity, particularly in times of drought, affecting both the local community and the environment.


Energy consumption is another aspect of resource exploitation in Hawaii’s tourism industry. Hotels, resorts, and other accommodations require substantial amounts of power for lighting, air conditioning, and other amenities. This dependency on energy contributes to Hawaii’s reliance on fossil fuels, which not only impacts local air quality but also exacerbates climate change and its associated environmental risks.


The demand for food and beverages by tourists further intensifies the exploitation of local resources. Many restaurants, especially those catering to tourists, rely heavily on imported goods rather than sourcing locally. This not only contributes to increased carbon emissions due to transportation but also overlooks the abundance of locally grown and produced food in Hawaii. The importation of goods also diminishes the economic benefits that could be reaped by supporting local farmers, fishermen, and artisans.


Additionally, the construction of large-scale tourism infrastructure often leads to the destruction of natural habitats. Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to development, with many pristine beachfronts and wetlands being transformed into hotels and resorts. This can have detrimental effects on local biodiversity and ecosystems, further contributing to the loss of natural resources.


To address the exploitation of resources, sustainable practices need to be implemented. This includes initiatives such as water conservation programs, promoting the use of renewable energy sources, and encouraging local businesses to source their products locally. By reducing the dependency on imported goods and minimizing the environmental impacts associated with resource exploitation, Hawaii can create a more sustainable and resilient tourism industry.


Furthermore, supporting local farmers, fishermen, and artisans through the promotion of locally sourced products and experiences not only enhances the authenticity of the visitor experience but also contributes to the economic well-being of the local community. By valuing and protecting Hawaii’s natural beauty and resources, we can ensure the long-term sustainability of the islands and preserve the essence that attracts visitors in the first place.


Cultural Appropriation

The issue of cultural appropriation is a significant concern resulting from tourism in Hawaii. The islands have a rich and diverse cultural heritage, deeply rooted in the traditions, customs, and beliefs of the Native Hawaiian people. However, the commercialization and commodification of Hawaiian culture by the tourism industry can lead to its appropriation and dilution.


Cultural appropriation occurs when aspects of a culture are taken and used without proper understanding, respect, or permission, often for profit or entertainment purposes. In the context of Hawaii’s tourism industry, this can manifest in various ways. One of the most prominent examples is the commercialization of traditional practices and sacred sites. Native Hawaiian rituals, dances, and chants are often performed for tourists as staged performances, dissociated from their true cultural significance. This reduction of sacred practices to mere tourist attractions can be deeply disrespectful and devalues their cultural importance.


The appropriation of Hawaiian symbols and iconography is also common in the tourism industry. Designs such as hula dancers, tiki masks, and Polynesian patterns are often used on merchandise and souvenirs, divorcing them from their cultural roots and reducing them to superficial tokens of Hawaiian identity. These symbols may be distorted or misused, perpetuating stereotypes and contributing to the misrepresentation of Native Hawaiian culture.


Another concern is the use of Hawaiian language and names in tourism without proper respect and understanding. Many places, hotels, and attractions use Hawaiian names without regard for their cultural significance, often without permission from the community. This can lead to the commodification of language, eroding its authenticity and cultural value.


The practice of cultural appropriation not only diminishes the cultural heritage of the indigenous people of Hawaii but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and reinforces power imbalances. It is essential to recognize and reject these exploitative practices to preserve the integrity and authenticity of Hawaiian culture.


To address the issue of cultural appropriation, education and understanding are key. Tourists should be encouraged to learn about and respect the local culture, striving for authentic experiences that are devoid of cultural appropriation. This can be achieved through cultural education programs, community-led initiatives, and collaborations between the tourism industry and Native Hawaiian organizations.


Engaging with the local community and promoting sustainable tourism practices that support the cultural well-being of Hawaii is paramount. This includes working with indigenous communities to ensure that their voices are heard, their traditions are respected, and their cultural heritage is protected. By fostering a sense of cultural appreciation and understanding, tourism can play a role in preserving and celebrating the rich diversity of Hawaiian culture for generations to come.


Increased Cost of Living

One of the significant negative impacts of tourism in Hawaii is the increased cost of living for local residents. The influx of tourists drives up the demand for goods and services, creating a ripple effect on the prices of essential items, housing, and everyday expenses.


One of the most immediate impacts is the rising cost of housing. The demand for accommodations from tourists often leads to the conversion of residential properties into vacation rentals and Airbnb listings. As a result, the supply of long-term rental housing decreases, causing a scarcity of affordable options for local residents. This drives up rental prices, making it increasingly challenging for individuals and families to find affordable housing in areas they have traditionally called home.


The increased demand for accommodations also has an impact on property prices. Investors and developers recognize the potential for profit in the tourism industry and often purchase properties, driving up real estate prices. As a result, homeownership becomes out of reach for many locals as they can no longer afford to purchase homes in their own communities.


Furthermore, the high demand for goods and services from tourists can contribute to inflation. As local businesses cater to the needs and preferences of tourists, the cost of goods and services can increase, causing a financial burden for residents. This is particularly evident in areas heavily frequented by tourists, such as resort towns or popular shopping districts.


Additionally, the increased cost of living affects everyday expenses for local residents. Basic necessities such as groceries, transportation, and healthcare can become more expensive as the cost of production and distribution rises to meet the demand of the tourism industry. This can put a strain on the budgets of local families and individuals, leading to financial hardship.


The rising cost of living can have significant social and economic implications for the local community. Many long-time residents, including those who have deep roots in the islands, find themselves unable to afford the rising prices and are forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere. This results in a loss of community cohesion and can lead to a disconnect between the local population and the tourism industry.


To address the increased cost of living, it is vital to find a balance between tourism growth and supporting the needs of the local community. Implementing policies that prioritize affordable housing for residents, regulating vacation rentals, and promoting responsible tourism practices that prioritize the well-being of local residents can help alleviate the financial burden. Additionally, diversifying the economy by encouraging sustainable industries beyond tourism can help create more stable and well-paying jobs for residents, reducing their reliance on the tourism sector.


By ensuring that the benefits of tourism are shared among the local community and protecting the affordability and accessibility of basic necessities, Hawaii can mitigate the negative impacts of the increased cost of living, ensuring a sustainable and inclusive future for both residents and visitors.


Loss of Local Identity

One of the unfortunate consequences of tourism in Hawaii is the gradual loss of local identity. As the islands become more dependent on tourism, there is a growing pressure to cater to the preferences and desires of visitors, often at the expense of the local culture and way of life.


One of the ways in which local identity is eroded is through the homogenization of the tourist experience. In an effort to appeal to a broad range of visitors, many businesses and attractions adopt a generic approach, offering a sanitized version of Hawaiian culture that may not accurately reflect the diversity and uniqueness of the local communities. This can lead to a loss of the authentic local experience and diminish the cultural heritage that once attracted visitors to Hawaii in the first place.


The increasing presence of large hotel chains and international brands can further contribute to the loss of local identity. These establishments often prioritize uniformity and standardization, creating an environment that lacks the distinct character and charm of locally owned and operated businesses. As these chains grow, unique local establishments may struggle to compete, leading to a homogeneity of experiences and a loss of the essence that makes each island and community special.


Cultural commodification is another concern when it comes to the loss of local identity. The tourism industry often reduces cultural traditions and practices to mere commodities, transforming them into stage performances and superficial attractions. This objectification of culture not only diminishes its value but also disrespects the intellectual property and ancestral knowledge of Native Hawaiian communities.


Furthermore, the exaggerated portrayal of stereotypes in the tourism industry can perpetuate misconceptions and bias about the local population. The exploitation of “exotic” or “tropical” imagery can reinforce outdated and superficial views of Hawaiian culture, stripping it of its depth and complexity. This can lead to misunderstandings and misrepresentations that further contribute to the erosion of local identity.


To combat the loss of local identity, it is essential to prioritize the preservation and celebration of Hawaiian culture. Supporting local artisans, craftsmen, and businesses that embody the true essence of Hawaii can help ensure that the cultural heritage is sustained and protected. Encouraging authenticity and providing opportunities for visitors to engage with the local community, learn about Hawaiian history and traditions, and participate in meaningful cultural exchanges can foster a deeper understanding and respect for local identity.


Collaborations between the tourism industry and Native Hawaiian organizations can play a significant role in promoting responsible tourism that celebrates and respects the local culture. By placing an emphasis on authentic experiences and valuing the diverse voices of the local community, Hawaii can maintain its unique identity while also offering a memorable and enriching experience for visitors.



The rapid growth of tourism in Hawaii has undoubtedly brought economic benefits to the islands, but it has also resulted in a range of negative consequences. From environmental degradation to overcrowding, cultural appropriation, increased cost of living, and the loss of local identity, these issues need to be acknowledged and addressed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Hawaii as a cherished destination.


To mitigate the environmental impact, efforts should be made to implement sustainable practices. This includes conserving water, reducing energy consumption, and promoting responsible waste management. Protecting and preserving the unique natural habitats, such as coral reefs and beaches, is crucial for maintaining the ecological balance that makes Hawaii so extraordinary.


The strain on infrastructure caused by overcrowding can be alleviated through strategic planning and investment. Improving transportation systems, including roads and public transportation, and regulating the growth of tourist accommodations can help manage congestion and ease the burden on local resources. Additionally, supporting affordable housing for residents and creating diversified economic opportunities beyond tourism can mitigate the increased cost of living.


Cultural appropriation poses a significant challenge, but through education, understanding, and collaboration with Native Hawaiian communities, Hawaii can ensure the preservation and celebration of its rich cultural heritage. Valuing authenticity and promoting responsible tourism practices that respect and support local traditions will help prevent the loss of local identity and ensure that visitors experience the true essence of Hawaii.


In conclusion, responsible and sustainable tourism is crucial for the well-being of both Hawaii’s natural environment and the local communities. By recognizing and addressing the negative impacts of tourism, Hawaii can strike a balance between preserving the island’s unique beauty and culture while providing a memorable and enriching experience for visitors. It is through conscious efforts and a commitment to protecting and cherishing the islands that Hawaii can thrive as a sustainable, vibrant, and authentic destination for generations to come.