There's something extremely alluring about Hawaii.
Maybe you've even fallen under the spell of its island breezes; perhaps you spend your evenings drinking in the beachy scent of your Maui Escapist Candle from Brooklyn Candle Studio, or maybe you put on Hawaiian lullabies to chill out after a long day.
During the pandemic, many people actually listened to the islands' call, and huge numbers of people — newly laid off or working remotely or just seeking any form of escape — made the move over to its beaches. Despite the shadow of the Delta variant, newly vaccinated tourists are swarming Hawaii in droves, leaving Hawaiians swamped and struggling to meet demands and needs. In July 2021, over 345,000 people arrived at Maui's Kahului Airport, a 23% increase from 2019.
But if you're considering a trip to Hawaii right now, maybe look elsewhere. Hawaii is struggling with so much overtourism that one mayor has asked the state to decrease the number of flights allowed to land there. "We're asking for just a pause, if you want to use that term," said Mayor Mike Victorino at a press conference. "We don't have the authority to say 'stop,' but we're asking the powers that be to help us in this sense."
Overtourism has caused a number of huge problems across Hawaii. Residents of Maui recently suffered an expensive water shortage, for example, and the island's famous Road to Hana has been swarmed by tourists, creating intense traffic on a road many residents use to reach hospitals and food.
"They have invaded and taken over our shores," said Hawaii native Kim Rivera. "They come here entitled, rude and ruthless and will stop at nothing to get their way because they are on vacation. I have been shown the finger many times coming in and out of the mountain. This place is a zoo."
Adventurous tourists, exhausted by overcrowded beaches, have often been spotted stumbling upon preserved local sites or intruding on private areas.
Hawaiians are using social media to fight back, with groups like "Enough Tourists Already," or ETA, frequently posting videos of tourists touching marine life or otherwise disrespecting the environment.
"Our needs are being ignored and Maui doesn't have the infrastructure to deal with all the tourists that are being thrust, forced, upon us," said Kai Duponte, who is ETA's spokesperson. "Tourists tell us, 'You need our money, without us you wouldn't survive,' and that is just not true."
Some of the islands are banding together to try to ensure the safety of their own residents. Many are calling for the Hawaii Tourism Agency to implement significant changes to the industry. "HTA, under its current leadership, understands we need to shift. The industry impacts our residents' way of life, wellness and the sustainability of our future," said Joe Ibarra, who is the general manager of The Kahala Hotel & Resort and a member of the Oahu DMAP steering community. "This is the turning point."
Tourism often provides little economic benefit to native Hawaiians and often sucks up resources and destroys the natural environment that many people need to survive. It is an extractive industry that mirrors the exploitative colonization that devastated Hawaii decades ago.
If you are definitely going to Hawaii, there are some things you can do. You can research the history of the United States' exploitation of Hawaii and come in with an understanding of the island's culture. You can also vow to respect locals and the island's nature, perhaps by reciting this old pledge that some Hawaiian leaders are trying to ensure that tourists must sign before entering the islands.
I pledge to be pono (righteous) in Hawaii.
I will mindfully seek wonder, but not wander where I do not belong.
I will not defy death for breathtaking photos, trespass or venture beyond safety.
I will malama (care for) land and sea, and admire wildlife only from afar.
I will not take what is not mine, leaving lava rocks and sand as originally found.
I will heed ocean conditions, never turning my back to the Pacific.
When rain falls ma uka (inland), I will remain high above ground, out of rivers and streams.
I will embrace Hawaii's aloha spirit, as it embraces me.
Lawe i ka maʻalea i kuʻonoʻono.
"Take wisdom and make it deep."
Never fear — you can still manifest your own Hawaii staycation. Just put on Spotify's Hawaiian Dreams playlist, and light your Maui Escapist Candle. Breathe in the smell of sea moss, bergamot and ylang ylang, while also feeling great knowing that the candle is eco-friendly, made of soy wax, lead free cotton wicks, and premium fragrance oils, all cruelty-free and vegan. Now that's a vacation we can get behind.