Open letter to the hospitality and travel industry

Earlier this week, while checking my news feed for relevant updates, I came across a headline that quickly caught my eye: What Native Hawaiians Want You to Know Before You Visit. As someone who spent much of his childhood in Hawai’i, any mention of the island evokes an inevitable wave of nostalgia and appreciation. However, in this particular context, that nostalgia mixed with resonance, as the author addressed a topic that I was aware of, but hadn’t found a way to articulate or defend.

As global tourism picks up (much to our collective relief and delight), popular destinations like Hawaii are once again seeing a steady influx of travelers eager to explore a foreign tropical location. With this in mind, the article’s author, writer and Native Hawaiian Savannah Dagupion wrote about how indigenous Hawaiians see the uptick in tourism and what they want tourists visiting the islands to know before they arrive. The writing that followed was a beautiful account of Hawaiian history and culture, the welcome rejuvenation of the land during the early days of the pandemic, and the subsequent impact of the rebound of tourists to the islands. Most importantly, the author gives a critical voice to the many locals who have watched, with saddened hearts and spirits, as tourists take advantage of their land and their hospitality without properly respecting their culture and precious surroundings.

“Native Hawaiians and locals recognize that tourism is inevitable because people will always be drawn to the islands, which is why they have been talking about the importance of education and uplifting the lāhui (the Hawaiian nation),” he said. read in the article. Julie Au, Director of Education, Research and Outreach for ʻĀina Momona, a nonprofit organization that focuses on land restoration, Hawaiian land reclamation and clearance, and sustainable futures for Hawaii, urges visitors to come informed. “Tourists need to know that they are entering a place with a long history,” says Antonio Kapulani, a Hawaiian studies educator, quoted in the article. “They have to assume the kuleana (responsibility) when they come.” Perhaps this is the sentiment that struck me the most: now, more than ever, visitors should not treat Hawaii like their playground and should consider how they can contribute to the earth rather than just take from it.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but feel inspired to share this message with the hospitality industry and talk about what it means for the future of travel as we move through the pandemic. As someone who works to improve the guest experience through innovative hotel technology and someone who has lived abroad in amazing places like Hawaii, I am in a unique position to shed light on both sides of the hospitality coin. On the one hand, our industry exists to attract and please guests. Still, on the other hand, it is time for travelers to recognize their responsibility to treat the destinations they frequent with the utmost care and respect.

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A call to passion for responsible travel

Wanderlust is an amazing and wonderful feeling, if anything, part of the reason I got into this industry in the first place. I understand the critical role travel can play in shaping character and worldview. From a very young age, I felt an inherent attraction to experience different cultures and environments. Many people I have met in the hospitality industry during my tenure share this passion and appreciation, with well-traveled passports and countless stories marked by cherished moments and memories. But we can’t ignore the elephant in the room either: tourism often comes at a cost that extends beyond travelers’ bank accounts. If we don’t walk (or should I say travel) carefully, overtourism can permanently destroy some of the world’s most beloved destinations, cultures and landmarks.

In short, overtourism may be good for revenue, but it is certainly not good for those cultures and environments affected by a constant barrage of travellers, mostly well-intentioned but perhaps unaware or uneducated. Reports indicate that destinations globally received 671 million international tourist arrivals between January and June 2019, nearly 30 million more than the same period in 2018. At the same time, the United Nations World Tourism Organization ( UNWTO) forecasts that the number of tourists visiting other countries will grow by approximately 3.3% per year, to more than 1.8 billion annual arrivals between 2010 and 2030.
In a 2020 report, Statista noted that cities such as Barcelona, ​​Amsterdam, and Venice are among the worst destinations for overtourism, with local authorities having to deal with pressure from residents unhappy with the disruption to tourism. influx of visitors. In Barcelona, ​​locals have staged protests frustrated by the growing number of tourists, while Amsterdam has implemented an increase in tourist taxes, along with marketing campaigns for destinations outside the city, to reduce the number of travelers making scale and avoid overcrowding in popular areas.

Similarly, native Hawaiians have repeatedly tried to draw attention to the consumption of the islands’ limited resources by tourists (90% of Hawaiian products are imported). “People get on a plane, come here and visit all these sites, drink all of our limited water and feed this capitalist economy that is building condos for them instead of homes for us and building resorts for them instead of farmland. for us. Y [they’re not seeing] the implications of that,” shared Julie Au in the aforementioned article.

In a 2021 article published on, the author writes: “It is important to remember that not every place started out as a big city or a constantly crowded place. Not all destinations span the capacity potential like New York City or can support millions of tourists like Hong Kong. Some of the best-known places that have fallen victim to overtourism began as small towns, villages, farmlands, or wilderness areas.

In some cases, an influx of tourism can help save these small towns or villages from the threat of economic extinction. However, the earning potential that ‘hot spot’ travel status boasts is a double-edged sword. With the promise of international leisure spending comes the subsequent risk of locals being displaced from their homes, harm to endangered species and environments, disregard or disruption of local culture and ways of life. , and damage to the structural integrity of certain cities, towns, and more.

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Awareness of this emerging issue has informed one of the major trends now sweeping the hospitality world: ecotourism and sustainable travel. Since the pandemic, 61% of travelers say they want to choose more sustainable travel options. Additionally, the sustainable travel market in the tourism and business travel sector is expected to grow to $235.21 billion during 2021-2025. reports that 69% of people want to reduce their carbon footprint when they travel, and a 2020 global survey showed that Gen Z (56%) and millennial (51%) travelers are the most concerned about carbon footprints. sustainable travel.

A culturally aware approach

Perhaps most important, though, is this statistic: 80% of travelers now say they want to learn more about the local culture when on vacation. When considering how we can travel in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way, it is essential to look beyond the list of do’s and don’ts to focus on the central theme: respecting (and, with luck, learn from) different cultures.

If you ask me, traveling isn’t just an experience: it’s an opportunity for meaningful collaboration, and it’s time foreign travelers kept their end of the bargain. In my opinion, this goes beyond sustainable practices and considerations and calls on each traveler to educate themselves on the cultures they wish to visit before their trip. While sustainable initiatives have been created to reduce or mitigate environmental damage, new concepts like regenerative travel seek to inspire international travelers to leave a place better than they found it. In the wake of the pandemic, we realized a unique opportunity to redefine global travel culture and benefit from travelers’ increased commitment to sustainability, support popular destination recovery efforts, and support/restore local communities.

Just as hoteliers and hotel brands worry about how they can improve the guest experience, it’s time for travelers to worry about how they can improve the destination experience by being more responsible, culturally aware and committed to sustainability. As the article that inspired me to write this so eloquently articulated, locals in popular tourist destinations often have a sense that foreigners are bad and there to “take away” (or potentially harm) the local culture and land. So as travelers and travel professionals, we need to ask ourselves: How can we demonstrate a commitment to learning from (rather than taking from) distant cultures and lands? How can we be visitors and true friends of the destinations and cultures that we have the incredible privilege of visiting?

Ryan Hamilton
+1 847 488 0225, LLC

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