In reshaping tourism, these visitors bring in what they take out

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Gloves and sickles in hand, this group of visitors jump straight into the loi and capitalize on their vacation to Malama Aina.

At Kualoa Ranch, visitors now have the opportunity to tour the grounds, get their hands dirty and learn about Hawaiian culture.

It’s all part of what the Hawaii Tourism Authority is calling “voluntourism” — a new movement aimed at transforming the type of visitors that come to Hawaii.

With tourism being one of Hawaii’s biggest economic drivers, organizations across the state are working to make the industry more sustainable and less extractive.

Joey Palupe is Manager of Hawaiian Cultural and Community Engagement at Kualoa Center for Education. He and Iwi Kurosu, a tour guide and steward of Malama Aina, both spoke to HNN on the tenth episode of “Repairing Earth” to discuss what this type of tour shows visitors.

“Historically, the tourism model and tourism industry in Hawaii was the model of extracting things and giving people the big, shiny items to take home. We’re trying to educate these travelers into people who are willing to put their time back into the places they visit,” Palupe said.

“If you google Hawaii what to do or something, you see things like Malama Aina giving back to the country, giving back to the people. If that’s the main attraction for Hawaii, the travelers who actually come here will be very diverse – and that’s the end goal.”

Similarly, Kurosu said visitors are hungry to experience a more raw and less glamorous version of Hawaii.

“People don’t just want to come and take anymore, they want to give back in some way. This Malama Aina tour that Kualoa Ranch created allows for just that. It allows the visitor to come in, get their hands wet, get their hands dirty. They take pride in clearing or planting and they feel rooted,” she said.

Visitors used sickles to weed and trim the ranch.
Visitors used sickles to weed and trim the ranch.(Hawaii News Now)

At Kualoa’s Malama Experience, visitors learn about the Ahupuaa system and how everything is connected – from the water to the land and its people.

During the tour, visitors gain a greater appreciation for the place they are visiting by actively clearing areas of weeds to allow the education center to grow more kalo and open waterways, as well as removing invasive snails to protect existing loi.

While on-site work isn’t what most people envision when they travel to Hawaii, organizations are seeing a positive response. And in Kualoa, tours fill up fast.

“It was a really unique thing that I’ve never done before. I’ve been to Hawaii several times now and it’s been a super cool experience to come down and get dirty and learn some things about the culture, history and just being in nature. It was just a beautiful day today, I loved it,” said Tara Blunt, who is visiting from Arizona.

Blunt found out about the program through her friend Chloe Ridenour, who was transplanted to Hawaii and attending the Malama Experience for the second time.

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea. People really come here all the time and I don’t think they realize how much they take the Aina,” Ridenour said. “The fact that they can come here and learn to give back to the Aina and respect the culture, I think is a great appreciation for Hawaiian culture.”

Palupe added that one of the great things about the Malama Experience is that it’s never exactly the same every time you do it.

The activities selected for the day depend on the needs of the center and the community.

The tour costs about $55, and while it’s advertised for tourists, anyone — including locals — can take part.

To learn more about Kualoa Ranch’s Malama Experience, click here.

Visit the Hawaii Tourism Authority website for a complete list of other similar experiences available throughout the state.

For more information on the interview see Episode 10 of “Reparing Earth”, “Reimagining Tourism in Hawaii”, on the HNN website or wherever you get your podcasts.