PODCAST: In reimagining tourism, these visitors are putting in what they’re taking out

With gloves ready and sickles in hand, this group of visitors are jumping right into the loi and using their vacation to malama aina.
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 11:32 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2022 at 1:10 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With gloves ready and sickles in hand, this group of visitors are jumping right into the loi and using their vacation to malama aina.

At Kualoa Ranch, visitors now have the option to tour the grounds while also getting their hands dirty and learning about Hawaiian culture.

It’s all part of what the Hawaii Tourism Authority calls “voluntourism” — a new movement working to change the type of visitor that is coming to Hawaii.

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

Joey Palupe is the manager of Hawaiian Culture and Community Engagement at Kualoa’s Educational Center. He and Iwi Kurosu, a malama aina tour guide and steward, both spoke with HNN on the tenth episode of “Repairing Earth” to discuss what this type of tour shows visitors.

“Historically speaking, the tourism model and the tourism industry in Hawaii was that model of extracting things and giving people the big shiny items to take home. We are trying to train those travelers to become people who are willing to reinvest their time into the places they’re going to,” Palupe said.

“When they Google Hawaii on what to do or that kind of thing, they’re seeing things that include malama aina, that give back to the land, give back to the people. If that’s the main attraction for Hawaii, the travelers that actually come here are going to be very different — and that’s the end goal.”

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

“People don’t want to just come and take anymore, they want to somehow give back. So this malama aina tour that Kualoa Ranch has created allows just that. It allows the visitor to come in, get their hands wet, get their hands dirty. They have a sense of pride clearing or planting and they feel rooted,” she said.

Visitors used sickles to pull and cut down weeds at the ranch.
Visitors used sickles to pull and cut down weeds at the ranch.(Hawaii News Now)

In Kualoa’s Malama Experience, visitors learn about the ahupuaa system and how everything is connected — from the water to the land and its people.

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

While working in the field isn’t what most people imagine doing on their trip to Hawaii, organizations are seeing a positive response. And at Kualoa, tours are filling up quickly.

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

Blunt heard about the program through her friend Chloe Ridenour, a transplant to Hawaii who participated in the Malama Experience for a second time.

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea. Really people come here all the time and I don’t think they realize how much they’re taking from the aina,” Ridenour said. “So, the fact that they are able to come here and learn to give back to the aina and respect the culture, I think has a great appreciation for Hawaiian culture.”

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

The activities that are chosen for the day depend on the need of the center and the community.

The tour costs about $55, and while it is being promoted for tourists, anyone — including locals — can participate.

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

To view a full list of other experiences just like this held across the state, head to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s website.

For more on the conversation, listen to Episode 10 of Repairing Earth, “Reimagining Tourism in Hawaii,” on the HNN website or anywhere you get your podcasts.