by Michele McKay

Ecotourism: Nature and culture based tourism that is ecologically sustainable and supports the well being of local communities. (Hawaii Ecotourism Association definition)

Here in Hawaii, where tourism is big and the aina is fragile, “ecotourism” is a hot buzzword. Visitors and locals who want to support environmentally sensitive tour industry operators might wonder which enterprises are simply using the word as a marketing ploy, and which truly feel a commitment to protecting Hawaii’s ecological and cultural heritage. To help ensure that the ‘eco’ in ecotourism describes a meaningful standard, not merely a term that operators slap into their names to attract business, the Hawaii Ecotourism Association has developed an industry review and evaluation process. The Hawaii Ecotourism Association (HEA) is a non-profit organization made up of tour operators; lodging, travel, and media agents; community, environment, and economic development organizations; government agencies; and educational institutions. Travel- and tour-related businesses, organizations, or agencies can apply to HEA for an evaluation that considers the following business practices:

  • Compliance with all local regulations, permits and codes for use of natural areas
  • Conservation actions that have been taken to prevent damage to natural areas
  • Demonstration of cultural and historical stewardship
  • Contributions to local communities
  • Education and training of staff members

Businesses and organizations that meet the review criteria may display the HEA logo, a statement of their commitment to these high ecological and cultural standards:

  • Promoting communication and education about ecotourism issues
  • Providing an information and resource network
  • Promoting a visitor industry that is environmentally and culturally sensitive
  • Promoting community-based, sustainable development that benefits local residents
  • Enhancing visitors’ experiences through effective interpretation
  • Promoting resource conservation
  • Encouraging repeat visitors, longer stays and multi-island itineraries
  • Providing continuing education, professional development and training
  • Encouraging volunteerism among members
  • Advocating for small group, low-impact tours that are culturally and environmentally sensitive

For more information about ecotourism in Hawaii visit or contact Annette Kaohelaulii at From Oahu call 235-5431 or toll free at 1-877-300-7058.