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What Tourists Want, a Sustainable Paradise

Faculty of Computer Science, Engineering & Economics, Østfold University College, BRA Veien 4, 1757 Halden, Norway
School of Travel Industry Management, Shidler College of Business, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2560 Campus Rd., George Hall 346, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
Harrah College of Hospitality, University of Nevada Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV 89154, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Tour. Hosp. 2022, 3(1), 164-183;
Original submission received: 31 December 2021 / Revised: 30 January 2022 / Accepted: 2 February 2022 / Published: 9 February 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nature-Based Solutions in Tourism and Hospitality)


The increasing complexity of tourism and sustainability offers opportunities and challenges among diverse stakeholder perspectives. The need for sustainable and nature-based approaches exists throughout the growing body of literature from among a number of dimensions and measures. One of the overarching goals of the paper is to examine whether tourists will choose a destination or hotel that is actively working to improve the environment while examining how Hawaii’s tourism is nature-based as well as other measures of sustainability while enjoying a slice of paradise in the Hawaiian Islands. This study explores tourism sustainability concerns in Hawaii, such as the influence of the tourist sector on the environment and will address if Hawaii should be recognized as a sustainable tourism destination. A survey instrument was developed where 454 respondents participated. According to the findings of this research, tourists visiting Hawaii support environmentally sustainable tourism practices leading towards a more sustainable tourist destination.

1. Introduction

The sustainability of nature-based tourism and tourism to environmentally fragile destinations have been under attack. “Overtourism”, or too many tourists to a destination has recently gained the attention of societies worldwide [1,2,3,4,5,6], and its origins have been frequently debated in tourism literature since the late 1960s [3,7,8]. Sociopolitical concern over the expansion of tourism specifically to nature-based destinations and its detrimental natural and environmental implications has previously prompted scholarly discussion on tourism’s effects for more than a half-century. Brundtland’s study titled Our Common Future [9] catapulted the worldwide issue of environmental sustainability to the forefront of sociopolitical debates and agendas in 1987. Tourism experts and sociopolitical actors quickly responded by coining the phrase “sustainable tourism” and promoting its intellectual underpinnings [10,11,12]. Sustainable tourism is currently a mainstream tourism paradigm, focused mostly on a balance of factors of nature, economic, environmental, and sociocultural sustainability, and coded by the UNWTO definition. Sustainable tourism was initially coined by Bramwell and Lance [13,14,15,16].
This research paper will investigate sustainability issues of tourism in Hawaii, such as the impact that the tourism industry has on the natural environment as well as enabling Hawaii to be recognized as a sustainable nature-based tourism destination. When one thinks of Hawaii, nature and the natural beauty of the environment come to mind and have been marketed as such for years. While it is significant to focus and develop environmentally friendly, nature-based sustainable practices, it is also vital to conduct research on the tourists’ perceptions of sustainability and the tourist’s willingness to participate in sustainable practices.
Sustainable tourism allows visitors to visit a tourist destination and its abundance of natural resources while minimizing the negative environmental effects on nature and the natural environment as well as financially benefitting the local population. Ecotourism is frequently used interchangeably with sustainable tourism. While ecotourism focuses particularly on nature and environmental protection, sustainable tourism takes a more holistic approach by focusing on the natural environment as well as culture and socioeconomic concerns [17]. This study addresses the following research questions: (a) Do U.S. tourists’ desire to engage in sustainable tourism when visiting the Hawaiian Islands? and, (b) When choosing a vacation destination, is it important to the tourist that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices?
Kalani Ka‘anā‘anā, HTA Chief Brand Officer [18], states “the Aloha Aina program is a way for the Hawaii Tourism Authority to directly support the organizations making a difference in our environment by educating and engaging people in the stewardship of our natural environment”. To attain long-term viability, one must consider not just scientific and empirical facts, but also tradition, politics, and social elements [19].
This paper adds knowledge to the existing literature by examining the U.S. mainland visitors to Hawaii desire to engage in nature-based tourism, along with their willingness to participate in sustainable tourism activities while vacationing in Hawaii, in an effort to support more sustainable tourism practices. The goal of this research study is to demonstrate the importance of sustainability and for the tourism industry of Hawaii to focus on nature-based solutions. Analyzing the data clearly reveals that the respondents expressed a strong desire to engage in sustainable tourism activities while visiting Hawaii and its natural environment. In addition, visitors expect the tourism industry to meet their aspirations for sustainable undertakings.

2. Literature Review

Tourism has generally experienced rapid continuous development over the decades, becoming one of the most important sectors with one of the highest growth rates of any industry in the world [20,21]. The continued growth of this sector has helped to transform tourism into one of the critical drivers for socioeconomic progress. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council [22], tourism currently represents 10.4% of global GDP and generates 313 million jobs, helping to create 9.9% of employment in the world, both directly and indirectly.
Furthermore, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the hospitality industry, 1.8 billion international arrivals are expected by 2030, confirming the rise of tourism over the next decade [23]. These figures hold enormous opportunities for economic growth and development; it is clear that tourism constitutes a fundamental pillar for the economy and is a sector in constant transformation capable of improving and influencing millions of lives worldwide.

2.1. Economic, Sociocultural, and Environmental Impacts

Tourism, however, also represents a natural, geographical, cultural, anthropological, and social phenomenon in which profound human needs are found. The tourism phenomenon that responds to the need for recreation in nature, which is extremely important for people’s quality of life [24,25,26,27]. Therefore, not only is it essential to emphasize the importance of tourism in the economic sphere, but it is also necessary to focus on the natural or nature-based and cultural aspects that still have repercussions on tourism as an economic activity. Flourishing tourism is not only able to guarantee economic prosperity but also contributes to improving destinations and the lives of the local populations; it should be a vehicle for recreation, positive experiences, and personal growth not only for tourists but also for those who welcome the tourists to their lands [28,29]. Tourism impacts are generally classified into three main categories: economic impacts, sociocultural impacts, and environmental impacts (see Figure 1). When examining these impacts, it must be kept in mind that they are characterized by multiple facets and cannot be categorized as exclusively economic, sociocultural, or nature and environmental impacts, but as interrelated dimensions [22,30].
In regard to the economic impacts, the first dimension, it is possible to include among the benefits the creation of jobs (both direct and indirect), the inflow of currency, the positive economic effects related to the improvement or creation of infrastructures and services, as well as the creation of outlet circuits for local products [31,32,33,34]. The category of negative economic impacts, on the other hand, includes the increase in inflation, the excessive dependence of tourism as the only source of income, competition with other productive sectors for the use of crucial resources such as soil and water, the seasonality and precariousness of the labor market and the increase in the prices of both consumer goods and housing [32,34,35,36].
Concerning sociocultural impacts, an important aspect to keep in mind is linked to the nature of both visitors and local populations, as tourism occurs within a framework in which individuals with different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds come into contact. As Burns and Holden [37] argue, when there is a large gap between the culture of the host population and the culture of the visitors, the impacts generated are likely to be more significant. From one perspective, some of the positive sociocultural impacts of tourism include the increase in the quality of life, pride, and awareness of the value of their heritage and culture by residents, the possibility of enrichment through contact between cultures, as well as the reduction of linguistic, ethnic, political, and religious barriers and the revitalization of traditional festivals and ceremonies [38,39,40,41]. On the other hand, potential negative effects from tourism are associated with the loss of traditional roots and values, the spread of illegal or deviant behavior, overcrowding and stress, and the generation of stereotypes [42,43]. Measuring sociocultural impacts is not always straightforward, as these impacts tend to be more intangible and are observable, especially in the long term. Furthermore, when measuring the effects of tourism on a destination, it can be beneficial to consider anthropology, sociology, and psychology to analyze sociocultural impacts [25,38,44,45].
As for the third element that impacts tourism, namely nature and environmental impacts, Frank and Medaric [46] consider the physical environment formed by both natural and built components. The natural elements are those offered by nature: the climate, temperature, topography, water, soil, flora, and fauna. On the other hand, the built environment is human-engineered and is represented by buildings and other structures of anthropogenic origin.
Among the positive environmental impacts deriving from tourism, it is possible to name the creation, preservation, and support of natural and built areas, the defense of the landscape, the production of proceeds to be reinvested in nature and environmental interventions, the restoration, and conservation of monuments, as well as the creation and strengthening of infrastructures and urban-architectural improvements [24,25,39,47]. Conversely, the most evident negative environmental impacts linked to tourism can be the various forms of pollution and degradation, the environmental risk, especially in terms of hydrogeological instability, the increase in pressure on specific environmental resources that may be scarce (water and energy consumption), the loss of natural or rural areas in favor of construction and tourist infrastructure, and the loss of biodiversity [24,33,48,49].
Based on the multiple impacts generated by tourism, in order to be able to outline the application of sustainability in the tourism sector in a more concrete way, it is necessary to refer to the concept of sustainable tourism, which is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs [50,51,52]. This definition represents innovation, as it considers the responsibility of current generations towards future generations, highlighting the durability of development [9]. With this in mind, it is necessary to combine the three dimensions around which sustainable development revolves: economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability [24,25,53,54]. These three dimensions are linked and interdependent, as it is essential to ensure sustainable development is compatible with economic growth capable of generating employment with a living wage for the local population, which does not reduce biodiversity, enhances the environment, and guarantees social equity especially for the residents [51,52,53,55,56,57,58]. Therefore, for sustainable development to take place, the three dimensions should coexist.
As a demonstration of the enormous potential in the hands of the tourism sector and under the need to strengthen the image of tourism as a catalyst for positive change, the United Nations declared 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism”. This United Nations’ declaration and standing paved the way for adopting of concrete sustainable practices. For example, the need to incentivize ongoing, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent working conditions for all. Another practice includes the need to implement by 2030 policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates employment and promotes local culture and products, as well as guarantee sustainable models of production and consumption. Other sustainable practices include developing and implementing tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism. Additionally, another sustainable practice consists of the sustainable conservation of the oceans, seas and marine resources from a development standpoint, as well as an increase in the economic benefits of small island developing states and countries by following more sustainable practices of marine resources, including sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism [22,30,50].

2.2. Sustainable Destinations

Sustainable tourism can encourage greater awareness and responsibility as a way of traveling [59]. The climatic events of the last decades are proving even greater that significant challenges exist within the status quo of unbridled growth. Humans are currently depleting the planet´s natural resources; therefore, it is increasingly important to implement small daily changes to reduce the environmental impact both in everyday life, and when traveling [48,53]. The sustainable tourist is, therefore, a person who loves nature and respects it, who loves to discover a new destination without prejudice, and who, above all, does not ruin the surrounding environment, but instead is willing to preserve it [50,52]. In addition to sustainable tourism, there is also responsible tourism, which centers on the social and ethical impacts. One of the most beautiful aspects of traveling can be the culture and the positive engagement with the local people. This allows travelers to enrich themselves emotionally and open up to new ways of living. But to do this with empathy, absence of judgment, and respect for those who live differently than us can be beneficial for cross-cultural awareness [24,25,26,27,54].
As aforementioned, sustainable tourism is a philosophical approach directly inspired by sustainable development. It includes all forms of tourism that are respectful of the environment and attentive to the well-being of the host populations. Responsible tourism must meet certain requirements [60]. There are different types of sustainable and responsible tourism. Traveling responsibly means minimizing the impact on the environment and local lifestyle. However, in order to be and act in a sustainable and responsible way towards a destination and its population, tourists must possess the willingness to be and act that way [61,62,63,64]. Therefore, tourists are not the only ones responsible for the sustainability of a destination, but other entities are involved in the process. Sustainable development of tourism can benefit from the participation of diverse stakeholders, as well as a strong political will to ensure broad participation among a wide consensus. Moreover, ensuring the sustainability of tourism is a long process that requires constant monitoring of the impact that travelers have on the local population and environment [24,31,53,65,66,67].
Both visitors and stakeholders must optimize the use of environmental resources, which are a key element of tourism development, thus preserving essential ecological processes and contributing to the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity [33,58,68,69,70,71]. Moreover, there is the necessity to respect the sociocultural authenticity of the host communities, preserve their built and living cultural heritage and their traditional values, and contribute to intercultural tolerance and understanding [27,53,55,72]. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure long-term sustainable economic activities by providing all stakeholders with equitable socioeconomic benefits, including stable employment and income opportunities, social services for host communities and contributing to the fight against poverty [24,25,32,38,58,73,74]. Finally, it is paramount to enable tourists to experience interesting experiences, while making them aware of the impact that their trip has on the places they visit [75,76,77,78]. Based on the above consideration, sustainable tourism and its development require the participation of the majority of stakeholders, as well as a strong political will, to ensure broad participation and broad consensus.
Several destinations around the globe have earned their recognition as a sustainable destination through their work to protect the destination through education, preservation as well as limiting the number of tourists visiting the destination.
One example is the island nation of the Maldives which has become well recognized as an exclusive high-end, luxury tourism destination with its signature one island-one resort concept that boasts some of the highest concentrations of four- to five-star resorts in the world [79]. This island nation is said to be known as the lowest sea level country in the world and hence continually exposed to the rise in sea-level with elements, environmental conservation as a primary focus. Despite the dangers to the environment and ecology, tourism is helping to support many of the environmental rescue missions. Plastic is a big focus, and many Maldivian hotels have become involved in a variety of initiatives to reduce its use and, if it can’t be replaced, then it is recycled [80].
For years, Koh Phi Phi, a collection of six tiny islands off the west coast of Thailand, has been the focus of environmental initiatives. Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Le, rose to international prominence following its appearance in the popular film The Beach (1999), but it suffered severe damage in the years following due to unsustainable, restriction-free tourism. The Thai government eventually decided to close the beach to tourists, and the choice appears to be paying off, as marine life has returned to the region [80].
Costa Rica is a world leader in cultivating this vital complexity of life on Earth and one of the first countries to encourage ethical ecotourism, such that it has become a way of life [81]. Costa Rica is home to about 6% of the world’s species. From the Monteverde cloud forest to the Osa peninsula, tourists seek out pristine rainforest and first-class accommodation. More than a fourth of this Central American nation is set aside as protected parks and reserves between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, providing a valuable buffer against deforestation and logging while also ensuring that tourists experience a diverse cast of animals at every turn. Three of the country’s national parks and conservation areas are UNESCO-protected, and the country receives a large amount of its power from renewable sources. Lapa Ros was the first ecolodge, and its ocean-view cottages on a 1000-acre private nature reserve remain just as tempting in 2022 [81]. When visiting Costa Rica there are plenty of community tourism opportunities that support employment for local women that were not available to women prior to the introduction of tourism [82].
Barbados in the Caribbean is faced with mass tourism; therefore, preserving the island has become vitally important. The tourism industry is going in a new direction with an example such as La Maison Michelle, a reclaimed sugar plantation currently housing seven rooms and owned by a local resident, demonstrating a new generation of hospitality business that supports community-boosting projects [83]. To continue its quest to be more sustainable, in April 2018, Barbados has passed a legislative measure to prohibit single-use plastics. Straws, styrofoam containers, plastic bags, cups are examples of plastic items being banned. April 2020 the second measure took effect prohibiting petrol-based plastic bags [84].
Italy, Tuscany—Italy’s agritourism business has expanded during the last 30 years. More than 20,000 active farms have now joined the agritourism campaign. Profits from agritourism are reinvested in communities that would not normally benefit from Italy’s major tourism business, from farm stays in Calabria to classic rural getaways in Tuscany. Meanwhile, visitors have the opportunity to relax in the serene countryside, with fresh, handmade meals served at mealtimes and the chance to meet local families and participate in farm activates such as picking grapes for winemaking [85].
The above examples identify the need for this study. Sustainable tourism, sustainable development, ecotourism, and nature-based solutions are some of the activities that are of importance to local governments, the tourism industry, residents, and visitors. Protecting natural resources, the environment and wildlife are among the key duties of sustainable tourism. Conserving nature and the natural environment two of the most important goals of the above tourist destinations.

2.3. Nature-Based Tourism

Internally, tourism based on the existence of natural resources, also called nature-based tourism, represents a significant component of the total expenditure of tourists and, together, poses particularly complex management problems [86,87,88]. Indeed, in this segment of the tourism market, the problem of the conditions necessary to achieve sustainable development becomes relevant.
In the economic analysis of nature-based tourism, an important aspect is that the natural resources are not simple input of a production process; instead, natural resources create a trade-off between the number of resources utilized for and consumed by tourism purposes and the quality of the offer [88,89,90]. The importance of this relationship emerges in various works on the optimal use of the natural resource, especially when the preferences of tourists are characterized by aversion to crowding [91,92,93]. However, the role of the trade-off in identifying the optimal choice is not necessarily the same in all cases. It can vary from a destination whose tourists come from different locations to another destination with a small economy inserted in international markets [94,95].
The relationship between tourism and nature-based resources has developed through a two-way relationship. On the one hand, nature-based resources are an essential input for the tourism industry; on the other hand, tourism businesses consume natural resources with the aim of economic gain. Nature-based resources that would not create added value and would remain passive, in fact, generate income through tourism activities [92,96,97,98,99]. Many of these tourist destinations will be doomed to disappear in an environment where nature-based resources are constantly exploited and damaged. The realization of the negative impacts on the natural environment and the community in particular, as a result of mass tourism, certainly stimulates research into types of alternative tourism options that have more sustainable and nature-based characteristics. Today, even if it is always a slow process, the concept of tourism is moving away from the type of mass tourism that continues to cause the destruction of nature of a destination and is getting closer and closer to a concept of sustainable and nature-based tourism [97,100,101,102].
Recently, tourism is moving towards a nature-based approach that utilizes nature more, but does so in a respectful, environmental-friendly, and sustainable way [94,103,104]. Although mass tourism still occupies a crucial position in world tourism, nature-based tourism constantly increases its international reputation [105,106].
The principles of sustainability and nature-based solutions refer to the environmental, economic, and sociocultural aspects of tourism development; therefore, an adequate balance must be established between these three dimensions, to ensure its long-term sustainability [97,101,106,107]. To make nature-based tourism more understandable, several fundamental purposes of sustainable tourism are needed [97,100,108,109,110,111,112] such as:
  • Promote nature-based solutions and the conservation of resources;
  • Reduce the excessive use of nature-based resources and waste to prevent environmental damage in the long term;
  • Enhance the quality of life of domestic society;
  • Protect environmental quality with the continuum of ecological systems and biological varieties;
  • Activate a high-quality experience for tourists;
  • Raise awareness among tourists and employees working in the tourism sector on the issue of sustainable and nature-based tourism.
The limited existing literature on this topic is surprising, primarily because sustainability and nature-based solutions play a role in the economic development and profitability of a destination.
In specific destinations, the absence of profound industrialization processes has allowed the conservation of natural resources that can now be economically exploited precisely in the international tourism market. Additionally, the sustainable and nature-based solutions and proposals that different destinations have to offer, can be an attractive element for tourists to various destinations [94,95,112]. One case among these sustainable and nature-based destinations is Hawaii, which is the subject of this research.

2.4. Hawaii

For the state of Hawaii, tourism has historically been a significant contributor to the economy [113,114]. Since Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959, the introduction of tourism to Hawaii has made it the largest employer today and generated the most revenue and taxes for the state [115]. The last full year of tourism prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was 2019, which generated over 17 billion dollars in total visitor spending and $2.07 billion in state tax revenue, was generated by tourism for the state of Hawaii emphasizing the industry’s position as the largest source of private capital [116]. In addition, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority, in 2019 Hawaii had a record of over 10.4 million annual visitor arrivals, which marks a 5.4% increase year-over-year from 2018 [116]. In 2019 marked the eight-consecutive year of growth for both visitor arrivals and visitor spending [117].
While tourism and revenues have been increasing for years in Hawaii, there have been some challenges as a result of such growth. Overcrowding in tourists’ areas, also known as overtourism, has affected Hawaii’s natural resources as well as the quality of life for residents [117,118,119].
According to a study by Brewbaker, Mak and Hass published in 2019 by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) suggests that the increasing congestion and stress on nature sites and natural attractions are detrimental to the future of tourism in Hawaii and the current tourism governance model for the state of Hawaii has been ineffective in managing the overall tourism industry [120]. While some measures have been recommended to address overtourism in Hawaii, the long-term sustainability of nature, the natural attractions, the hiking trails, the clean ocean, and the beautiful flowers are coming into question [121,122]. Nature and natural beauty are the tourism product that visitors come to enjoy while visiting Hawaii. Once Hawaii became a state in the United States, tourism from the U.S. mainland became increasingly significant, which prioritized economic value over the sustainability leading to the degradation of the land and nature in Hawaii [115].
According to Hawaii Tourism Authority the largest source market for visitors to Hawaii, which is measured in terms of visitor spending, visitor days, and overall visitor arrivals, has been visitors from the contiguous United States [123].
While the total visitor arrivals to Hawaii have decreased drastically due to COVID-19, most of the visitors traveling to Hawaii have come from the U.S. domestic market [117]. According to air passenger forecasts it has been anticipated that domestic demand will recover before international demand [124] and identifying and distinguishing the motivations and preferences of the domestic U.S. tourist market could help develop a plan to assist the state of Hawaii to better to strategically manage Hawaii tourism in a sustainable manner.
This study aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by examining U.S. visitors’ to Hawaii, perceptions of sustainability, and their willingness to engage in activities that preserve and support the natural environment as well as contribute monetarily to support more sustainable tourism practices in the future.
The goal of this study is to examine the U.S. mainland visitors to Hawaii’s willingness to participate in sustainable tourism and nature-based activities, while vacationing in Hawaii. According to Hawaii Tourism Authority, the U.S. mainland visitors are the largest tourist market to Hawaii [117]. Additionally, this research wants to validate the importance of sustainability for the tourism industry in Hawaii, as well as the urgency of focusing on nature-based solutions.

3. Method

A survey instrument was developed and distributed to a targeted population on their perceptions regarding sustainability and how it relates to tourism. The questionnaire consisted of a selection of items to represent the qualities and characteristics that tourists believe are essential to be sustainable based on an extensive review of the literature. For this study, 24 questions that included demographic items, such as age, gender, marital status, and location of origin as well as ethnicity were used to measure tourists’ desire to engage in sustainable tourism while visiting Hawaii. The items were selected from previous studies on sustainability and tourism used in the international travel-related literature [50,53,113,125,126,127]. The items were adapted to describe sustainability and travel to Hawaii. The Likert-scale values were assigned as follows: 1 for “strongly disagree”, 2 for “disagree”, 3 for “neither agree nor disagree”, 4 for “agree”, and 5 for “strongly agree”. Respondents were asked to select the amount of agreement that best matched their opinion of these statements. Participants were asked to complete survey questions on their experiences with each incident, which included both closed and open-ended questions.
The sample for this study was recruited through. Momentive is an experienced market research company that distributed the survey and provided inclusive demographic variables to avoid sampling bias. Additionally, Momentive can be used to obtain more diverse samples compared to those from face-to-face or other online and social media platforms [128]. According to a number of researchers, the collection of data online has become very popular in academia and is completely web-based that offers a more intuitive and streamlined interface [129,130]. Momentive was provided criteria to survey U.S. tourists’ adults that have traveled to Hawaii. This research company was able to manage the data collection and a total of 454 usable surveys were collected and analyzed. The following two questions were examined: (a) “Do U.S. tourists’ desire to engage in sustainable tourism when visiting the Hawaiian Islands?” and, (b) “When choosing a vacation destination, is it important to the tourist that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices?”

4. Results

An independent sample t-test and one-way ANOVA were used to investigate variations in U.S. mainland tourists’ desire to engage in sustainable tourism when visiting the Hawaiian Islands. The findings revealed substantial disparities in genders, age groups, and desire to engage in sustainable tourism. The descriptive statistics are shown in Table 1.

4.1. Differences between Genders

A significant difference was found between males and females regarding the responsibility of tourism businesses to meet visitor needs, t(454) = 8.92, p < 0.05. Male respondents were more likely to agree with the statement, “It is the responsibility of tourism businesses to meet visitor needs” than female respondents. Related to “I consider the potential impacts of my actions when making many of my vacation decisions” t(454) = 4.26, p < 0.05 female respondents rated this statement higher. Furthermore, when it comes to “When choosing a vacation destination, it is important to me that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices” female respondents found this to be of more important t(454) = 14.04, p < 0.05 than the male respondents. Last, “When choosing a vacation destination, it is important to me that the tourism industry supports culturally respectful tourism practices” females rated this statement higher t(454) = 5.89, p < 0.05 than male respondents. See Table 2 and Table 3.

4.2. Differences among Generations

Comparing the generations, those over the age of 60 scored the highest describing themselves as environmentally responsible (M = 4.06) and a significant mean difference was found among groups F(221.27) = 4.66, p < 0.05. Post hoc Tukey’s HSD comparisons revealed a significant difference was found between those over 60 years old and 18–29-year-old groups.
Evaluating the generations, those between the age group 45–60 years old scored the highest in terms of willingness to pay (M = 1.36) and a significant mean difference was found among groups F(210.50) = 4.12, p < 0.05. Post hoc Tukey’s HSD comparisons revealed that a significant difference in terms of willingness to pay was found between those in the age group 30–44 years scoring the lowest and 45–60 years, which scored the highest.
Assessing the generations, those in the age group 18–29 years scored the highest followed by age group 30–44 years indicating the importance of outdoor activities such as hiking, water sports etc., when visiting Hawaii (M = 3.91 and M = 3.86). A significant mean difference was found among groups F(205.25) = 3.22, p < 0.05. Post hoc Tukey’s HSD comparisons revealed a significant difference was found in the importance of outdoor activities such as hiking, water sports etc. between those aged 18–29 and >60 and 30–44 and >60.
Table 4 displays the findings of the post hoc Turkey HSD comparisons findings, and Figure 2 displays the graph results of the three separate age groups comparisons of environmental responsiveness, willingness to pay and the availability of outdoor activities. Those over 60 years old feel they are more environmentally responsive, the age group 45–60 years old us more willing to pay to be more environmentally contentious, and the youngest age group 18–25 years old set outdoor activities highest on their list.
This study provided an open-ended question at the end of the survey in order to allow the respondents the opportunity to provide additional comments. Open-ended questions allow participants to express themselves using their own terminology, words, and phrases, and as a result, the researcher receives rich, unfettered participant replies to broad issues. The researchers were particularly interested in finding out what comes to mind in terms of willingness to engage in sustainable tourism in Hawaii, focusing on nature-based solutions.
In the assessment of the open-end questions, thematic analysis was applied. Thematic analysis is a way of analyzing data in order to get a meaningful understanding of participant viewpoints. In addition, thematic analysis reveals patterns in data, allowing the researcher to have a thorough grasp of the research findings [131,132,133,134,135,136]. The open-ended questions were set in the following three categories: (1) interest, (2) engagement and support, and (3) action. Further, the open-ended responses were linked to the research questions to ensure the responses were in line with the research questions.
Interest. In the first category, the respondents are interested in better protection of the island’s natural environment and habitat, reducing plastic usage, protecting the whales, and significance of Hawaiian culture. These answers are in line with research question 1, as the responses indicate the tourists’ desire to engage in sustainable tourism practices when visiting Hawaii.
  • “I am interested in the conservation of the islands´ natural environment and habitat”.
  • “Personally, I am interested in conserving nature and protecting whales”.
  • “I am interested in participating in the conservation of nature and natural beauty of Hawaii”.
  • “Hawaiian culture and music are fascinating”.
  • “Important to minimize plastic”.
Engagement and support. In the second category, the respondents show engagement and support in line with research question 2. When choosing a vacation destination, is it important to the tourist that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices. The Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai on the Big Island and Alohilani Resort on Oahu have reforestation programs where tourists purchase and plant trees in Hawaii to help preserve the islands’ natural beauty and protect the wildlife. These are examples where the hospitality industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices.
  • “It is important that Hawaii are able to continue to keep its natural beauty. Trees, grass, and vegetation natural for Hawaii”.
  • “Islands like Hawaii, if they exploit the potential of sustainability correctly, can transform their fragility and vulnerability into strengths, innovative behaviors, and competitive advantage, compared to other areas of the country”.
  • “I think that today, it is no longer possible to think about development if it is not ecofriendly and sustainable”.
  • “In terms of hotels being sustainable I prefer individual bars of soap being wrapped. I feel it is important that fewer people have touched the items right now due to COVID-19”.
  • “Sustainability is more important now because of COVID-19. I feel eating sustainable locally grown food is safer and there is less risk of getting sick”.
Action. In the third category, the respondents want government officials to renew and maintain the sewage treatment plants to protect the ocean and its habitat. Reduce the islands water usage and provide visitors with water and energy conservation information. Some respondents indicated they want to see the government take further action. These responses support research question 2.
  • “Ocean, rivers need to be kept clean, initiatives to keep sewage and plastic waste out of the ocean. Many cities need to modernize its piping”.
  • “Even though Hawaii has a lot of rain and therefore water supply is not a problem so far, it is important to focus on reducing water consumption as much as possible, to avoid being in the bad situation of many other islands in the world”.
  • “In my opinion, there is a need to reach everyone including tourists with correct information, the need to create a platform that fosters collaboration between the different islands through the exchange of information and experiences, the development of start-ups, the finding of economic resources, and the development of prevention programs”.
  • “I am very worried about the amount of plastic that we use nowadays. All the plastic that ends in the sea and on the beaches ruins the ecosystem, with greater negative consequences. Hawaii already banned plastic bags, which is great; but the government has to continue undertaking more actions to limit and prevent plastic pollution in the islands”.
In conclusion, from the open-ended questions it is evident that the respondents genuinely care about Hawaii´s future as a tourist destination and place to live not only from a human dimension but also in consideration of the natural wildlife. Respondents are concerned about plastic in the natural environment, water consumption, and expect sustainable food on dining menus. A consensus from the respondents from this study is that it is important to conserve and protect the island´s natural beauty and seek sustainable solutions while on holiday. Destinations that can provide ecofriendly tourism and sustainable solutions will succeed in providing fantastic nature experiences.

5. Discussion

As a destination, Hawaii is branded as a sun, sea, and sand paradise, renowned for these three S’s. However, Hawaii is also a destination that has embraced sustainability and may further benefit from the inclusion of four S’s: sun, sea, sand, and sustainability. From integrating Hawaiian culture into the tourists’ experience to sharing with the tourists some of the natural beauty and activities that the tourists can participate in to keep Hawaii’s nature pristine and beautiful now and for years to come. The tourists´ mindset has shifted in that they want to give back to destinations that have provided them with such natural beauty and enjoyment, so the destination is available for years to come. The results of the study quantify that tourists desire to engage in sustainable tourism as well as the tourists have stated that they are willing to pay an additional fee to participate in sustainable tourism activity in Hawaii. A recent article published on 20 January 2022, in Civil Beat, an online newspaper, also validated that tourists to Hawaii want to engage in sustainable activities and give back to the natural environment of Hawaii [137]. The following are some of the activities that Hawaii has now engaged the tourists with, including beach clean-ups, clearing evasive plant species from hiking trails to keep Hawaii as pristine for the future as it is today. Hawaii has integrated sustainable practices throughout the tourism system, such as reforestation undertakings by tourists to having trained Hawaiian practitioners in the hotels and resorts sharing Hawaiian culture and telling stories based on protecting nature. In addition, there has been a revival of Hawaiian food practices such as restoring ancient Hawaiian fishponds to tourists also volunteering in a “loi” or water taro patch. Furthermore, Hawaii’s hotels, restaurants and other businesses have integrated conservation and Hawaiian culture into the training of their employees to provide an understanding of how vital it is to take care of the “aina”, or land in Hawaiian, which is an integral part of Hawaiian culture. There are a number of hospitality and tourism enterprises in Hawaii that are leading the way in conserving nature in keeping Hawaii sustainable. The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s mission is: “to strategically manage Hawaii tourism in a sustainable manner consistent with economic goals, cultural values, preservation of natural resources, community desires and visitor industry needs” [138,139].
Providing opportunities for visitors to Hawaii to support and give back to a destination’s natural surroundings, nature and its ecosystem services such as beach clean-up activities to reforestation undertakings are at the heart of the hospitality industry concept. The following are some of the examples of nature-based solutions that tourists are accomplishing in Hawaii to preserve the islands (see Table 5).
The Four Seasons, Hualalai on the island of Hawaii since 2011 has allowed their guest to make a $60 donation and in return the fee is being used to plant a tree. Guests receive the GPS location of their tree. The hotel has partnered with Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods in planting up to 500,000 koa trees [140]. A total of 10 million trees is the company’s newest project in its long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship [141]. This example clearly aligns with research question 2 where the hospitality industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices.
Alohilani Resort—an Oahu, Hawaii hotel—is proud to play a role in bringing those forests back with their partnership with the nonprofit Hawaii Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) [142], in helping return treasured native trees to Gunstock Ranch [143] on Oahu’s north shore. A $5 “tree fee” to each guest stay goes straight to HLRI’s thriving reforestation program. Each of the trees planted is tagged with an individual radio-frequency identification chip that records everything from their genetic make-up and health to the story of their planting [144]. This example clearly aligns with research question 2 where the hospitality industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices.
The Cliffs at Princeville, Kauai has a new program this year that encourages visitors to get involved in helping clean up the beaches while still relaxing and enjoying the sun and surf. This program is part of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai’s Ocean Friendly Visitor Program. Before arriving, the guests receive information about the program and during their stay guests are offered buckets to bring with them while on the beach to pick up any rubbish or plastics they may find [145]. This example clearly aligns with research question 1, where the tourists’ show a desire to engage in sustainable tourism when visiting the Hawaiian Islands.
The Travel2Change platform connects tourists with a nonprofit that cleans up hiking trails, restores ancient fishponds or puts on sunset yoga classes and a donation of canned food for Hawaii’s Food Bank is requested. The program is an excellent opportunity for tourists to connect with the local population by giving back while still having fun during their stay. By participating in these volunteer events, the tourists have the opportunity to receive free or discounted activities in return [146]. This example clearly aligns with research question 1, where the tourists’ show a desire to engage in sustainable tourism activities visiting the Hawaiian Islands.
Local projects such as these are examples that use nature-based solutions to save the environment, establish habitat for endangered species, reduce carbon emissions, and restore the aesthetic natural beauty of the Hawaiian Islands by preserving and restoring the natural components. The examples presented clearly align with the findings of this study. The participants in this study indicated they expressed a great concern for nature and the environment of Hawaii, and value establishments that chose to include sustainability in their operation. Sustainability, natural environment, ecofriendly tourism, conservation, protecting the islands nature where some of the items and activities that the participants expressed interest and concern for in this study.

6. Limitations and Future Research

Although this study focused on the most recent tourism trends for U.S. visitors to Hawaii, some limitations need to be mentioned. First, this study collected data from U.S. visitors to Hawaii, the only island state in the United States with unique native plants and natural environments.
While the U.S. visitors to Hawaii are the number one tourist market for the island state, and the results of the study demonstrates that the respondents want to be involved in being more sustainable while on vacation and are willing to pay extra to be more environmentally sustainable, the findings may not truly represent international tourists’ behavior in Hawaii. In order to address this issue, future studies could concentrate on countries with diverse economic, social, and geographical circumstances to extend the generalizability of the present study findings. Furthermore, as the present study sheds light on recent tourists’ desire to participate in sustainable tourism activities while visiting Hawaii, tourists from other countries may have similar intentions during their visit to this island paradise. Future studies could survey the international markets, especially the Japanese market, which has been the largest international tourist market in Hawaii for over 40 years. Other international markets that could be examined are the Korean market as well as the Australian market. For the Japanese market, the researchers recommend that the survey instrument be translated into Japanese to receive the most accurate result [147].

7. Conclusions

Hawaii is a destination that is known for its natural beauty, with scenic mountains, exquisite florae, idyllic shorelines and the clean, picturesque ocean which all add to the magnificence of Hawaii. As one of the most famous of Hawaii’s ambassadors Don Ho stated, “I believe Hawaii is the most precious jewel in the world” [148].
The natural beauty of the islands has drawn tourists to Hawaii for over a century. Sitting 5000 km from the nearest landmass, this isolated island chain has been untouched by major manufacturing and pollution preserving the natural beauty and nature that has been the major draw for the tourists. The tourists of today, know how fragile nature and the environment are and want to assist in preserving the natural beauty of Hawaii while vacationing, not just come and take, but to give back and save the destination for future generations.
The findings of this study support the hypothesis given at the outset of this paper. The result of the study quantifies that the respondents have a distinct desire to engage in sustainable tourism when visiting Hawaii. Tourists are conscious of their own actions when planning their next vacation. Particularly those over 60 years old who describe themselves as environmentally responsible, although all age groups scored sustainability as being a high priority. There has been a clear shift in what the tourists want from a destination. The tourists want to be engaged with the destination, they do not just want to take, but to give back as well. The planting of trees to offset the carbon footprint of flying thousands of miles to the most isolated inhabited landmass in the world is just a start. Clearing plastics off the beach is important so that sea creatures do not mistake the plastics as food and die and so the plastics do not go into our food chain. Hawaii is sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which is home to the “giant patch of plastic garbage” and Hawaii due to its location, is the casualty of this plastic pollution [149]. This study fills a gap in the tourism research literature by providing quantitative evidence of U.S. tourists’ interest in engaging in sustainable tourism when visiting the Hawaiian Islands. Furthermore, the findings of this study imply that there was strong evidence that U.S. tourists are willing to pay more to support Hawaii’s sustainable tourism products.
The respondents all agreed that the tourism industry in Hawaii should meet visitors’ needs. More importantly, the answers revealed that the respondents were concerned about supporting nature and environmentally sustainable tourism practices. These sustainable practices can be any activity from planting trees, taking part in cultural and sustainable educational activities, beach clean-ups, to hotels being more environmentally aware, for example reducing energy and water consumption by requesting guests not to have their bed linen changed every day. Culturally respectful tourism practices were also high on the list. Some of these actions obviously have financial costs, but the respondents indicated they were willing to pay more to support sustainable tourism in Hawaii. The age group 45–60 years old scored this item the highest, which is good news because these are the working adults. Obviously when one travels to Hawaii, outdoor activities are important especially for those in the 18–29 age group.
Additionally, the outcomes of this study provide empirical support that tourists to the Hawaiian Islands when choosing a vacation destination, it is important that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices, and these tourists are prepared to spend more money to promote sustainable tourism experiences. This study builds on prior research by emphasizing the relevance of the tourism business in Hawaii supporting ecologically sustainable tourism practices.
By demonstrating that the tourists to Hawaii support environmentally sustainable tourism practices, ensuring that Hawaii will be a more sustainable tourist destination. The majority of the tourists in this study perceive themselves to be ecologically conscious. The study’s findings provide marketers with a better grasp of the tourist’s image of a sustainable Hawaii. Furthermore, the outcome of this study can provide an opportunity for Hawaii and its tourism entities to integrate the sustainability aspects that are currently utilized in the islands to expand the marketing image of Hawaii.
Additionally, this study has examined Hawaii’s U.S. mainland visitors’ willingness to participate in nature-based activities while vacationing in Hawaii. As the data and results of this study has demonstrated, there is an urgency for the tourism industry to focus on nature-based solutions. Therefore, the tourism industry should direct part of its efforts to develop more sustainable tourism practices and nature-based solutions.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, C.L., J.A., G.R. and J.L.; methodology, C.L. and J.A.; software, C.L. and J.L.; validation, C.L., G.R. and J.L.; formal analysis, C.L., J.A. and G.R.; investigation, C.L., J.A. and G.R.; resources, C.L. and G.R.; data curation, C.L., G.R. and J.L.; writing—original draft preparation, C.L., J.A., G.R. and J.L.; writing—review and editing, C.L., J.A., G.R. and J.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study was conducted according to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (protocol code 2020-00104 and approval on 19 February 2021).

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The data presented in this study is not publicly available.


The researchers appreciate the Shidler Summer research grant from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which has supported this research project.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. A breakdown of tourism’s impact.
Figure 1. A breakdown of tourism’s impact.
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Figure 2. Tukey’s HSD comparisons of age groups. (a) I would describe myself as environmentally responsible; (b) As a tourist, would you be willing to pay more to support sustainable tourism in Hawaii; (c) The importance of outdoor activities (hiking, water sports, etc.).
Figure 2. Tukey’s HSD comparisons of age groups. (a) I would describe myself as environmentally responsible; (b) As a tourist, would you be willing to pay more to support sustainable tourism in Hawaii; (c) The importance of outdoor activities (hiking, water sports, etc.).
Tourismhosp 03 00013 g002
Table 1. Profile of the respondents (n = 454).
Table 1. Profile of the respondents (n = 454).
Age 18–2912627.6
Table 2. Please indicate your level of agreement for the statements below by placing a mark in the corresponding space.
Table 2. Please indicate your level of agreement for the statements below by placing a mark in the corresponding space.
Male (n = 184)Female (n = 270)
CategoryMeanSDMeanSDMean Differencet
The tourism industry must ensure quality tourism experiences for visitors.3.941.003.830.890.110.216
It is the responsibility of tourism businesses to meet visitor needs.3.970.883.730.830.210.003*
It is the responsibility of tourism businesses to meet the local community´s needs.3.950.923.850.910.100.256
Tourism must contribute to the improvement of the local community.−0.050.585
Tourism must be developed with consideration of the natural and cultural environment.4.210.864.290.89−0.080.394
Notes: * p < 0.05.
Table 3. Please indicate your level of agreement for the statements below by placing a mark in the corresponding space.
Table 3. Please indicate your level of agreement for the statements below by placing a mark in the corresponding space.
Male (n = 184)Female (n = 270)
CategoryMeanSDMeanSDMean Differencet
I would describe myself as environmentally responsible. 3.750.913.800.83−0.050.574
I would describe myself as culturally sensitive. 3.850.913.920.84−0.070.458
I consider the potential impacts of my actions when making many of my vacation decisions.3.650.993.830.84−0.180.040*
When choosing a vacation destination, it is important to me that the tourism industry supports environmentally sustainable tourism practices.3.591.083.940.88−0.350.001*
When choosing a vacation destination, it is important to me that the tourism industry supports culturally respectful tourism practices.3.960.924.170.88−0.210.016*
Notes: * p < 0.05.
Table 4. Significant differences among generations.
Table 4. Significant differences among generations.
Tukey’s HSD Comparisons
Environmental ResponsiveMean18–2930–4445–60>60
18–29 (n = 126)3.63
30–44 (n = 124)3.77insignificant
45–60 (n = 140)3.79insignificantinsignificant
>60 (n = 64)4.06p < 0.05insignificantinsignificant
Tukey’s HSD comparisons
Willingness to payMean18–2930–4445–60>60
18–29 (n = 126)1.32
30–44 (n = 124)1.19insignificant
45–60 (n = 140)1.36insignificantp < 0.05
>60 (n = 64)1.30insignificantinsignificantinsignificant
Tukey’s HSD comparisons
Outdoor activitiesMean18–2930–4445–60>60
18–29 (n = 126)3.91
30–44 (n = 124)3.86insignificant
45–60 (n = 140)3.78insignificantinsignificant
>60 (n = 64)3.39p < 0.05p < 0.05insignificant
Table 5. Local examples of nature-based solutions.
Table 5. Local examples of nature-based solutions.
Local ExamplesDescriptionResearch Question
The Four SeasonsTree planting initiative where resort charge a fee.RQ2
Alohilani ResortTree planting initiative where resort charge a fee.RQ2
The Cliffs at PrincevilleEducate tourists prearrival and offer environmental program to encourage participating in beach cleanups.RQ1
The Travel2Change
Connecting tourists with nonprofit local sustainable possibilities.RQ1
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Linnes, C.; Agrusa, J.; Ronzoni, G.; Lema, J. What Tourists Want, a Sustainable Paradise. Tour. Hosp. 2022, 3, 164-183.

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Linnes C, Agrusa J, Ronzoni G, Lema J. What Tourists Want, a Sustainable Paradise. Tourism and Hospitality. 2022; 3(1):164-183.

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Linnes, Cathrine, Jerome Agrusa, Giulio Ronzoni, and Joseph Lema. 2022. "What Tourists Want, a Sustainable Paradise" Tourism and Hospitality 3, no. 1: 164-183.

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