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New 'slow travel' trend counters the fast-paced social media motivated visitor

Casey Harlow / HPR

A relatively new travel trend is countering the fast-paced, excitement-driven marketing of destinations. A local research firm says Hawaiʻi could benefit from this concept — called “slow travel.”

When it comes to tourism in the state, you may have noticed a difference in the type of traveler that comes to the islands in recent years.

Chris Kam is the president of the local research firm Omnitrak. He says visitors used to get on a bus and spend the day going around visiting popular sites and locales: tourists.

"Somewhere along the way, social media came along. And all of a sudden, we’ve got another group of people who, I think, I would characterize as Instagram travelers. They are kind of like tourists, but they are more apt to go off the beaten path. And they’re really focused mostly on getting that perfect Instagram-ready snapshot to post on Instagram and have bragging rights," Kam said.

Now there is a new trend bucking the fast-paced social media motivated visitor. It’s called slow travel, and while it may sound like an outdated way of traveling – it is described as a cultural narrative.

"Slow travel is a step towards really engaging with the destination. Engaging with the local culture, the local arts, the local people at the destination, and really taking your time to understand and appreciate what the destination is all about," Kam said.

Kam says slow travel activities include: visiting museums, shopping, and visiting historic and indigenous sites.

For the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, Kam says this trend fits perfectly within its plans to attract more conscious and respectful visitors.

Over the last two years, the HTA partnered with community and industry stakeholders in every county to create and implement specific destination management action plans for each island.

Those plans outline efforts and initiatives to address tourism-related community issues, better protect natural resources, and attract and educate responsible visitors.

Kam says slow travelers are the target demographic for the HTA.

"By attracting the slow traveler, the state benefits by welcoming a more mindful traveler. One that is sensitive to the environment, to the culture, and they’re seeking a greater understanding of local culture," he said.

Kam says although the name “slow travel” may have a negative connotation – the benefits far outweigh them.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism is forecasting nearly 9 million visitors will come to the islands this year – spending about $16 billion.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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