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New partnership gets businesses involved to spread mālama Hawaiʻi message

Kailua Beach Adventures 2.jpg
Casey Harlow
Kailua Beach Adventures is one of a handful of local businesses that joined a new partnership program to educate visitors to be responsible guests and stewards of native ecosystems. The Pledge to Our Keiki Partnership Program aims to get business involvement in promoting local culture and sustainability.

With the summer travel season underway, state and tourism officials are expecting a busier summer than last year.

But two years after the state recorded 10 million visitor arrivals, state and community leaders want a change in tourism marketing and management. They have called for shifting focus away from visitor arrivals and spending, and more on environmental stewardship and respect.

In 2020, students on Oʻahu and Molokaʻi created a pledge with the hope visitors and residents would promise to respect and care for the land and sea. This launched an effort called Pledge to Our Keiki — helmed by a group of nonprofits led by Kanu Hawaiʻi.

The effort's latest initiative is a partnership program that gets companies involved in spreading the message of mālama Hawaiʻi.

Launched in February, the Pledge to Our Keiki Partnership Program has companies committed to promoting environmental stewardship, and respectful and responsible behavior among visitors.

One of the first to join the partnership was Kailua Beach Adventures — an Oʻahu kayak tour and rental company.

"I think we are a part of this community in Kailua, and we want to make sure that we participate in regenerative tourism," said Matt Giordano, manager of Kailua Beach Adventures. "As soon as I heard about Pledge to Our Keiki, and their goal of regenerative tourism, we were totally on board ready to help out."

Giordano told HPR that his company has participated in beach cleanups and is active in the local community. In order for customers to buy into being good stewards, Giordano said his staff educates each group on the challenges of local ecosystems, and the company offers discounts and other incentives for visitors to do beach cleanups.

For him, being a partner to Pledge to Our Keiki was easy.

Another business that joined is Kamaʻāina Kids at Heʻeia State Park. The company rents kayaks and snorkel equipment to visitors and residents. Andy Carre, the water program coordinator, said it made sense for his company to join.

"I think it's critically important," Carre told HPR. "We're very conscious of trying to do this in a sustainable way, that is not only sustainable for the ecosystem that we're impacting — but also for the local community and the culture that we're impacting."

"For us to be in this industry and do what we do, which is providing recreational activities for people to enjoy a specific place and ecosystem, it really is critically important that it be sustainable in all those ways," Carre said.

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Casey Harlow / HPR
Carissa Cabrera

Like Giordano, Carre said his company takes time to educate guests about the local ecosystem, and makes it easy for guests to commit to being responsible.

Like the pledge, the program doesn't solely focus on environmental stewardship — it also emphasizes preserving and promoting local values and culture.

"Students wrote it, local communities own it, and then we choose to share it," said Carissa Cabrera, program coordinator and CEO of The Conservationist Collective.

"This is really about us, more than anything. It's about us living our values, living native Hawaiian values, by giving back to our ecosystems. But also sustainability, reconnecting with our cultural roots. This is, I think, about us leading by example. How can we expect visitors to make a pledge, if we don't live by it ourselves?"'

Cabrera told HPR the pledge and the program began due to concerns about over-tourism. In the last two years, community efforts have aimed to educate visitors to be more respectful and responsible.

For Cabrera, business involvement is important to spreading and reinforcing the idea of kuleana.

"Most of them are already sustainability-minded," she told HPR. "But they can extend that sustainability education to visitors, and help prevent these maybe irresponsible behaviors, or lack of education before any negative consequences happen."

Cabrera said the ultimate goal for the program is for the pledge to be recognized and adopted by visitors and residents.

The program is still relatively new, with only a handful of businesses that have become official partners. But Cabrera told HPR her company is working with roughly 15 businesses across the state to join.

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Casey Harlow / HPR
Matt Giordano manages Kailua Beach Adventures. His company is one of the first to join the new Pledge to Our Keiki partnership program.

At Kailua Beach Adventures, Giordano told HPR his customers have responded positively to the education efforts.

"I think that a lot of visitors, there's a tendency to see it as like Disneyland. Like this place is made for tourism. But I think the realization that it's not made for tourism, and that as a tourist you have an impact that can be negative," he said. "And then realizing that they sort of have a 'click moment' and think, 'Okay, well, what can I do to make my impact more positive?' And that's an amazing thing that you can see."

More information about Pledge to Our Keiki and the partnership program can be found online at kanuhawaii.org

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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