Hawaii Ecotourism Association's Sustainable Tour Certification program: Promoting best practices to conserve a unique place
The United Nation World Tourism Organization (2017) concluded that a well-designed and managed tourism sector could support the host’s sustainability goals. Quality systems similar to Fodor’s star rating system for hotels provide a number of potential benefits as a means of tracking tourism’s sustainability performance (Kozak and Nield, 2004), assuming that they promulgate meaningful best practices. In 2016, Hawaii hosted 8.855 million visitors that spent $15 billion and visitor arrivals are expected to increase to more than 9 million visitors in 2018 (Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 2018). On an average day, the State has 6.50 visitors for every resident and this ratio is expected to increase with more visitor arrivals (Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 2018). In order to educate businesses, residents and visitors about protecting the State’s natural and cultural resources, the Hawaii Ecotourism Association (HEA), a 501c3, piloted an Ecotourism Certification Program in 2011 and 14 tour operators were certified statewide. Today, HEA’s Sustainable Tourism Certification Program includes 52 tour operators across the State and HEA working to further a partnership with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council for operator certification. Hawaii is one of two states in the U.S. with a certification program aimed at tour operators and HEA’s recommendations for best practices are on par with leading international programs. This case study summarizes the knowledge contributed by the Cooperative Extension Service that supported this effort, describes the lengthy, on-going process of developing HEA’s Certification program with the assistance of Cooperative Extension and provides lessons learned for other regions interested in a more sustainable tourism sector.