Many Hawaiians depend on the tourism industry for their jobs and while tourists spend $10 billion annually, much of this money leaks out of the state. Despite the importance of tourism to the economy, Hawaiians have opposed inappropriate resort and golf-course development and their urbanizing effects. Reasons include the foreign ownership of the industry and its negative impacts on local communities (http://www.culturalsurvival.org/).
The growing tourism industry in Hawaii is leading to crowding, pollution, resource pressures and edging native residents out of important economic and cultural spaces including fishing, and agriculture. The result has been record Indigenous Hawaiian forced migration from their homeland and difficulties surviving on the margins of low wage tourism industry.
Hawaiians have protested against the commercialization of their culture, and the portrayal of Hawaii as "the ultimate playground" with flyers denouncing tourism-induced development, environmental degradation, poverty, and pollution. Hawaiians have made their views known in the media, by testifying at public hearings, demonstrating, and negotiating in the courts. Certain Hawaiian groups have delayed resort construction for years by using the courts to oppose government granted development permits. Today, glass and steel shopping malls with layer parking lots stretch over what were once carefully irrigated taro (the staple from which poi is made), lands that fed millions of Hawaiians over thousands of years. Large bays, delicately ringed for generations with well-stocked fishponds, are now heavily silted and polluted with jet skis, wind surfers, and sailboats. Multi-story hotels flood over six million tourists onto our beaches annually, closing them off to locals.
There is some awareness in Hawai'i that tourism could be small scale, ecologically and culturally oriented, and more locally owned. With this approach fewer tourists would provide the same level of revenues generated by foreign owned mass tourism businesses. But the state continues to promote growth by subsidizing conventional tourism development, and is planning for a de facto population of 1.8 million, including 262,000 visitors daily, and 12.6 million tourists annually, with a total of 131,000 hotel rooms by the year 2020 (www.culturalsurvival.org).
Over the last decade, Native Hawaiian residents have mobilized against the encroachment of their indigenous rights by development interests, particularly the expansion of the tourism industry, with increasing frequency and visibility. Notable recent examples include the protest movements against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the reconstruction of the Coco Palms Hotel, both of which are key priorities of the Hawaiian government for increasing tourism to the islands. Native Hawaiian residents have relied on a combination of traditional protest strategies (sit-ins, social media campaigns, and the utilization of the mainstream legal system) and methods unique to the ongoing Hawaiian sovereignty movement to halt the construction of these projects (Fox, 2017; Kelleher, 2018).
While Native Hawaiian residents have made some strides in advocating for their traditional rights through the temporary cessation of these projects, the tourism industry remains a significant opposition voice. Bringing in over $15.6 billion in 2016 alone, expanding the tourism industry is a priority for the Hawaiian government which has already enacted numerous subsidy programs for the industry in the last several years (Hawaii.gov, 2018). Thus, despite recent political gains through the Department of Interior’s 2016 recognition of the Native Hawaiian government which grants them the same status as many Native American tribes, this is likely only the beginning of the Native Hawaiian struggle against the ever-growing tourism industry.