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Malama Hawaii: A new travel program for tourists to give back

Visitors who book a Malama Hawaii package can earn a free hotel night or other special discount in return.
Woman with son walking on beach. Malama Hawaii is a statewide volunteer program that helps travelers experience Hawaii beyond its natural beauty. Malama means to \"give back\" or \"take care.\"
Malama Hawaii is meant to encourage visitors to take in the natural beauty of Hawaii and help preserve it by volunteering.Johner Images / Getty Images

As Covid restrictions start easing around the country, both domestic and international travel is slowly starting to resume and tropical destinations like Hawaii are becoming increasingly popular amongst travelers. However, post-Covid travel may look a little different, giving rise to a new type of traveler. After over a year of quarantine, travelers are seeking more meaningful travel experiences where they can give back, something the New York Times coined “regenerative travel.” Mindful travel is the new sustainable tourism. It’s the art of being present and immersed in an experience in addition to leaving a positive impact.

As part of the Safe Travels Program, Hawaii implemented stringent Covid guidelines for visitors, including a pre-travel testing requirement. Still, the islands have cautiously welcomed an influx of tourists while simultaneously launching an initiative called Malama Hawaii, a voluntourism program to encourage travelers to malama — or “give back” — to Hawaii and leave the islands better than they found them. In exchange, visitors can earn free hotel nights or discounts on hotel stays, including at five-star resorts.

What is Malama Hawaii?

Malama Hawaii is a statewide program led by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) in partnership with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). Inspired by the Hawaiian word malama, which means to “take care” or “give back,” the program is meant to encourage travelers to experience Hawaii beyond its natural beauty and deep-rooted culture.

Select participating hotel partners on each island are collaborating with local non-profit organizations to offer activities such as beach clean-up through organizations like the Pacific Whale Foundation or tree planting at Gunstock Ranch in partnership with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI). Visitors who book a Malama Hawaii package can earn a free hotel night or other special discount in return.

“The purpose of the Mālama Hawaii initiative is not only to help protect and preserve Hawaii for the future, but to offer travelers a more meaningful and enriching travel experience, allowing them to form deeper connections to our people, culture and place,” said John Monahan, president and CEO of HVCB.

How to redeem the Malama Hawaii promotion

The Malama packages can be booked directly through the individual hotel websites or by calling each hotel concierge desk. Certain volunteer activities are self-guided and others are led by local organizations on the ground. A full list of participating hotels, broken down by island, can be viewed here.

Note: Prices shown are subject to change based on the type of hotel room and availability.

Notable hotels participating in the Malama Program

Malama Program: Maui

The luxury Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea in partnership with Lahaina Restoration Foundation is inviting guests to learn about the history and culture of Maui by documenting and transcribing historic artifacts from all eras of Maui’s past, including the Kingdom of Hawaii, Missionary, Whaling and the Sugar periods. The three-hour experience includes a brief training session, working with historic objects and a tour of a historic site or museum customized for the guest’s interest.

In exchange for participating, guests will receive a $250 resort credit to apply to their stay and a gift certificate for a one-night luxury accommodation in an Ocean View Room for a future stay at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. Resort guests who are interested in participating in the Malama Hawaii program may contact the Four Seasons Resort Maui Concierge for more information (the promotion is not listed on their website).

“The concept of malama, or ‘to care for,’ is part of the essence of life in Hawaii, connecting us to this place and our ancestors,” said Shermaine Rodrigues, director of guest experience at Four Seasons Resort Maui. “At Four Seasons Maui, we have a kuleana, or responsibility, to share this concept with our guests and invite them to actively engage with these cultural ideals. Many of our guests have taken the opportunity to give back. Now more than ever, regenerative travel resonates with visitors,” she said.

Further west, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua is offering guests a fifth night free by participating in a solo beach cleanup (offer valid through September 30, 2021). Guests can book the package directly online or by calling the resort and will receive a beach clean up kit upon arrival. While proof of cleanup is not required, it is based on the honor system.

Malama Program: The Big Island

The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii on The Island of Hawaii (The Big Island) is offering a fourth night free with breakfast for two when you book their Malama package. Guests can choose from one of three volunteer opportunities through the hotel’s designated partners including a visit to Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve to help restore the native forest or a solo beach cleanup.

The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is also offering a free night during your stay when you participate in a group cleanup of a beach or cultural site. Each of the cleanups involve up to 10 guests and are followed by refreshments that you can enjoy while walking by the ocean.

Malama Program: Oahu

On Oahu, The Kahala Hotel & Resort is offering 20 percent off a three-night stay for guests who participate in an activity of their choice offered by Travel2Change and KISCA (Kahala's Initiative for Sustainability, Culture, & the Arts) including beach cleanup after kayaking or paddleboarding, taking a guided hike to learn about coastal restoration or tasting food on a sustainable farm.

Several hotels including The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, Sheraton Waikiki, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Moana Surfrider, The Royal Hawaiian, and The Laylow, Autograph Collection are also offering guests the opportunity to support reforestation efforts and plant an endemic tree at Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore of Oahu in partnership with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI).

“For me, the forest here at Gunstock Ranch has impacted myself and many of the others who have come through because of its spiritual aspect and the aspect of being able to give back to the land,” said McKenzie Highsmith, trails manager at Gunstock Ranch. “This is something that I believe will have a positive impact on the world and especially on our little island. It gives people the opportunity to do something good. And a lot of people need that in their lives.”

How to be a respectful tourist

Though the travel industry in Hawaii hasn’t fully recovered post-Covid, it’s slowly but surely returning to normal. According to Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, the number of visitors entering Hawaii on May 1 was just under 23,000, a 28.6 percent decrease from 2019. But on June 10, the number of tourists entering Hawaii reached 30,000, down to a 15 percent decrease from 2019.

As travelers once again start to overtake Hawaiian beaches and other local spots, many residents are starting to push back. According to a report from The Guardian, locals are worried about interlopers’ impact on the beaches, marine life and general island capacity.

Whether you’re thinking about traveling to Hawaii through the Malama Program or otherwise, there are several things you can do to make sure you’re being a respectful visitor:

  • Don’t litter: Speaking to KHON2, Parley for the Ocean Hawaii director Kahi Pacarro said that there was a “drastic decrease in trash” on the beaches during the pandemic when travel was limited. If you visit Hawaii, make sure you properly dispose of trash and avoid using single-use plastics as much as you can, as these can end up in the ocean.
  • Use reef-safe sunscreens: In January 2021, Hawaii officially banned the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing two chemicals that can harm coral: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Technically you can bring any sunscreen with you when you travel, but sunscreens containing these ingredients can contribute to coral bleaching, which stresses it out and can shorten its lifespan.
  • Be careful around coral: According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, popular tourist activities like snorkeling and scuba diving contribute to the deterioration of the coral reefs, particularly when people walk on and touch the coral or litter in and around the ocean. If you choose to participate in recreational ocean activities, be respectful of the marine life and don’t break off a piece of the coral to bring home as a souvenir.
  • Treat the locals with respect: As you travel — both to Hawaii and anywhere else in the world — remember that you are a guest encroaching on someone else’s space. When you visit local restaurants and shops and admire the picturesque nature, be courteous and gracious and leave it like you found it.

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