Hawaiian Paddle Sports and Hawaii Mermaid Adventures – both Maui-based businesses – were honored by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association at its annual awards luncheon November 13 at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel. The event recognized tour operators, tour guides, and volunteers who are committed to promoting sustainable tourism.
Hawaiian Paddle Sports, which provides private snorkel and whale watching tours, was awarded with the 2018 Sustainable Tour Operator Award for providing authentic eco-tours that encourage guests to discover a deeper appreciation of and connection to Hawaii’s marine environment; the 2018 Sustainable Tour Guide of the Year honor went to Lily Jones from Hawaii Mermaid Adventures.
“The mission of Hawaiian Paddle Sports and Hawaii Mermaid Adventures is rooted in kuleana, or responsibility, to care for the land and ocean,” said Timothy Lara, owner and founder of both Eco-tourism companies. “We’re extremely proud to be recognized for our efforts in sustainable tourism.”
To be considered for Sustainable Tour Guide of the Year, individuals must be highly skilled, provide exceptional customer service, implement authentic cultural experiences, and promote conservation. “We want to lead by example and show that tour operators can do what’s right for the environment and community, and still thrive as a business,” Lara said.
HPS first launched in 2010 as a company committed to reducing its environmental impact and promoting sustainable practices within Maui’s tourism sector. HPS has encouraged thousands of visitors to protect Maui’s beaches and oceans by disposing of trash properly, reducing single-use plastic consumption, and using reef-safe sunscreen. HPS has a strict no-touch policy for marine life and only uses reusable stainless-steel water bottles on its tours.
In 2011, to better support the development of sustainable tourism in Hawaii, HEA launched a Sustainable Tour Operator Certification program, one of only two statewide programs in the U.S. providing a third party, comprehensive assessment of tour providers.
“The United Nations has concluded that a well-designed and managed tourism sector can support local sustainability goals,” said Dr. Linda Cox, founding member of HEA and recipient of HEA’s Volunteer of the Year award.
“The Hawaii Ecotourism Association developed the Sustainable Tour Operator Certification to ensure that the best practices used by our Certified Tour Operators are on par with leading international certification programs,” Cox said.
The Certification Programs holds tour operators and the visitor industry accountable for the impact their business may have on the unique natural and cultural resources of Hawaii; the certification process also helps promote sustainable and restorative practices as part of Hawaii’s visitor industry product. There are currently 45 Certified Sustainable Tour Operators throughout the state.
Volunteer of the year Cox, from O’ahu, has helped support HEA more than 20 years. As Community Economic and Development Specialist at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, she has authored and co-authored nearly 200 articles and publications on the economic relationships between agriculture and tourism, agricultural product marketing, and other related topics.
“I am proud of the tremendous growth that Hawaii Ecotourism Association has experienced over the last 20+ years,” said Dr. Cox. “It’s a critical time for tourism in Hawaii and we need to ensure that industry grows in a sustainable and responsible manner.”
Image courtesy Hawaiian Adventure Sports