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US Visitors Willing to Pay More for Authentic, Sustainable Experience, Study Shows

September 21, 2021, 8:00 AM HST
* Updated September 21, 6:51 AM
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US visitors to the Hawaiian Islands are willing to pay more for an authentic and sustainable experience, a new study from the University of Hawaiʻi shows.

These findings were published in the Journal of Risk and Financial Management. The results could lead to the state reexamining its current tourism offerings and establishing a new approach to the US domestic tourism market.

US domestic visitors to ​​Hawaiʻi accounted for more than 99% of all visitors by air in July 2021, according to the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. This is due in large part to the safe travels testing program and quarantine restrictions international visitors face upon returning to their home country. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists from the US were the largest source of visitors to the islands.

New public impact research from UH Mānoa and UH West Oʻahu looked into the desired experiences of those visitors.

An online survey of 28 questions was administered randomly to residents of the continental US who had traveled on an airplane for vacation at least once in the last year. The researchers collected 455 survey responses, of which 64% were first-time visitors to Hawaiʻi, while 36% had previously visited the islands.

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Among the major findings in the study, when asked if respondents were willing to pay more to experience and support sustainable tourism experiences in Hawaiʻi, more than 70% answered “yes,” and approximately one-third stated they would pay more than 10%. Also, more than 35% of respondents were willing to pay more than 10% extra to experience culturally respectful tourism experiences in Hawaiʻi, and nearly 20% were willing to pay an additional 16%.

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Some cultural experiences available for visitors could include working in a taro patch, helping to rebuild ancient Hawaiian fishponds, cleaning up invasive species on a hiking trail and/or doing a beach cleanup.

“One of the things that families want is that they want something educational when on vacation—something that the children bring back and this includes learning about the local culture,” said Jerry Agrusa, study co-author and professor at the UH Mānoa School of Travel Industry Management.

In addition, UH researchers discovered that more than 75% of respondents reported that they are willing to pay additional fees for “authentic Hawaiian cultural experiences,” which Agrusa says aligns with the ​​Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s newly launched Mālama ​​Hawaiʻi campaign and Hawaiian Airlines’ new “travel pono” in-flight video, placing a stronger emphasis on connecting with the culture, giving back and preserving it for the future.

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The survey also indicated that nearly 80% of respondents were willing to pay more to support locally grown food. More than 20% indicated that they would be willing to increase their food bill by 16% or more, while more than 37% of survey participants indicated that they would be willing to increase their bill by 11% or more.

Agrusa hopes this will encourage the farming industry to grow and partner with the hotel industry to sell their products to visitors, instead of importing approximately 95% of the state’s food from around the world.

The research team comprises Agrusa, UH West Oʻahu Assistant Professor Holly Itoga, UH Mānoa spring 2021 master of science in travel industry management graduate Gabriella Andrade, Østfold University College Associate Professor Cathrine Linnes and UNLV Professor Joseph Lema.

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