Sustainable tourism key to sustainable economy

There are many reasons to be concerned about our economy.

Every day we hear about developments from Wall Street, our nation’s capitol and even here on Kaua‘i that give us new reason to worry about what the next 12 months will bring.

As for tourism, the short-term issue is how to maintain a reasonable level of occupancy to keep our greater economy from slipping significantly. The ripple effect of a dramatic downturn in arrivals can not be overstated, even to businesses that don’t directly service our visitors. 

And while it’s important to focus on short-term fixes, we have to be sure to keep our eye on the long-term goals for sustainability of our economy and our tourism industry in particular.

The Kaua‘i Tourism Strategic Plan was the first step in identifying the issues and problems that need to be addressed if we are to make tourism work for us in the future. As part of that plan, two years ago we co-hosted an event organized by the Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance titled “Greening Kaua‘i’s Visitor Industry: Sustainable Tourism — Sustainable Kaua‘i.” 

A highlight of that great event was hearing from Steve Noakes, director of Pacific Asia Tourism Pty Ltd. This organization, based in Australia, focuses on research, consulting and education in an effort to promote sustainable tourism worldwide.  Anyone who was present that day will remember how Mr. Noakes, while in awe of the natural beauty of Kaua’i and our success in the arena of global tourism to date, also warned us that if we don’t pay attention to the key concepts of sustainability that our success may be in peril.

Since that time, Mr. Noakes has been working with 27 organizations (including the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme, the American Society of Travel Agents and the International Hotel and Restaurant Association) under the guise of The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism to develop “global sustainable tourism criteria.”

The criteria are voluntary standards that have been designed to help travel suppliers throughout the world satisfy consumer demand while insuring that they create positive effects on communities and the environment.

Released on Oct. 6, the criteria focus on four critical aspects of sustainable tourism:

∫ Maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities

∫ Reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage

∫ Reducing harm to local environments

∫ Planning for sustainability

More detail on each of the criterion can be found at

As a next step, the Global Sustainable Tourism Partnership is developing educational materials and technical tools to guide hotels and tour operators in implementing the criteria.

Since hearing Mr. Noakes talk about this initiative two years ago many of us have been awaiting the release of the criteria so that we can determine how best to utilize them here on Kaua‘i.

Adapting the criteria and action steps to use here on Kaua‘i will be a critical step for us and, with the support of the visitor industry, will bring us closer to our common goal of providing economic and social benefits to the people of Kaua‘i through responsible and sustainable tourism.

• Beth Tokioka is director of Kaua‘i County’s Office of Economic Development. She can be reached at


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.