Study found tourists willing to pay more for Hawaii culture, sustainability, locally grown food

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Visitors to the state of Hawaii are willing to pay more for Native Hawaiian cultural experiences, sustainability and locally grown food, according to findings from a new study conducted by the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa and West Oahu.

Researchers hope the study will lead to more economic diversification in the islands, as well as a healthier relationship with tourism.

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The survey asked 455 U.S. mainland visitors 28 questions that focused on three open-ended questions. UH Manoa Travel Industry Management professor and study co-author Dr. Jerry Agrusa was surprised with the results.

“They are quite significant, 76% saying that they were willing to pay extra,” Agrusa said.

With the 76%, more than a third of the responders were also willing to pay 10% or more on activities that are put on by Native Hawaiians and are more respectful to their culture. Nearly identical results came with the topic of sustainability.

Agrusa said the data backed up what the Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to do with its Malama Hawaii project.

“Which is where tourists come, but they give something back,” Agrusa said. “That would be anything from working on a hiking trail, taking out invasive species, to working in lo’i. or rebuilding an ancient fish pond or helping with a beach cleanup.”

According to the study, 80% of participants said they were OK with paying more at a restaurant if it served locally grown food — with 37% who said they were also willing to pay an extra 11% or more. These findings could lead to agriculture becoming a larger part of Hawaii’s economy.

“I thought that that was quite significant. That’s a really high number because, you know, food is expensive, and it’s expensive out here,” Agrusa said.

Officials hope the study will influence the policy and decisions that hotel operators have to make, which could lead to a healthier relationship between Hawaii’s overwhelming economic driver and residents.

“I do believe that that’s going to happen if we can show people, and make a concerted effort that ‘hey, there are good parts of tourism, and let’s try to amplify that.’ I think that tourists are willing to do this,” Agrusa explained.

The full study will be released on Monday, Sept. 20.

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Other people who were on the research team include UH West Oahu assistant professor Holly Itoga, UH Manoa spring 2021 master of science in travel industry management graduate Gabriella Andrade, Ostfold University College associate professor Cathrine Linnes and UNLV professor Joseph Lema.

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