By Léo Azambuja
As soon as COVID-19 restrictions came into effect in March 2020, the visitor industry came to a screeching halt. It wouldn’t take long for us to witness several local businesses shutting down for good. It became very clear the vast majority of island residents are dependent on tourism, whether directly or indirectly.
With the loosened restrictions back in April, most of us were ready to embrace the revival of our visitor industry. But as much as I am stoked to see the light at the end of the tunnel for our economy, there is something I’m not happy at all to see: the return of the tourist.
Before going any further, let me make a clear distinction — there is the tourist and there is the visitor. A tourist comes to Kaua‘i to enjoy our weather, beaches and mountains, to spend money on gifts, activities and dinners, to stay at hotels, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. A visitor, well, a visitor does the same things. But their attitude reciprocating our aloha, our welcoming, is quite different. And as such, they get a much more fulfilling experience.
A visitor follows the rules of our island home. A tourist disregards them. You would expect that when a guest enters your Hawaiian home, he would take off his shoes, since it’s the custom here on Kaua‘i. Your visitor is simply following your home rules. Our island is very small, with very limited resources. We consider every public place an extension of our home. Kaua‘i is our island, our home.
It’s bad enough that the Kapa‘a traffic is already over-saturated with cars, but it makes the traffic much worse when tourists bolt across the road in Old Kapa‘a Town ignoring the countless marked crosswalks. Seriously, how many crosswalks can we have in Kapa‘a? Yet, tourists still ignore them and slow down the traffic even more by crossing the road in all the wrong places. Some even defiantly walk across the only traffic light in Old Kapa‘a Town while it is still green.
And then there are the tourists driving around like they own the island. Since April, I have witnessed countless near-accidents caused by sheer arrogance, ignorance of traffic laws and a couple other things that wouldn’t be appropriate to publish. I’ve seen tourists stop their cars on the middle of the road to look at the scenery, check their phones and who knows what else. Getting lost on the island (which takes some effort) doesn’t give anyone the right to stop on the road and just stay there until they figure out what to do. Normal people pull over.
One of the most common and dangerous behaviors I see is when tourists driving southbound just past Wailua Bridge during contra-flow hours just stop on the highway to make a left turn into the Hilton hotel. Everyone behind them buzzes their horn, but they just park right there in the middle of the highway, when there is actually an extra lane to their left specifically marked for them to safely pull over before making a left turn.
One of the worst things I ever saw on that same spot was just a few weeks ago. A car full of tourists just crossed the entire highway — all three lanes — to reach the other side of the highway. I’ve seen chickens do that, but it was a first for tourists. It was contra-flow hours, with traffic backed up on both directions. Such bizarre move lasted several minutes, with the driver inching his way across the highway despite a symphony of horns. It was a miracle there wasn’t an accident.
These erratic driving behaviors can cause a lot more than annoying other drivers; they can result in serious injuries and death. Years ago, a tourist coming out of a hotel abruptly pulled out on the highway in front of a friend of mine who was riding a motorcycle. To avoid hitting the car, my friend laid down his motorcycle. As his helmet skid the asphalt, he could see the rental car driving away, the driver washing his hands off of any responsibility.
Right now, there is a shortage of rental cars on the island. I can only imagine what will happen as the supply meets the increasing demand.
We give aloha from the heart. Kaua‘i has a strong pull on people, and I believe a major cause of this pull is the aloha we spread. It’s mostly because of aloha that so many visitors become island residents. Additionally, many first-time visitors to the state of Hawai‘i go island-hopping, but a lot of them return only to Kaua‘i during subsequent trips.
We want people to come to Kaua‘i. We want to share what we have, not just our island’s natural beauty, but our friendship, our culture and lifestyle. We have more than enough aloha to spread. We are just asking for respect. Please be the visitor, not the tourist when you step off the plane. Our island is our home.