Nature-based tourism. Travel taken largely for the purpose of enjoying natural attractions or wilderness areas, wildlife, and/or engaging in outdoor activities.1
Nature-based tourism is frequently described as one of the fastest growing sectors of the world's largest industry (tourism) and is often used as a rationale for conserving the natural environment.2 Interpretation of nature provides greater visitor satisfaction levels, which promotes continued visitation, while also encouraging visitors to be more considerate of the environment. This in turn facilitates greater conservation ethics and practices that support biodiversity.
According to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA), Hawaiʻi consistently ranks among the highest percentile as the preferred destination for “unique scenery unlike anywhere else” and visitors ranked their top reason for returning to Hawaiʻi as because of its stunning natural beauty.3
A healthy environment is not only attractive to tourists; it is essential. The Maui County Tourism Industry Strategic Plan recognizes the importance of this; one of the four strategic directions in the plan is that “We will increase efforts to minimize impacts on our natural environment as well as on our infrastructure, and to feature environmental quality in marketing and visitor experiences.” 4
Over 9 million visitors came to Hawaiʻi in 20175. As such, Hawaiʻi’s tourism industry is the largest single source of private capital into the State’s economy and is one of the largest generators of jobs (204,000 jobs in 2017)5. As tour activities increase in natural areas, so should environmental education and involvement from conservation communities. By providing tourists and locals with the knowledge on how to support our unique natural environment, through well-educated and trained tour guides, the program hopes to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species, reduce overconsumption of natural resources, and increase awareness and appreciation of native species.
In 2013, through a grant with HTA, East Maui Watershed Partnership (EMWP), Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (MFBRP), and Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) collaborated to develop Maui Mauka Conservation Awareness Training (MMCAT). These trainings focus on watersheds, native flora and fauna, and invasive species. Presentations are simple, educational, and fact-based. MMCAT is a train-the-trainer model of working with tourists.
MMCAT Program Goal: to create a mutually beneficial partnership between conservation professionals and tour guides that enhances the quantity and quality of environmental interpretation about Maui’s unique species and environments.
Initial Needs Assessment and Focus Groups:
In 2013, 18 different tour companies participated in e-mail and phone surveys and focus groups to determine the need for the program, barriers to participation, and the desired outcomes.
We worked closely with tour operators to address scheduling barriers. Feedback suggested that incorporating trainings into already scheduled employee orientation or staff meetings would be best.
Each element of the logo refers to a natural resource or a management issue. ‘Ōlelo, Hawaiian proverbs, are associated with each symbol (as described by Pukui 1983)6.
Take home materials
Three different 6” x 9” infographic and field guide cards that display the important facts and species associated with the conservation priorities of EMWP, MISC and MFBRP. Starting in 2017, guest speakers use an MMCAT template to provide five of their own facts.
Training Presentations & Program
Each organization created their own presentation to give to the tour guides about their respective specialty. From 2013-2016, the training program was one hour long, with each organization giving a 15 minute presentation. Due to feedback, the training changed to a three hour format that also includes a guest speaker from other conservation organizations. This has been the format since 2017.
Trainings are offered during slow tourism months and on National Park commercial free days. Since location was one of the barriers to the trainings, the option to have the training at a tourism operator’s place of business if there are more than seven guides is always offered.
T-shirts, mugs, and window decals with the MMCAT logo, were distributed to participants who completed the program.
Certificate of Completion for each attendee recognizing their commitment to Maui’s natural resources.
Pre and Post Assessments: Handed out at each training to gauge training effectiveness and allow participants to offer suggestions.
Through the MMCAT program, the conservation messages of EMWP, MISC, MFBRP, and other conservation partners are successfully being incorporated into tours, enhancing the visitor experience and benefitting tour operators and conservation organizations.
By being a part of NKMC, MMCAT can accept donations that will help fund the continuation of these trainings. Cost was initially identified as a potential barrier to participation, so the program is currently offered free of charge but donations are solicited.
Anecdotally, the program appears to have increased awareness and support of conservation efforts. Attendees often ask how to volunteer and help organizations and the environment; information on this is now provided in the training and through the website. We hope that the level of awareness of conservation issues and how to report them is heightened by people attending these trainings and educating others. For example, one participant did report a dead ‘i‘iwi in her yard stating she could properly identify it from the training and knew to report it as an odd incident.
The training is continually updated to fit the needs of the community and stay aligned with current conservation issues. Options for the future:
Acknowledgements: Thank you to all those who have been involved in this program. Key funding and/or support has been provided by Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit at the University of Hawaiʻi, State of Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council, Tri-Isle RC&D, Nā Koa Manu Conservation, County of Maui Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, and many private donors.