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VOICES: Kaua‘i sequel: ‘Return of the Ugly Tourist’

This summer’s movies listings include “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Top Gun Maverick,” “(Buzz) Lightyear,” “Thor Love and Thunder.” What do these movie titles have in common? They are all sequels to successful movies. Some of them like “Top Gun” will be blockbuster successes. Others like “Lightyear” will be flops and disappointing at the box office.

Here on Kaua‘i, we are going through our own sequel — “Return of the Ugly Tourist.” As stressful as 2020 and 2021 were in dealing with fear and restrictions that COVID-19 brought, one of the unexpected byproducts of restricting out-of-state visitors and travel is that here on Kaua‘i, the ‘aina (land), the kai (ocean) and our mana (spirits) had time to rest, heal and recover from the hustle and bustle that tourism, the golden goose, brings.

During our respite we had time to malama (take care) the land and our spirits. We had time to reconnect with ourselves, our families, and enjoy our beautiful Island. I was able to walk in solitude on the Hanakapi‘ai Trail and meditate on an empty beach that would have been difficult if not have possible prior to the COVID shutdown.

One of my morning rituals is to watch the Howard (Dicus) Business Report on Hawai‘i News Now, KGMB. On June 30 he reported that thus far for the month of June 2022, some 89,000 domestic travelers arrived on Kaua‘i. The count included returning Kaua‘i residents, tourists and flight crews disembarking the planes.

The count was 24% higher versus the same time in June 2019, pre-pandemic. In perspective, the amount of people landing and entering Kaua‘i in June 2022 doubled our resident population of approximately 79,000. If you don’t believe me, drive through Kapa‘a or Hanalei town and see how busy things are on the road and on the storefronts.

During the long 4th of July weekend, I had the good fortune of having my two sons fly in from the mainland and spend some time home with us. It was our first time together as a family in two years. On their have-to-do list was to spend time hiking as a family and enjoying fellowship. Little did we know that in many places we would encounter ugly tourists.

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority invested much time and money to develop informercials and programs to educate incoming visitors to “malama our land and culture.” Despite these noble efforts, when tourists go on vacation they leave their brains back home and arrive as ugly tourists.

The ugly tourists are inconsiderate in how they park. They park haphazardly, obstructing traffic. When we drove back up the dirt road that brings you to the trailhead of Waipo‘o Falls, the entrance to the highway was blocked by two tourist cars parked in the middle of the road, unloading passengers.

Trucks and SUVs entering or leaving the trail had to maneuver around them. I honked my displeasure at them for blocking the road. Following our sunrise hike up Kalepa Ridge we drove to pick up bentos at Konohiki. Leading the way was a silver convertible. The car pulled into the Konohiki parking lot. Instead of parking, the car stopped in front of us in the middle of the parking lot as the occupants needed to get organized for the day. We had to steer around him to park. The driver wondered why we were giving him the stink eye.

The ugly tourist takes unnecessary chances hoping they can have the most thrilling view and experience. They keep our Kaua‘i Fire Department busy when they must be rescued. On the Canyon Trail to Waipo‘o Falls I chastised a lady from Canada for attempting to lead a group of seniors down a vertical face of the canyon to get to the top of Waipo‘o waterfall. Our argument ended when I told her I live here, I’ve hiked this trail many times and she could get to the waterfall using the sanctioned trail that was only 10 yards away.

The ugly tourist drives offensively versus defensively. They forget and don’t follow the rules of the road or have any driving courtesy. Our drive up Koke‘e along the rim of the Waimea Canyon was interrupted by slow-moving cars that would suddenly brake and without signaling pull off the side of the road to get a view at the Waimea Canyon, oblivious that they were close to causing a rear-end accident. When they are in the wrong driving lane, they will cut you off without signaling. If they missed the turn in the road, they would try to do a U-turn in front of you in the middle of the highway.

I am not anti-tourism, and I understand that tourism drives the economic train on Kaua‘i. When I am out on the beach or on the trail, I enjoy talking to our visitors, and often give advice on what to see and where to eat. I even considered being a tour guide when I finally retire from my job. However, whenever I must deal with an ugly tourist, I remember how peaceful it was in 2020 and 2021 when we, the local residents, could enjoy Kaua‘i to ourselves with peace and quiet.


Placido D. Valenciano is a resident of Lihu‘e.
Source: The Garden Island

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