With Hawaii’s immense natural beauty as one of its biggest calling cards, it’s not surprising that more and more tour companies are stepping forward with environmentally-conscious programs for visitors. That makes it increasingly difficult for the Hawaii Ecotourism Association (HEA) to sort through them each year and decide which one does the best job.
For 2010, the 15th anniversary of HEA, the association’s Ecotour Operator of the Year award went to Hike Maui, owned and operated by Ken Schmitt and M.J. Harden.
In announcing the winner, HEA founding member and president, Annette Kaohelaulii, called Schmitt and Harden “pioneers in creating and leading quality hiking tours in Hawaii.”
An Expert in His Field
Hike Maui opened its doors in 1983, making it the first hiking company in the state. Sometimes known as the grandfather of ecotourism, the firm is one of the islands’ leaders in interpretation and instruction thanks to the expertise of Schmitt, a noted author on Hawaiian culture. The staff benefits from a strong training program, including guide certification courses at Maui Community College, a recognized program that guarantees proper interpretation.
Another Hike Maui initiative that earned HEA’s praise is its Wild Hawaii program, an environmental education adventure program. Co-founded and driven by Hike Maui in partnership with the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and a group of concerned citizens, the program helps junior and senior high school students connect with the island’s natural wonders and inspires them to take care of their surroundings in the future.
“Wild Hawaii is a perfect example of community outreach and working to foster respect for the environment through volunteer efforts,” said Kaohelaulii.
Selecting the Winner
Each year, HEA — a nonprofit association of conscientious tour operators and responsible travel supporters — offers select members the opportunity to be recognized for their commitment to the principles of ecotourism and sustainable travel. Through a peer review process, the association evaluates them based on environmental conservation; cultural and historical stewardship; contributions to the local community; and education and training.
During the most recent evaluation process, HEA board advisor Victoria Cullins went on a Hike Maui tour to get a personal look at what the company does.
“Our guide Kristin encouraged us to experience Maui with all our senses: hiking through magnificent forests, swinging into waterfall pools, climbing into secluded spots, trying edible fruits and admiring flowers,” said Cullins. “Her extensive knowledge about the land, plants and people included fascinating tales about Maui history, culture and traditions.”