Visitors should check environmental conditions before hiking. // © 2014 HTA/Tor Johnson
Magazines, newspapers and reader surveys constantly refer to Kauai as one of the most stunning and appealing places on the planet — and one of the most dangerous. Depending on what potential visitors read or listen to, they receive mixed messages about Kauai. Some sources describe it as one of the world’s top bucket-list destinations, the best honeymoon location and an ideal romantic getaway. Others call the island a risky vacation spot.
That dichotomy is fitting for the message that Kauai Visitors Bureau (KVB) wants to send its guests.
“Education is the key to a successful vacation,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of KVB. “Kauai is incredibly beautiful, but no matter where you go around the island, you must respect nature and be aware of the conditions around you.”
Of course, visitor safety has always been a huge priority for Kanoho and other members of the island’s tourism industry. But in recent years, the issue has become more pressing due to an increased focus on visitor injuries and deaths in the wild, especially during hiking and swimming excursions. Since Kauai looks like paradise, travelers sometimes forget to be careful when exploring its alluring natural environment.
In response, a growing number of programs and resources have been put into place to help travelers and residents alike become more safety-savvy during their adventures around the Garden Isle.
The effort to raise awareness starts the moment clients arrive at Lihue Airport. While waiting for their luggage, travelers can watch a six-minute educational water-safety video, which plays on a continuous loop on four LED monitors in the baggage claim area. The video was produced by the Rotary Club of Kapaa, with support from several sponsors.
KVB recently received a testimonial letter from a visitor who wholeheartedly endorsed the video. Because he took the time to watch it, he was later able to rescue his father, who was pulled away from shore by strong currents while snorkeling.
Take Advantage of Educational Tools
Given Kauai’s showcase of beaches, it’s tempting for visitors to dive into the ocean impulsively without first paying attention to the state of the sea. Travelers who don’t read the warning signs or consult with lifeguards may not be aware that rip currents, tides and waves can be as dangerous as they are beautiful.
With that in mind, Kauai aquatic expert and lifeguard Pat Durkin created the Water Awareness Visitor Education (WAVE) Project. Guided by the philosophy of prevention through education, the program has presented safety-training sessions to Kauai residents, businesses, visitors and members of the tourism industry. In addition, it has developed materials like the Kauai Ocean Report, a north shore rip-current poster and ocean-safety videos.
As travel agents help their clients design a memorable — and safe — Kauai vacation, Kanoho points to several handy tools visitors can consult before venturing out.
For example, the Kauai Explorer website shares detailed information about hiking trails and beaches, including continuously updated reports about environmental conditions.
Kanoho also suggests that travel agents and their clients peruse the Travel Smart Hawaii website, which features extensive safety tips for outdoor recreation. The iPhone app Kauai Beach Guide provides a wealth of information about the island’s beaches, such as location, conditions, activities and facilities. It also offers color-coded designations to illustrate a beach’s safety level.
Trust the Tour Guides
The KVB team encourages travel agents and their clients to explore Kauai’s untamed natural beauty with reputable local tour companies, whose highly trained guides know the island inside and out.
If clients do prefer to set out on their own rather than with a tour guide, they should consult their hotel bellhop, front-desk staff or concierge desks first. Most accommodations provide ocean-safety information in guestrooms, helpful phone numbers and links to daily surf reports. In addition, the County of Kauai Facebook page posts real-time condition reports.
The bottom line is to not scare visitors, but simply prepare them for the best possible island experience.
“We encourage all travel agents to tell their clients about our two mantras: ‘Know Before You Go’ and ‘When in Doubt, Don’t Go Out,’” said Kanoho. “Using good judgment, exercising caution and being aware of the daily conditions are keys to having a wonderful vacation on Kauai.”