Less is more, especially when it concerns the group size of a
“Ecotourism is essentially about education and personal
experience, which is best communicated in small groups of
participants,” says Annette Kaohelaulii, president of the Hawaii
Ecotourism Association and owner of Annette’s Adventures, an
Oahu-based travel agency specializing in personalized ecotours.
“The ideal size group for an ecotour is 10 participants. Depending
on the mode of transportation and the costs involved, six might be
a minimum and 10 or 12 the maximum number for a group,” she
“The guide’s interpretation is so important. Talking to a larger
group is difficult and impersonal.”Kaohelaulii says the ideal
ecotour would have one guide for every 10 passengers.”
The Hawaii Ecotourism Association defines ecotourism as “nature-
and culture-based tourism that is ecologically sustainable and
supports the well-being of local communities.” Under the ecotourism
umbrella, the association also includes agri-tourism, edu-tourism
and health and wellness tourism . The Hawaii Visitors &
Convention Bureau is looking to ecotourism as a way of developing
and enhancing new tourism products that emphasize the islands’
natural history and Hawaiian culture.
The islands’ ecosystems, which are based on the land and sea,
are some of the most distinct in the world; and Hawaii’s culture
has always had great visitor appeal.
Observers believe ecotourism has the potential to attract
visitors who will return again and again to different islands to
explore Hawaii’s nature and culture.
Typically, Hawaii’s ecotour clients are couples in their late
50s who like the outdoors, but desire comfort. They are college
educated, their children are grown and they have the time and the
expendable income to explore.
Other clients include young women or couples in their late 30s
or early 40s who are adventurous and interested in discovering the
“The best candidates for ecotours are experienced travelers and
adventure seekers who are looking for something different,” said
Kaohelaulii. The most popular eco-adventures in Hawaii are hiking,
snorkeling, wildlife-watching and bicycling tours.
Small groups not only offer the best opportunity to listen to
the naturalist guides, but sharing experiences with like-minded
travelers enables the group to bond.
These ecotour operators specialize in small-group experiences of
10 or fewer passengers:
Bike Hawaii, Guided mountain-bike tours and hikes on
Hawaiian Island Eco-Tours, Expert narration on guided hikes
featuring rainforest, waterfalls, bird-watching, coastal
exploration and archaeological sites on Oahu, 808-236-7766,
Mauka Makai Excursions, Short hikes on a guided Oahu tour to
places featured in Hawaiian myths and legends,877-326-6248,
Wild Side Specialty Tours, Trips along the leeward coast of Oahu
with marine biologists to see whales and dolphins in the open sea,
Maui Eco-Adventures, Guided adventures featuring hiking, biking
and kayaking in a variety of Maui
The Maui Horse Whisperer Experience and Adventures on Horseback.
Horse mastery using the famed “Horse Whisperer” approach as well as
adventurous oceanfront rides,808-572-6211, www.mauihorses.com.
Paths in Paradise, Guided hikes featuring Maui’s birds, plants
and culture,808-573-2022, www.mauibirdhikes.com.
Temptation Tours, Guided sightseeing and hiking tours on Maui
via luxury limo-vans,800-817-1234, www.temptationtours.com.
Hawaii Forest & Trail, Variety of guided adventure trips
around the Big Island, such as bird-watching, waterfall hikes,
rainforest walks, mule rides, lava tube exploration and stargazing
on Mauna Kea, 800-464-1993, www.hawaii-forest.com.
Hawaiian Walkways, Guided hiking adventures on the Big
Trekking Hawaii, Hiking and kayaking treks on the Big Island,
Esprit De Corps Riding Academy, Guided horseback trail rides,
Kauai Nature Tours, Guided nature trips with short
Kayak Kauai Outbound, Outdoor programs feature river and sea
kayaking, hiking, biking and surfing, 800-437-3507,
For more information on Hawaii ecotour operators: