Ecotourism Favors Small Group Travel

Sherrie Strausfogel Less is more, especially when it concerns the group size of a Hawaii ecotour. “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

By: Sherrie Strausfogel

Less is more, especially when it concerns the group size of a Hawaii ecotour.

“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 said.

“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 real Hawaii.

“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 Oahu,877-682-7433, www.bikehawaii.com.

Hawaiian Island Eco-Tours, Expert narration on guided hikes featuring rainforest, waterfalls, bird-watching, coastal exploration and archaeological sites on Oahu, 808-236-7766, www.hikeoahu.com.

Mauka Makai Excursions, Short hikes on a guided Oahu tour to places featured in Hawaiian myths and legends,877-326-6248, www.oahu-ecotours.com.

Wild Side Specialty Tours, Trips along the leeward coast of Oahu with marine biologists to see whales and dolphins in the open sea, 808-306-7273, www.sailhawaii.com.

Maui Eco-Adventures, Guided adventures featuring hiking, biking and kayaking in a variety of Maui locations,877-661-7720,www.ecomaui.com.

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 Island,800-457-7759, www.hawaiianwalkways.com.

Trekking Hawaii, Hiking and kayaking treks on the Big Island, 808-990-6699, www.trekkinghawaii.com.

Esprit De Corps Riding Academy, Guided horseback trail rides, 808-822-4688, ww.kauaihorses.com.

Kauai Nature Tours, Guided nature trips with short hikes,888-233-8365, www.teok.com.

Kayak Kauai Outbound, Outdoor programs feature river and sea kayaking, hiking, biking and surfing, 800-437-3507, www.kayakkauai.com.

For more information on Hawaii ecotour operators: www.hawaiiecotourism.org.

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