person in a green shirt tending to garden of crops
(Photo credit: GoFarm Hawaiʻi)

Tourists to Hawaiʻi from the continental U.S. are willing to pay more for locally-sourced foods while on vacation in the islands to help the state become a more sustainable tourism destination, according to a new study in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, co-authored by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa experts.

More than 78% of the survey’s 454 respondents said they would be willing to pay a premium or higher price for locally-grown food. Of that, about 40% said they are willing to pay up to 5% more, 23% are willing to pay between 6–10% more, 16% are willing to pay 11–15% more and 10% are willing to pay 16–25% more for locally-sourced food.

“The results of this study provided quantitative evidence that U.S. tourists are interested in purchasing locally grown food items in Hawaiʻi, in addition to their willingness to pay an additional fee for these locally-grown food products at a restaurant or a hotel dining room, to help Hawaiʻi maintain its long-term tourism viability. These findings address a major gap in current tourism research,” said Jerry Agrusa, study co-author and UH Mānoa School of Travel Industry Management (TIM) professor in the Shidler College of Business.

Tourism policy implications

Hawaiʻi welcomed more than 10 million visitors to the state in 2019, the most recent year unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, up to 90% of Hawaiʻi’s food is imported and shipping all the food to the islands creates a major carbon footprint. According to experts, making adjustments to Hawaiʻi’s food supply is an opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint and become a more sustainable destination.

The researchers hope that the results from the study will help tourism leaders explore whether there are opportunities to better integrate sustainable food consumption and production into the tourist experience. While tourists from the continental U.S. remain the top market for Hawaiʻi, the study noted that future research should focus on the international tourist markets, which may have different social norms or cultural differences, providing a broader spectrum of the current study’s findings.

Supporting sustainable tourism

In a broader perspective, more than 70% of respondents indicated that they are willing to pay an additional charge to support long-term sustainable tourism in Hawaiʻi. A majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it is vital for the tourism sector to encourage environmentally-friendly tourism practices in Hawaiʻi.

Co-authors in the study include: Giulio Ronzoni, TIM instructor; Cathrine Linnes from Østfold University College in Norway; Jeffrey Thomas Weinland from the University of Central Florida; and Joseph Lema from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Agrusa has integrated this research paper into his fall 2022 TIM 313 course Food Service Management, and the students are using the study to figure out ways to support local farmers and locally-grown food. Agrusa said this is an example of how academic research can compliment classroom teaching and spur enthusiasm for student learning.

—By Marc Arakaki