This is a letter from a woman that wants to know about starting an eco tourism business in Hawaii after her and her family move to the islands. I didn’t know how to answer to give her anything to go on really, except a healthy dose of reality… Hawaii is not the place to start a business where you are not already an absolute expert, or, you just have heaps of cash to throw to advertise.

Her letter to me:

Hi my name is Amy, and I was hoping you could help me figure somethings out. I am currently pregnant and me and my husband are very happy but are concerned because he has to work out of town all the time, so we’re fearful he will, because of money, never be able to spend time with us. I am currently working on and close to getting a degree in Parks, Tourism, and Recreation. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Maui and both loved the snorkeling trip we went on. I am very much interested in Eco-tourism and loved that on our trip they taught us about the sea life and we even got to sign petitions! What I want to know is how possible is it for us to fulfill our dream of moving to Hawaii, any island, and starting our own snorkeling business so that we can spend time together as a family everyday and be doing something good for the environment?

Hope to hear from you soon,
Amy W.

My response

Hi Amy,

Sorry I couldn’t find time to respond for so long. I have so much going on here and I don’t really think I know how I might help you get started.

Eco-tourism in Hawaii is a very hotly contested area of business. I mean, plainly, there is a lot of competition. I don’t know anything about helping you start a successful business there, but I will tell you my thoughts about moving to Hawaii to start an eco-tourism business.

1. You’d want to have locals working the tours. Visitors to Hawaii love to have locals (Hawaiians) working tours and showing them their islands. Sure, they’ll go on tours with caucasian owners from California, but really – tourists prefer an eco tourism experience to include locals- that means you’ll probably be hiring some.

2. Companies that start out in the eco-tourism industry seem to be one of two kinds:
A.) Locals with very little money, that just start doing it out of their home. They have connections to tour groups, sales companies, because they live there and locals love to help other locals when possible. The business grows very slowly over time, and eventually makes enough money to hire on a couple more guides.
B.) Mainlanders come in with a lot of cash to start a business, spend a lot on advertising, think little of building relationships, or get not very far in spite of trying, and the business either makes it or breaks it. Usually – breaks it.

3. Sometimes big companies, hotels even, contract some guides to help them when they have groups of people that want a certain tour. Some guides freelance for many different places and make enough to survive.

4. “Eco” bike tours on Haleakala – this consists of a van that drives up a group of cyclists to the top of the volcano, and they coast down – fast. There are a lot of liabilities for this activity, a death every now and then. Crashes rather often. There is intense competition in this area – probably impossible to break in.

5. Snorkel tours are run by those with a lot of money that can buy a boat. There are already more snorkeling tours than you can imagine, on all the islands – can you break in and succeed despite all the competition? Personally, I would never try. It would be an exercise in futility.

It must be the dream of many people that vacation in Hawaii – and want to return to live there and do something good for the environment. I am at a loss as to what the best business would be to start to accomplish this. When I look at Hawaii, with the eye for business ideas that might work, I only look at things that nobody is doing, or that nobody is doing exceptionally well. There is so much competition in Hawaii from people that have heaps of cash – coming from mainland USA, that want to start their own business. Areas like snorkeling, bike tours down volcanoes, kayak tours, etc, – are already being done – and done extremely well. It would take so many years to break into an area like that and make enough to survive – you would lose money for many years first. Not my idea of a fun business. When moving to Hawaii, I would STRONGLY suggest you have the money to move first, not plan on making it once you get there with your new business.

Attempting to start a snorkeling business in Hawaii is like trying to start up a newspaper stand in New York City. It’s being done. It’s being done very, very well, and there isn’t room for anybody new in the business. It’s a sad fact, but there is very little opportunity in Hawaii for anyone that wants to start a business doing the exact same thing that many people are already doing – well.

Instead, try to find something that nobody is doing – and that might work. It’s risky – but probably much riskier to try to go head to head with those that already have successful businesses in a niche area like eco tours, snorkeling tours.

I don’t know how else to help except to try to give you a bit of my own ideas about starting a business in Hawaii. It’s incredibly difficult if you don’t have truckloads of cash to spend on advertising – both online and print.

Best of Life – Aloha!

Peter Kay