"...people today seem to want instant answers, I find that when I get in the car to go call them, they have already booked elsewhere...I do have a business page on Facebook but even though I get lots of "likes" I do not think I have gotten a reservation through that. Trip Advisor has been both good and bad. Unhappy people are quick to post a bad review, quite often unfair..."
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia moved to Hawaii over 40 yrs ago from Washington State. After creating a public botanical garden in Maui, and with her children growing up and leaving home, she decided to turn it into an off-grid B&B, the Hana Maui Botanical Gardens B& B / Vacation Rentals. It is mostly appreciated by green-minded guests who have no insect phobias, as she is against insecticides. JoLoyce has played a leading role in local conservation efforts in Hana and has been an active member of ECOCLUB.com since 2001.
ECOCLUB.com: What first attracted you to Hawaii and how did you decide to become a Lodge owner?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: I met my first husband, Newton Kekahio, in Alaska where my parents had moved and I was working in the summer. He was working for my father in the chemistry lab. After I helped him return to school and graduate, we moved to Hawaii and he became a teacher. We adopted 4 children of mixed nationalities. It is very common to be of mixed nationality in Hawaii. That makes for wonderful food opportunities and interesting neighbors! Many years later, I was remarried to John Kaia, who was pure Hawaiian and from Maui. He, also, had 4 children that I helped raise. We purchased land in Hana, Maui and gradually built a large home and planted fruit trees first so we could eat and then planted flowers from all over the tropical world. We made a public botanical garden and I had a small flower bouquet business and I worked in another botanical garden. I had always been intrigued by bed and breakfast stays, so when the children had left, we decided to have people stay in the big house. This was really fun to meet people from all over the world and we became friends with many of these people. John had built a stable for our horses, but had taken a construction job on another Island. So I had the bright idea to turn the stable into a studio for B&B. It turned out nice and when John got home, he said the horses would enjoy it, too. Because this was much more comfortable for everyone, we added another studio to the first one. However, John passed away in 2001 and I have been amazed to find myself still here but a lot more challenge.
ECOCLUB.com: Hawaii's economy is heavily dependent on Tourism but there is criticism about Hawaii's tourism model in environmental circles, in particular about the lack of zoning legislation and the unchecked development of luxury resorts and holiday homes which has displaced native Hawaiian communities. According to official survey figures a significant number of Hawaii residents believe tourism negatively impacts (increases) crime and the cost of housing and that it also threatens the preservation of Hawaiian culture. Prominent radical critics such as Professor Haunani-Kay Trask have dismissed Hawaiian tourism altogether as 'prostituting indigenous culture', corporate-dominated and colonialist. With your hands-on experience as the proprietor and operator of two B&Bs on different islands, but also as an active conservationist, what is your personal assessment?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: I believe that tourism is very beneficial to everyone. It helps local businesses to survive. Ms. Trask's mother was from Hana and I worked for her uncle, Howard Cooper, who had a large nursery and opened his gardens to the tourists. I believe that it is very important in any local area to encourage the local culture because that is what makes that area unique. I think Hawaii has been very good about doing this and does encourage the local culture in many ways.
ECOCLUB.com: From your experience, to what extent is Hawaii an equitable, multi-cultural society today? is this reflected in how the tourism sector is structured, for example by the levels of ownership of tourism businesses among the many ethnicities? Are there key initiatives to assist native Hawaiians set up tourism businesses, private or community ones, and is such assistance needed?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: There are several entities that help Hawaiians and other locals to set up businesses in tourism. It is very helpful to the people who need the education and the loans and it also helps the community it serves.
ECOCLUB.com: What are the main environmental challenges in Hawaii, islands particularly rich in endemic fauna & flora (some of which is present in your botanical gardens in Hana) and how satisfied are you with current state and regional policies to tackle them?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: Our biggest challenge is invasive species. Because there is so much travel today, it brings in plant virus, harmful insects to plants and invasive plants themselves. There is not enough money available to protect us from this happening. The African Tulip Tree was brought in as a decorative tree. However, it is extremely invasive and difficult to eradicate. The legislature gave money to eradicate Miconia which was so destructive in other places to the native forests, but no money was given for eradicating African Tulip trees. My gardens are overrun and it is so difficult to get rid of them. They regrow when cut down, both the trunk and the stump. And girdling does not kill them. The only remedy has been to drill holes and put strong poison while they are still standing and even this does not always work. The Hana Highway has been taken over by the African Tulip Trees. It is totally out of control.
ECOCLUB.com: Which are the main environmental qualities of your Lodges and do you feel they are fully understood and appreciated by the majority of your guests?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: Since I do live beyond the electrical lines, I have solar electricity and a generator. Most people do understand because I am careful to explain my situation in advertising. However, there are a few people who just don't get it and leave porch lights on when they go to dinner or leave the lights on in the room and charge appliances off of the solar batteries. Mostly, this is because it acts normal and they just forget. And because this is the semi tropics, we have lots of the semi tropics critters. I don't like to poison the room and try to take care of it naturally but leave a can of Raid for people who feel they must have something. Most people are OK with this but a few are very unhappy.
ECOCLUB.com: Would you say that the Internet, and more recently social media and review sites have significantly changed the way you promote your Lodges, and if so have they made your work easier of more difficult?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: The internet has been helpful for advertising and getting reservations. However, because I do not have a phone connection at home, and people today seem to want instant answers, I find that when I get in the car to go call them, they have already booked elsewhere. I do explain this in both my phone message and when I answer with E-mail. I do have a business page on Facebook but even though I get lots of "likes" I don't think I have gotten a reservation through that. Trip Advisor has been both good and bad. Unhappy people are quick to post a bad review, quite often unfair. But I have to ask happy people to please post Trip Advisor for me and quite often, they don't know how to do it. Those are the only ones that I do.
ECOCLUB.com: An outsider, particularly an unemployed or an overexploited intern, may at this point still think you have a dream job in paradise! What would you advise them if they wanted to try their luck in operating a small B&B in Hawaii and beyond? What key qualities and skills should they possess, assumed that they can find funding and local partners?
JoLoyce Hunter-Kaia: Unless they have enough money to buy out an established vacation rental, it would be very difficult. The permit process is very hard and complicated and different on every Island. I think the most important thing is to be very clean and to have patience with people who are not happy.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much.