December 2, 2023

Travel Hawaii

It's Your Travel Hawaii

How To Work Volunteer Hours Into Your Hawaii Vacation

Malama Hawaii is a public-private partnership that matches vacationers with volunteer opportunities in the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiian lei girl offering flowers on a beach in Hawaii

The merging of tourism and volunteerism has been on the rise in recent years, and there’s even a name for it: voluntourism. It refers to an industry niche that enables travelers to combine a vacation with a volunteer activity that’s geared toward the greater good.

In Hawaii, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has created unique partnerships with several major hotels that offer vacation bonuses, such as free nights or discounted rates, to tourists who book the properties and spend a few hours during their vacation volunteering with one of the authority’s participating nonprofits.


The program is called Malama Hawaii, and its name tells the story. According to the tourism authority, Malama is the Hawaiian word for “giving back,” and explains the concept this way: “When you give back to the land, the ocean, the wildlife, the forest, the fishpond, the community, you’re part of a virtuous circle that enriches everything and everyone. Including your experience as a visitor.”

Related: 10 Reasons Why Now Is The Perfect Time to Visit Hawaii

Tourists Can Select A Project Offered By Their Hotel

Vacationers can choose from many hotels that have signed on to the program and select a volunteer project that interests them. A bunch of options is offered, including projects at Hawaii Legacy Reforestation Initiative, the Maui Food Bank, the Maui Humane Society, the Pacific Whale Foundation, the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, to name a few.

Some projects are as simple as litter cleanup at a beach or helping out at a community garden, while others are more physically challenging, such as removing invasive plants in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. One popular option offers vacationers a chance to work on maintenance projects aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, where they might paint, sand, clean, or sweep and get to see parts of the ship not open during tours for the public.

Free Nights, Rate Discounts Among Hotel Bonuses

Most participating hotels are luxury level and offer specific volunteer projects for their guests. Others allow guests to volunteer for any of the nonprofits in the program. Here are some sample hotel offers, along with a standard nightly rate for each property.

  • Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa participates in several programs, including watershed conservation programs and opportunities at the Maui Food Bank. Guests who volunteer for any of the projects and who book five nights at the hotel earn 5,000 bonus World of Hyatt points. The property’s rates start at about $600.

  • Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa offers a fourth night free and daily breakfasts for two when volunteers sign up with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative and help to restore a native forest or plant and dedicate a native tree. Rates at the hotel start at about $320.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua, offers the fifth night free for guests who participate in a self-directed beach cleanup. Its nightly rate starts at around $800.
  • The Kahala Hotel & Resort in Honolulu will deduct 15 percent off the room rate for guests who volunteer for projects offered by the organization Travel2Change. Hotel rates start at about $545.

  • The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, partners with the Genki Ala Wai Project, an organization that aims to use bioremediation technology to transform Waikiki’s Ala Wai Canal into an attraction for swimming and fishing. Guests who participate in the initiative will contribute $10 to the project for each night of their stay at the hotel. The hotel will match the guest’s $10 donation to the project and award the guest a nightly $20 resort credit that can be used for parking or for dining at resort restaurants or poolside or for in-room dining. The nightly rate for this program is about $500.

Related: Hawaii Guide: Where To See Honolulu’s Best Views

  • Fairmont Orchid, on the Big Island, offers the fifth night free and free breakfasts for guests who volunteer for any of the participating groups. The hotel’s nightly rate is about $550.
  • Haiku House Maui, a private luxury estate, offers the eighth night free when guests volunteer for Common Ground Collective in the harvesting of produce from the estate grounds. A portion of the harvests is donated to local food banks and needy families. Potential guests must call the Haiku House for rate information.

Check Out These Native Hawaiian Traditions

Travelers to Hawaii who may be unfamiliar with some common native traditions and greetings can take advantage of these local tips.

  • Hula is traditionally performed for religious purposes, as well as for entertainment, and requires training and technical skill. Hulu teachers are called Kumu.

  • Hawaiian parties are called pāʻina (dinner party) or ʻahaʻaina (feast) but evolved in contemporary usage into a luau.

Related: 10 Free Things To Do In Hawaii That Are Surprisingly Fun

  • The honi ihu, meaning the touching of noses, is a traditional greeting across the islands.
  • The lei, either in garland or wreath form, is typically made from flowers, bird feathers, seeds, and shells and is a symbol of Hawaii. It traditionally was an ornament used by native Hawaiians to indicate a rank, such as a chief, for instance.