Benefit Cosmetics is facing critique after inviting influencers on a PR trip to Hawaii. It comes as people from the island are asking potential visitors not visit, due to overtourism.
Last year, the island struggled to cope with high levels of tourism demands as tens of thousands of extra US tourists left Hawaii in turmoil.
US travellers who were fully vaccinated were allowed to visit the island and skip quarantine and pre-flight testing last year. This, however, led to several complications across the Hawaiian islands, such as shortages of hospitality workers, congested roads and 90-minute restaurant times.
Local residents also reported water shortages, with some pointing to the longer term consequences of overtourism, including the displacement of natives to prioritise tourist attractions and the ruining of sacred sites. A petition calling for an end to overtourism has gained almost 2,000 signatures.
While the Hawaiian tourism board has not banned tourists, is has posted guides for those visiting on how to minimise their impact on the island. But on TikTok, some Hawaiians are urging tourists to stay away altogether.
However, Benefit Cosmetics recently took a group of influencers to the island despite the calls not to. On Instagram, the brand shared a post telling followers: “The Benebabes have landed in Hawaii” – though it’s yet to post any images or videos from the trip.
Benefit has long used Hawaiian culture within its marketing strategy. YouTube videos show the brand hosting influencers in Hawaii as far back as 2016. And though the brand has toned down its use of hula girls and lei garlands on products, you can still find plenty of examples on eBay. Fans were also encouraged to “say aloha” to two new shades of the brand’s Hoola bronzer in 2019.
The appropriation and commodification of traditional Hawaiian culture has long had its critics. This latest PR trip has only added fuel to the fire.
Comments on Benefit’s Instagram post include sentiments like: “You’re so out of touch…I’m embarrassed for you.”
Another user said: “But native Hawaiians are literally asking people not to go. Don’t tell me you ignored them? Why is your girly brand trip and coloniser mindset more important? What gives you………the right?”
This was followed by more critique on Twitter.
We asked Benefit Cosmetics for comment and a spokesperson claimed the team is “committed to supporting local communities in everything we do. Our global launch event in Hawaii is no different”.
“Across every touchpoint, we have partnered with cultural experts, local artisans, business owners, and entertainers from across the islands to ensure our time here is done responsibly and respectively,” they said.
“We have worked very closely and in dialogue with our partners and ensuring a cohesive working environment during our stay here. It is important to Benefit to organise meaningful activities and support the local organisations, the island’s coastal foundations and facilities including small businesses in Hawaii.”
Though we’re yet to see what the influencers have been up to, the spokesperson said activities were chosen to “pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders, recognising and celebrating the contributions, history, achievements, and cultures”.
They also said the brand has carried out a beach clean at Manele- Hulopoe Marine Life Conservation District and made a donation to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, alongside supporting a number of local businesses.
“As always, supporting local communities is key to everything we do,” they said.
But some of these efforts have still fallen short on social media. When Benefit shared a separate Instagram post spotlighting “treasures from our local Hawaiian friends”, someone replied: “It’s really shitty that you had to post this instead of just not having a brand trip at all.”