Ah, the influencer trip. Once upon a time it was a seemingly innocent affair: models and others who’d garnered several thousand followers would jet off to a new hotel, festival, or fashion launch (*hosted, obv) to give brands exposure in exchange for a free stay and, often, a fee.
But the simplicity of the concept seems to have waned. Recently, influencers have suffered everything from the biblical disaster of Fyre Festival to the more recent chaos of Revolve Fest. No water, no buses, and no aspirational content for consumers to guzzle up.
And Benefit are the latest brand to come under fire for influencer trip controversy after they took a group of content creators to Hawaii for the launch of their new blush range. ‘The Benebabes have landed in Hawaii,’ read the sugary Instagram announcement as outrage brewed in the comments over the destination choice.
For context, Hawaii was inundated with tourists when it became one of the only places vaccinated US travellers could visit without pre-flight testing or quarantine during the pandemic. As visitor numbers rose, hospitality staff struggled to cope, traffic rose to an unmanageable level and wait times at restaurants approached the two-hour mark.
Hawaii residents also said there were water shortages and that the inundation of visitors left natives displaced, with sacred sites on the island subsequently in disrepair. Eventually, a petition demanding the end of overtourism garnered close to 2,000 signatures.
Technically, the Hawaiian tourism board is yet to ban visitors completely – meaning, legally, Benefit have done nothing wrong. Yet, ethically, the internet is questioning the brand’s decision to go ahead with the influencer trip despite warnings from the people that live there.
‘Unbelievable,’ wrote one user beneath a video of a model dressed as a mermaid playing a ukulele on the deck of a cloudy boat trip. ‘The environmental impact for this PR trip must be immeasurable,’ they added. ‘Hawaii asked for a temporary cease on all tourism and you ignored it… for this?’
‘Planning an influencer trip to Hawaii after people have made it explicitly clear that the island can’t accommodate any more tourists is so evil,’ added another. ‘True colonising spirit alive and well,’ claimed a third. ‘Not only did you not listen but you did it for this content that could have literally been [filmed] in Bognor Regis,’ swiped a fourth.
Anthropologist Rajindra Puri told Grazia: 'It's important to take seriously what indigenous peoples say, as all around the world, they are facing severe challenges due to the impacts of cultural appropriation in the name of tourism, perhaps none more so than Native Hawaiians, who have been struggling for cultural and political sovereignty for more than a century.
'It seems only fair that we should all consider the effects of the trips we choose to make,' he added.
‘The tourism economy has been hurting our home – It has been for a long time,’ the Hawaii Green Fee movement explained of the issue on TikTok. ‘Our solution is where tourists pay a fee to give back to our environment & culture when they arrive…Green fees are actually used across the world and they’re shown to work…We’re all in this together and we need your help.’
In response, Benefit say they’ve donated to the organisation Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. 'We are committed to supporting local communities in everything we do,' they told Grazia. 'We have partnered with cultural experts, local artisans, business owners, and entertainers from across the islands to ensure our time here is done responsibly.'