After the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority initially asked all tourists to leave the island of Maui, Governor Josh Green invited visitors back to the island just two weeks later, citing the need for economic recovery.
That invitation did not include the west coast of Maui, however, where wildfires devastated the town of Lāhainā and surrounding areas.
Investigation and cleanup efforts were simultaneously underway, and many hotels in the area were closed, offering housing for displaced residents and emergency workers.
But yesterday, the Governor laid out his vision for tourism recovery and set October 8th as the target date for West Maui’s resort areas to reopen to visitors, once again citing concerns of economic loss.
“We’re… going to try to support families and businesses and everyone in their survival so… they also are able to survive economically,” Green said of the plans to reopen the resort areas.
The town of Lāhainā, however, will remain closed indefinitely.
“There of course will be no traffic to Lāhainā,” Green said. “Lāhainā is lost, but to the other parts of the region like Kaʻanapali and Kapalua, those parts of our state are going to be available for people to travel to again.”
The announcement comes as Hawaiʻi’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism released a new study that predicted a $2 billion loss and a sharp economic decline for the entire state.
For residents of Maui, the reactions are surely to be split. Tourism businesses have already been calling for visitors to return, and there’s no question that places like Kaʻanapali and Kapalua need visitors to avoid further economic loss.
However, Maui also remains in a state of mourning, with 115 people confirmed dead and approximately 1,500 homes destroyed (2,200 structures total).
What’s worse: Many of Maui’s political brass, including Mayor Richard Bissen, have come under fire for not answering basic questions about their response to the fire.
At least two officials have resigned thus far, prompting raised eyebrows and even a few conspriacy theories.
As I wrote at the end of August, the lack of clarity seems to be making Maui’s road to recovery longer, not shorter.
Governor Green is hoping that reopening parts of West Maui one month from today can be a step in the right direction. A lot can happen in a month. But there are still major hurdles to conquer, including the resettlement of each of the 1,500 families who lost their homes.
If you choose to visit Maui in the near future, I recommend a few things, regardless of where you stay:
1) Go with a heavy heart. Economic recovery is a real thing, and many companies will certainly appreciate your business. However, we recommend visiting with a heavy heart. That is, recognize that everyone you meet – including business owners – will have gone through a life-changing tragedy, perhaps even losing family members in the blaze. I suggest conducting yourself accordingly.
2) Contribute some of your time. Spending your money will help the local economy, but flaunting the fun in an over the top way may not be appropriate. I recommend dedicating a portion of your trip to lending a hand in the recovery effort. You can find organizations that need help on Maui here.
3) Stay away from Lāhainā. The last thing suffering residents need is people engaging in “disaster tourism” for the sake of their social media status. Keep clear of Lāhainā and avoid taking photos of the tragedy.