Less than three months after a deadly wildfire destroyed the town of Lahaina, all hotels in West Maui are now back open to the public.
The original timeline was thought to be a little longer, occurring in three phases over an extended period of time. But last week, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced, somewhat spontaneously, that the entire coast would be permitted to reopen to visitors on November 1 in order to restore the economy and get people back to work.
Visitation to Maui, and Hawaii in general, is down since the wildfires occurred in early August, and local projections estimate that it could take well into 2024 for those economic numbers to improve.
The fires are a big reason why less people are visiting Maui, but mixed messaging is also an issue, according to recent reports by the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
Indeed, it’s eye-popping to see how quickly media messaging can change in tourism. For example, in 2022, this article was published, citing concerns of overtourism and asking visitors to stay away from Maui. Flash forward a year, and this article spreads “a desperate plea” for tourists to return.
These reactionary takes are partly the product of our modern-day media, but also one of the many pitfalls of a tourism dependent economy, where the life of local people always seems to be at odds with the flow of tourism.
According to an article published by the Honolulu Star Advertiser on November 1st (“The Greatest Needs”), 56% of the fire victims are still in temporary housing, including hotels in West Maui. The three greatest needs expressed by these residents were financial recovery (26%), finding permanent housing (23%), and finding employment (9%).
The hope is that the reopening of the hotels will entice the return of more visitors, which will in turn help provide jobs and financial recovery to the island. Hotels and tourism stakeholders are obviously pleased by the news, since they previously lacked a clear timetable.
If you plan to visit Maui in the near future, I recommend heeding some advice to help make your trip as mutually beneficial as possible.