For its part, the American Red Cross says that the nearly 6,800 survivors being housed in nearly 40 Maui hotels—also called non-congregate sheltering—will continue to be prioritized as travel fully reopens. “Maui re-opening to tourism has no bearing on the non-congregate sheltering (NCS) operation,” says a statement from the American Red Cross. “The Red Cross and State of Hawaii are working together to negotiate extensions and contract details with multiple hotel groups. So long as hotels continue to make rooms available at reasonable costs, we will continue to operate NCS until all wildfire survivors have appropriate transitional housing solutions.”
Overall travelers should know that while the island needs visitors, only respectful behavior will be tolerated. “As we welcome people to our home, we want visitors to understand that our island is making its way through a devastating tragedy,” Bissen said. “The hope is that people will come to Maui with sensitivity and compassion.”
As part of the reopening, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has been distributing flyers and videos with advice for tourists on how exactly they can be compassionate travelers when visiting the island in the disaster’s aftermath. Here are some of the top ways to remain respectful and unobtrusive while supporting West Maui with tourism dollars.
Hospitality standards are first-class on Maui, but high-maintenance travelers should be gracious, and understanding of the service they receive—even if it isn’t perfect. “Make sure you’ve packed two things on a trip: patience and grace,” HTA says. “Expect to wait for longer than you’re used to for food or other services.” Numerous West Maui restaurants, tour companies, lodging rentals, shops, and other hospitality venues are just getting back on their feet. Some are not yet open—which could mean fewer options—and most workers are still grief-stricken. Exercise empathy when interacting with anyone and everyone.
Put your dollars into the local community
Wherever you travel, it’s important to support local businesses. But on a visit to Maui, it’s now crucial. “Across Maui, local businesses are struggling from lower visitor numbers,” says a September report from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. “The initial shock has sent the jobless rate surging, and Maui unemployment is forecast to soar above 11% in the fourth quarter [of 2023].” Putting money back into these businesses right now can help save livelihoods. Officials have put together Maui Nui First, an online database of local Maui businesses that visitors can patronize, including restaurants, hotels, shops, tour companies, art galleries, and more.
Volunteer—but only when and where it’s appropriate
Giving your time and resources to communities on the island is a good way to support residents and add meaning to your trip. But be sure to properly research which initiatives are accepting newbie volunteers to avoid being burdensome. “Hosting uninvited volunteers in direct recovery work may be difficult at this time,” the HTA says. Instead, look up efforts that are requesting volunteers and donations on the online database Maui Nui Strong.
Stay away from still-restricted Lahaina Town
Lahaina is still closed, and that means tourists should avoid interacting with the town in all capacities. “Do not enter Lahaina Town or take photos of the area, even from afar,” HTA advises. “Respect the privacy of survivors and the dignity of those who lost their lives.” Not only do you risk upsetting survivors, but you could also risk your own health: Conditions there are still hazardous, with toxins in the debris that bystanders could inhale.
Refrain from discussing the wildfire with locals
It’s natural to want to show empathy and ask residents about how the fires affected them. But officials say it’s best not to pry or ask intrusive questions regarding the catastrophe. “Do not ask about a resident’s personal experience with the disaster,” HTA says. “While a question such as ‘Were you impacted by the fire?’ may be intended to be supportive, many survivors are not ready to share their experiences with others.” Err on the side of caution and keep conversation topics elsewhere.
Be compassionate to residents who are still grieving
It may seem like common sense, but experts are warning tourists not to gawk at Maui residents who are still grieving. “If you come across a memorial service or other private gathering, leave the area immediately,” HTA advises. “Respect the gathered survivors and residents—do not take photos or videos.”
Even with conscientious travelers returning to stimulate the island’s tourism industry, Maui’s recovery is predicted to be slow. The University of Hawaii economic report estimates that it will take until the end of 2024 for Maui’s visitor arrivals to reach just 80 percent of last year’s levels. “Gains will be gradual thereafter, because of continued temporary housing needs and lingering reluctance of some travelers,” the report says. “Tourism businesses will remain under considerable economic pressure.” Given those statistics, it’s never been more important to be a sensitive and mindful tourist in the Hawaiian Islands.