As crews wrap up their work in clearing toxic debris from Maui’s devasted Lahaina, Hawaiian travel officials are asking tourists to return to the devasted destination — as long as they follow a solemn rule: “Respect the west but visit the rest.”
“The best thing people can do right now to support Maui’s recovery is to come visit,” said Ilihia Gionson, spokesperson for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Maui has struggled to recover from a devastating wildfire that killed more than 100 people and leveled the historic town of Lahaina. The island’s western area is losing about $9 million a day. Visitors throughout the island have dropped from 8,000 people arriving a day to a mere 2,000.
With the decrease in tourism, many owners have been confronted with the difficult choice of laying off employees or shuttering their businesses.
“If you just lost your house, the last thing you need is to then lose your job,” said Gionson.
In a newly released map, the Hawaii Tourism Authority showed the areas of west Maui where hotels are not accepting reservations. However, it shows that most of the island remains open to tourists.
Travel expert Johnny Jet said the demand has dropped significantly, with roundtrips from LAX to Maui totaling less than $200.
“You don’t see it that low,” said Jet.
The lack of travelers has also made rental cars readily available.
“If you remember, just two years ago, you could not even get a rental car,” Jet said. “You had people renting U-Haul trucks.”
The travel expert added that many airlines are offering waivers to reschedule or even a refund if tourists decide to postpone an already planned trip. However, many of his friends in the travel industry are echoing pleas for visitors to return.
“Tourism really is the lifeblood of that area,” said Jet. “Just again, be respectful.”
He claimed that some residents have grown frustrated with tourists complaining about closures and low staffing.
“Just go there, give it your support, give your love and help them out,” said Jet. “Go to the parts they need you and stay away from the parts they also need you to stay away from.”
Gionson echoed Jet’s comments.
“Come with compassion. Come with respect,” he said. “Pack your patience. Pack your grace.”