In endless pronouncements even in the past few days, from the hanging-from-a-thread Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and its marketing partners, the word is out, and the messaging is clear on just how they see Maui visitors in 2024. We’re calling it “arrival requirements,” inasmuch as here’s what HTA requests of Maui-bound travelers. This is part of the HTA approved “immediate six-month action plan for 2024 to help address major challenges” associated with Maui.
Maui walks a fine line between necessary tourism, long-suffering fire victims, overall housing shortages and irate anti-tourism advocates.
Using cloaked and potentially offensive terms, HTA says it only wants to attract “respectful” tourists to Maui. This comes as an element of their outreach campaign to both US and Canadian visitors. Canadian visitors typically make up just under 10% of Maui’s visitors and spend just under $1 billion annually. Meanwhile, massive US tourism has an annual estimated value of $16 billion.
Maui is welcoming visitors who are compassionate, who can come respectfully, who can really abide by some of the sensitivities and restrictions in place to protect the community at this time… So long as you do it mindfully. And so, for the time being, tourism’s role in helping Maui’s overall recovery is to ensure that the right kind of respectful visitor returns.”Ilihia Gionson, Hawaii Tourism Authority public information officer
Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to “encourage pono, mindful travel” to Maui.
Laura, a Beat of Hawaii reader responded, “We’ve been traveling “pono” to Maui for over 25 years. What can I expect when we arrive for our annual 3 week stay on January 12? An interrogation before being allowed to leave the airport??
We find the messaging strange and potentially offensive as, for many people, coming to Maui is to vacation in paradise and simply a step away from everyday life. It involves a long flight, expensive accommodations, and airfare. The money they spend contributes to the Maui economy to keep it strong, help locals have employment and provide social welfare benefits to many in need. When visitors are asked to change or confirm their vacation habits because of “sensitivities and restrictions,” this could backfire and send tourists elsewhere.
While HTA still does want to promote tourism, putting seemingly meaningless restrictions in these terms on which visitors it wants could simply turn people away. Visitors might also get the idea, based on this kind of messaging once again, that Maui isn’t really ready for visitors at this time. And that there is simply more that needs to be done before people can have the kind of vacation that they are used to having on Maui.
Hawaii Tourism Authority and HVCB still on the verge of being dismantled.
As the state prepares for the 2024 legislative year, there’s no doubt that HTA and HVCB could be heading to the chopping block once again. After nearly being terminated last year, the state’s tourism arm finds itself without a dedicated budget, and some legislators prefer that the job be handled under the state’s DBEDT (Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism).
After HTA’s prior CEO, John De Fries, left unexpectedly, when he announced he would not renew his contract earlier this year, the new chair, ex-Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann, hopes to be able to convince legislators to keep the long-embattled agency.
HTA holds hope that Maui’s problems could become its salvation.
Mufi recently said regarding the Maui situation, “I think we have an opportunity to use this crisis to demonstrate that there is a need for an HTA. This economic recovery plan that we came out with for Maui is a great example of how we went out there and listened. Even the group of protesters, we addressed one of their major concerns, which was a post-arrival educational program.”
Look for more news about Hawaii tourism, which will be in the news again in early January following a year of uncertainty about the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s future. And, as is always the case, the endless and often abrupt changes in both HTA and HVCB leadership positions are ongoing, and the HVCB long-term and highly paid President is also departing this week with an unknown replacement being sought.
Maui fire exacerbated pre-existing Maui tourism conflict.
For years before the fire, Maui tourism has been a mixed bag. While it is the sole economic driver both on Maui and in Hawaii statewide, tourism isn’t widely accepted by all residents. That’s been even more true with the post-Covid feverish pitch. Problems include primarily lower-paying jobs, the negative impact of tourism on the housing market, bad traffic, crowded beaches, and more. Maui has been challenged for years by the ever-increasing number of flights and visitors that the iconic island attracts. It is similar to other intensely in-demand visitor destinations globally, which have been overrun with visitors.
Maui’s tourism concerns were previously raised but never addressed.
Efforts have been made previously to limit visitors to around 33% of the island’s population, but tourism, other than post-fire, generally exceeds 45%. Additionally, there have been demands for halting the construction of new hotels.
At the same time, even Maui County council members are afraid of further damaging tourism. One said that visitors “are our #1 economic driver. They create jobs. So they’re very important to us. But people are saying we want to have a balance.”
Maui visitor arrivals are finally trending up.
At long last, the trend of fewer visitors on Maui is changing. As can be seen in the Hawaii DBEDT image above, they are much improved in the past month. After the Lahaina fire, the visitor count dropped to less than half of normal, before very slowly creeping back. It looks as if the return of visitors on Maui is finally in sight, although it will still take time for Maui tourism to be fully recovered.
Are you returning to Maui in 2024, and do you have any concerns?