Maui Tourism Crossroads | The Battle For Harmony And Recovery

Maui Tourism Crossroads | The Battle For Harmony And Recovery

In the never-ending debate exacerbated following this summer’s catastrophic fires on Maui, a highly divisive discourse continues as to whether tourists should visit the island in general and West Maui in particular. You’ll recall that a petition to delay reopening amassed more than 10,000 signatures. Amidst the devastation and personal and financial losses, strong and conflicting views have emerged, reflecting the broader complexities surrounding tourism in Hawaii.

Hawaii tourism’s double-edged sword.

Tourism has a dual nature, and nowhere is that more apparent than on Maui and in Hawaii moreover. Long before the fires, tourism in Maui had been generating concerns among residents. Issues like lower-paying jobs, negative housing market impacts, traffic, and crowded beaches had long fueled discontent and resentment.

Challenges resulted in abundant calls for change, including a reduction in visitors and hotel moratoriums. These went unheeded for years. Following the fires, the governor has suggested that one possible housing solution, at least for those displaced, may be a Maui vacation rental moratorium.

While conflicting perspectives on Maui visitors continue, tourism remains depressed.

As you can see in the most recent state of Hawaii visitor arrival information image, a full recovery on Maui isn’t occurring in the short term. It’s been suggested that it could take until at least 2025 for that to happen fully. The question of returning visitors following the catastrophic fires has further polarized prior opinions and negatively impacted visitors planning Maui vacations. While some voices advocate for a middle ground, many express their views in stark terms, leading to a complete lack of consensus and obfuscated messaging.

Countless diverse comments have run the gamut from middle-of-the-road to both extremes, which sums up those we continue to receive. Today, we heard from the following readers:

1. Tammy said, “There is definitely a rift between those living on Maui that want two opposite solutions. One camp wants tourism to increase to help small businesses, employees whose jobs depend on the hotel/condo tourism, restaurants, etc. The second camp is the Hawaiians living on Maui who do not want tourism to come back – period. One doesn’t have to go far on social media to read/hear the comments- Tourists are not wanted. I feel that unless the two sides come together tourism on Maui remains flat.”

2. Linda proffered, “We were already being overrun with tourists before COVID and the wildfires. Please put a moratorium in place to stop any additional tourist accommodations and attractions. Focus on rebuilding the community and infrastructure. We do not need to bring the world of visitors here.”

3. Sandi added: “This will end poorly. I can see Maui going to hell in a hand-basket. Gov. does not want to offend the locals, so he is iffy in his decision-making. Nothing is happening, nothing is helped… West Maui’s 109 square miles make up 15% of the island. But that small percentage, according to HTA, has caused Maui and statewide tourism to suffer.”

4. Vicki just returned from Maui saying, “Most locals were glad we were shopping, spending money and they were grateful for the work with the influx of visitors. A very complex situation and my heart goes out to all the people that were affected by this fire.”

Nita’s centrist view: A resident of Lahaina, Nita acknowledged the enormous suffering incurred yet anticipates and welcomes the return of tourism, placing emphasis on the importance of jobs for the local economy.

A visitors’ dilemma: One visitor among many in similar circumstances, RM, was planning a trip to Wailea (South Maui), but remains torn between canceling plans out of respect for the tragedy that occurred or proceeding in order to support local businesses and workers. These concerns are exacerbated by social media posts.

Residents call for mindful visitors: Many comments have suggested visitors participate as volunteers and be part of the solution on Maui, also emphasizing the need for respect during a prolonged mourning period.

A compassionate visitor perspective: Highlighting the economic impact, one visitor, Linda, suggests that a lack of tourism to West Maui has severe consequences and that visitors should still come, but adjust and show empathy.

A fine line viewpoint: A Hawaii-centric travel agent, Susan said that she walks a fine line, acknowledging the tragedy while emphasizing the importance of supporting operating businesses to keep them open and to aid recovery.

South Maui community Insights: Other Maui residents, including Jamie and Guy, expressed the need for respectful Maui visitors, stating the economic importance of maintaining viability, including to the physically unaffected south side of Maui.

Tourism’s Economic Significance: Acknowledging that tourism is the sole economic driver, even Maui’s county council has emphasized the need for balance, recognizing the tourism sector’s importance while still striving to find an equilibrium.

In the aftermath of the Maui fires the ongoing debate surrounding tourism in Hawaii has intensified.

As the island grapples with recovery in multiple ways, finding a delicate balance between economic necessities associated with tourism and the community’s well-being remains the challenging but crucial task ahead.

Please help us by sharing your thoughts on what should come next for Maui.

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57 thoughts on “Maui Tourism Crossroads | The Battle For Harmony And Recovery”

  1. I’m just finishing up a beautiful stay in Costa Rica! The people here are amazing! Reminds of years ago in Hawaii. It is a beautiful place with volcanoes on the Pacific, great local food, the service is way over the top.
    The natives here some of the healthiest in the world, their current oldest is 126. I’ll guarantee they don’t have Hawaiian travel guides steering up the mud.
    The staff are all very friendly and appreciative of the tourists! The tourists are the ones giving them a very high standard of living.
    Very little obesity in Costa Rica, wake up Hawaii!!

  2. You can do whatever you want. I spent a lot of money and I’ll never return.

    Most beautiful spot I’ve ever traveled.
    Best Poke’ Ever!
    Islanders hate me.
    Islanders were very rude and just expected my money.
    Crackheads were everywhere. No exaggeration.
    I felt unsafe especially in Hana. It’s obvious they take “locals only” seriously.
    I could not bring my handgun. Hawaii does not reciprocate with normal conceal and carry like other states.

  3. Tourism needs to be controlled, but it is about the Money. Maybe preserve certain areas from tourists and work on the housing issues.

  4. Hawaiian and Maui’ s Visitors bureau are still promoting and falsely advertising Lahaina as open. 10 square miles of Lahaina , over 2,000 houses, 50 boats , every Lahaina historic district site , 50 restaurants etc all burnt down.
    Kaanapali area has had 5 fires and 2 recent evacuations.
    Tourists are tired of paying 1st class prices on Maui , for 3rd world Infrastructure.
    Not one official, bureau, visitors article has admitted the continued fire risk, the lack of emergency training and procedures, the lack of fire equipment, the lack of evacuation procedures, lack of hospitals, worn out parks, and no water in the fire hydrants.

    1. I agree, Maui is not a safe place to visit. There are no life safety protocols in place. I would be willing to bet that the government is placing people in buildings without proper building fire sprinkler systems. They definitely don’t have enough water to extinguish a large hotel fire

  5. The threats issued by the governor and the mayor of Maui regarding STRs underscores the abject lack of leadership around the Maui fires. The shortage of residential housing did not happen overnight. It resulted from years of the kicking the can down the road, allowing massive hotel development without requiring these behemoths to solve the worker-housing shortages they were creating. To threaten individual STR owners who won’t “get with the(ir) program” is disgusting. Meanwhile I am sure they are raking in the lobbying dollars spent by hotels bent on continuing their free ride. Want the mom and pop STR owners to house displaced fire victims? Then cover their costs! Tax the hotels to generate the revenue. Grow a spine.

  6. Sadly, until Maui comes up with enough non tourist jobs to support their economy, they need tourists. Either enjoy them or leave Maui.

  7. The government of Hawaii need to stop legislating based on Social Media comments. The extremists should not be the matter of rule.

  8. Some of us are being priced out of a vacation to Maui, not by the locals, but by the condo owners who have raised prices exhoberantly to the extent of us going elsewhere. We love Maui and its residents and would love to visit and help out by spending money. We landed in August 2023 when the fires started and our condo rate was $300/night. The same condo is listed at $375 with higher fees and taxes, pushing the totals beyond what we are willing to pay. Not all of us previous visitors can afford the increase. We still pray for the victims of the Lahaina fires.

    1. I think that’s the intent. Whether intentionally or not, I think that Hawaii is effectively moving toward getting fewer, higher spending travelers. This would solve both the problem of maintaining the tourist based economy And reducing the impact on the environment as well as the overcrowding they have suffered from for years.

    2. Thank you for your thoughts.
      Maui has become a 3rd world destination at a 1st class price.
      Many hotels were allowed to tear down there hotel workers housing and build timeshare towers .
      Tourism revenue was not reinvested in Maui, it was spent on Oahu. The housing shortage was increased by the County of Maui allowing long term housing in houses, condos and farms convert to vacation rentals . There was no shortage of hotel rooms , vacation zoned condos but someone benefitted as Maui lost,!

  9. I agree with the “going to hell in a handbasket” comment above.
    Unless Maui leaders quickly put together a believable plan for 3000 new single family residences in 18-24 months, no one will rent to fire victims. Without an exit strategy, this plan is doomed to bring hurt to all parties.
    Maui deserves better leadership but has never had it, too much crony-ism.

  10. The tourism now is tolerable for the first time in many years.
    We have to live our lives here without feeling overrun by tourism.

    1. I’m curious which demographic you would describe yourself as. Are you retired, semi retired, financially dependent, self employed or a professional/contractor ultimately funded by tax revenues. Time does not turn a decade or tens of decades to a pastoral pre European age when life was simple, population low and resources abundant. The economic engine of West Maui was destroyed August 2023 as well as the homes of most of its local residents. Leadership of Maui needs to open a form for written submission by every property owner and resident alike to understand better, develop a plan, create a new community, more inclusive, more sustainable and one which enhances local pride and welcomes visitors again to enrich life for everyone.

    2. I’m curious which demographic you would describe yourself as. Are you retired, semi retired, financially dependent, self employed or a professional/contractor ultimately funded by tax revenues. Time does not turn back a decade or tens of decades to a pastoral pre European age when life was simple, population low and resources abundant. The economic engine of West Maui was destroyed August 2023 as well as the homes of most of its local residents. Leadership of Maui needs to open a forum for written submission by every property owner and resident alike to understand better, develop a plan, create a new community, more inclusive, more sustainable and one which enhances local pride and welcomes visitors again to enrich life for everyone.

  11. Yes the Maui fires are very sad indeed. I really do not know what the local residences folks affected by the fires are going to do ; it is a sad state of affairs . I say to all who are pondering traveling to Maui “live your life and just Go ! Enjoys the incredible wonders of the Valley Island . I spent 24 days in Lahaina area (Ka’anapali) & (Hana) Oct. 20th to Nov. 12th 2023. I was met with very friendly Maui locals some were just so nice it was touching . I also am perceptive and I definitely got the feeling from some that were not welcoming and I had a few yell profanities. But while it bothered me at the ignorance and lack of emotional intelligence , I will turn the other cheek and enjoy Maui and try to be supportive. I am going back

  12. Just got back from Kaanapali. Our 7th trip to the state, 2nd to Maui. Despite the tragedy, Maui is beautiful, majestic and glorious. Glad we didn’t cancel.
    They need you.
    This trip was unique because I was not expecting pure escape – I was angry before and after. Angry for the loss of life&livelihood. These fires could have been prevented & the govt doesn’t know what they’re doing, seemingly unable to do right by anyone. All these beautiful people who are dealing with their lives changed, those not directly impacted also completely stressed. Everyone was so lovely but they are upside-down surviving for now.

    1. The New governor, Josh Green has just started his term in office. Give him a chance to solve issues. Problems have existed for years and years. Infrastructure is lacking especially the electrical grid and water systems. It will take time to improve.

  13. There has to be a meeting of the minds. The left hand holds natives with long term tourist frustration dating back from the 18th century and the right hand smartly understands that tourism and military defense are the two largest sectors. Albeit, both have taken a huge environmental toll. Hawaiʻi is getting drier and hotter so the climate change needs immediate attention to protect the fragile islands whether tourism regains strength or not. The flora and fauna need more rest than the locals. Toss a coconut, I don’t see an easy or longterm remedy to this difficult situation.

    1. The most important thing we can all do is to get involved and support climate change initiatives. Do what you can as residents and property owners to reduce your carbon footprint. Learn enough about politics to identify which party and person has the planet and climate change as a priority. Instead of empty plantation fields growing dry weeds and brush, how about installing fields of solar panels to lessen the need for burning oil to generate electricity. I’m sure if we put our heads together we can plan and build wonderful solutions for the future of this fragile Island paradise.


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