West Maui Reopening With Harsh Prospects, 3% Occupancy

Maui Turmoil: Mayor’s Contentious “Junket” Amid Rental Cuts, Fire Mishandling

Amidst unending scrutiny over his handling of the Lahaina fire, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen has ignited further controversy with a reportedly all-expenses-paid trip to Japan with select associates. This development comes at a time of turbulence when Maui faces significant changes, including a disputed plan to reduce vacation rentals by 50% within the next 18 months, a move with substantial implications for tourists and huge implications on the local economy.

The timing of Mayor Bissen’s trip can’t help but raise questions about priorities and optics, especially in light of the avalanche of recent criticism of his leadership during Maui’s worst crisis, the Lahaina fire. You’ll recall that the mayor didn’t declare a disaster, saying it was “not necessary,” declined state help, at times could not be located, didn’t communicate with Hawaii Emergency Management, and only signed an emergency order hours after the entire town of Lahaina had already burned to the ground.

The Lahaina fire resulted in the death of more than 100 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. The economic loss is estimated at some $6 billion. There are no words to express the gravity of the situation, not only for those directly affected on Maui but the impact on all Hawaii residents.

Japan junket comes at a seemingly highly inappropriate time for Maui.

With the island and the entire state still reeling from the aftermath of the wildfires that destroyed historic Lahaina, the decision for this kind of highly visible, expensive no matter who pays, international travel junket seems highly questionable at best, given widespread, openly expressed frustration.

The delegation from Maui was reported by multiple sources to have visited Fukushima to learn how to help Maui recover based on learning from the earthquake-stricken area.

The group included some 20 people, including Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and state Rep. Troy Hashimoto. “Bissen said he felt from the bottom of his heart efforts made by people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and that he is determined to make use of what they learned and apply it to Maui’s recovery.”

The trip was commissioned by Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

The significant impact of the trip on Maui tourism, as well as on resident sentiment, may not have been thoroughly considered. The perception of Maui’s leadership during times of trouble is, of course, important to Hawaii visitors. Tourists rightly seek stability and good governance when choosing a destination, particularly in an area that has been so recently impacted by a natural disaster.

Junket in relation to Maui vacation rental reduction plan.

The mayor’s trip also sits juxtaposed with severe measures planned to impact the vacation rental market. In multiple ways it paints a picture of an administration out of touch with the needs of both residents and Maui visitors.

The plan to slash vacation rentals by half adds another layer of controversy to popular Maui vacations. Proponents of the ban that is awaiting county approval argue that it is necessary to preserve Maui’s environment and community, while opponents see it as a drastic measure that could widely damage the island’s tourism-dependent economy.

This policy, which aligns with others globally, could indeed lead to significant changes in how visitors experience Maui, potentially driving up costs, limiting accommodation options, further reducing visitors, and damaging the Maui economy that relies on them.

Broader implications of Maui mayor’s trip.

The mayor’s actions and county policies are not just Maui issues. These resonate across Hawaii and have implications on worldwide perception of the island as an iconic tourist destination. Loyal Maui visitors are now being forced to consider the decision-making of its leaders and the stability of Maui for visitors. For a world-renowned travel destination like Maui, such perceptions may well influence tourist decisions as heavily as the scenic beauty or attractions on the Valley Isle.

As Maui continues to navigate such tumultuous times, the spotlight on Mayor Bissen’s leadership is growing more intense. His recent trip to Japan, amid widespread national criticism of the mayor and significant pending policy changes affecting the tourism industry, only adds to the concerns about his ability to properly handle these looming challenges facing Maui. For visitors and residents, what’s happening now on Maui will shape the island’s future in new and profound ways.

We welcome your thoughts.

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87 thoughts on “Maui Turmoil: Mayor’s Contentious “Junket” Amid Rental Cuts, Fire Mishandling”

  1. Some of the largest hotels on the islands are reputed to have owners who reside in Japan or are Japanese. It’s a big “dance of the 7 veils” starring the Mayor and County Council. The real agenda here, and it should not be a surprise, is that the Japanese Foreign Ministry is gladly paying for the Mayor’s junket. They protect their own, their owners of Hawaiian hotels, and they are out to support the Mayor’s plan to ban and crush short term Vacation rentals to protect the owners of those large hotels. Just another form of “pay-to-play” corruption.

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  2. Speaking as a visitor. I am not return to Hawaii because the Hawaiian citizens do not want me there. It has been made clear straight from several Hawaiians on the main land and during our last visit. In Maui, Kaui, the Big island and in Honolulu. I could care less about a trip of a politician. I will not spend my vacation amoung people who speak behind
    My back and perceive me as some kind of threat. If visitors do not come THAT is why. I will go elsewhere and spend a hell of a lot less. Its a shame because the land/ocean is beautiful.

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    1. Thank you for highlighting that the reason people are not coming to Maui is because they feel unwelcome. It’s really necessary to reinforce this fact, because the officials and much of the media (not BOH) is blaming it on the fires. That reason is no longer valid, and hasn’t been for several months.

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  3. Troy, You are absolutely right. In years past, the poor governance was swept under the rug. Now social media from a few locals who can’t accept that Hawaiians voted to join the U.S. and Bissen’s grandstanding tore up the rug – and da bugs are scattering

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  4. Your articles have been my views exactly. From the mayors messaging for tourist to stay away and now the reduction on vacation rental it’s killing our small business that is almost broke, and get this, we are a thrift store. I’m a senior and don’t have many employment options if we close.

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    1. Annette, I am so sorry your store is suffering. It’s a spill-over effect. Less tourists = less dollars for our economy and less dollars for locals to spend. Amazing that one selfish and wreckless politician can do so much damage.

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    2. Annette,
      I am sorry you’re going through this! We all barely made it through the Covid shut down and now this. We’re all fearful of losing our homes, businesses and jobs. Very few Hawaiians are even 1/4. Who are they callings locals? Ones born here? Many of us have lived her and contributed for decades. We will fight this🙏

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  5. The Mayor has also not addressed vagrants living by the side of the road Kahului Harbor. These are not Lahaina displaced fire victims, they are bums. They are creating a trash line in the harbor waters affecting reef and sea life. Not to mention they are the Maui welcoming committee for cruise ships which will affect local economy when they quite coming.

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    1. We visit Kauai every year, two weeks at a time, and have done so for the last eight years. Normally we might hear one ambulance siren in that two week period. On our most recent trip to Kauai in 2023 we heard sirens almost every day. I asked a local resident what that was about. They explained that California has been “sending” some of their homeless to Kauai and most likely the ambulance calls were drug overdoses. Sad situation for all involved.

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    2. I agree, my recent trip on West side, noticed vagrants living on K. Beach and indeed were not displaces residents. It should not be allowed. I personally do not like the cruise ships coming. As I am not for anything that is taking away green and seascapes these days, that includes food trucks everywhere.

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