Visit Maui Or Not? Divergent Views at Crossroads

Should You Visit Maui? Conflicted Views at Crossroads

One very clear thing is that there is too little compassion and too much divisiveness in today’s world. Last week’s catastrophic and deadly Maui fires still have us reeling from the devastation and the loss of life. Not only that, but the reality is that this crisis will continue to unfold and be with all of us for a very long time.

And so, at a time when we all need to pull together to help those impacted in whatever ways we can, and find a way forward, there is little agreement amid much passion about what’s best when it comes to visiting Maui (among other things), and more controversy than ever.

Maui fire and Maui tourism.

Even before the fire, tourism on Maui and throughout Hawaii has been a mixed bag for decades. While there’s no doubt that it still keeps the economy going, it has many points residents like less. Especially at its current feverish pitch .These include creating primarily lower-paying jobs, negatively impacting the housing market, creating traffic, crowding beaches, and much more.

Opposing viewpoints about visitors returning after catastrophic fires.

This is where it gets complicated, and most comments offered no middle ground. “My way or the highway” might best describe people’s points of view in spite of other comments that are equally valid and heading in another direction.

Comments began with Nita, and a middle-of-the-road comment which we personally could resonate with:

“I live in Lahaina; the devastation and suffering is enormous! While our local Kaanapali resorts gear up to serve the needs of those homeless from the fires, I think in the upcoming weeks or perhaps a month, they will open up again for tourists as the hospitality industry & related jobs find their way amongst the recovery… I know many people who lost everything except their lives… many people are worried that if tourism takes a drastic downturn on the West side, they will lose their jobs as the resorts cannot continue to pay them without guests. Most importantly, we honor the recovery efforts, as the dead have not been accounted for by any stretch of the imagination! I pray those trying to make a living and survive through this severe tragedy will not lose their livelihoods, as so, many have already.”

Visitor RM added, “We are planning on coming to Wailea 8/28-9/2 and have reached out to the hotel we are staying at as well as several local businesses about whether or not it is appropriate to visit the state of Maui in this tragic time. Everyone we have spoken to has urged us to please not cancel our plans as being there will be contributing to staffing folks that otherwise could have lost out on hours. They mentioned locals are worried about their jobs currently, given the widespread news to not travel to Maui collectively. We are still torn as it is so tragic what happened, and we want to pay the utmost respect to the locals and those that have lost everything. At this time, we are leaning towards sticking with our plans, supporting the local businesses in Wailea as much as we can, tipping the employees generously, donating to local funds, and bringing relief supplies with us.”

Kolohe, who, like Nita is also on Maui said: “Bring a duffle bag of supplies (check to see the needs to be most useful please) to leave behind…that’s the least everyone could do who are still planning to visit despite this horrific event while vacationing in a place that’s barely … barely in its earliest stages of mourning our dead and devastated by tragedy. Show your respect for Hawaii by being a solution, not a taker, please.”

Linda: “Stopping tourism completely will have a severe impact on the economy. That being said, tourists who do still go thru with their vacations will need to adjust accordingly. Pack a suitcase full of patience and empathy for what these residents are experiencing, open it immediately, and use it liberally.”

Pat: “It’s possible that those who are ‘incredibly passionate’ for visitors not to come may have also voiced that opinion when things were normal, so keep that in mind. The few residents that don’t rely in any way on tourism (a pretty short list) are naturally going to be anti-tourist.”

Rimo: “From labor and statistics: As of September 2021, tourism accounted for around 75-80% of Maui’s economy. The state of Hawaii hovers around 25%.”

Jeff: “What percentage of the residents of Maui are saying that? Is it a majority, or is this a tyranny of a noisy minority thing? Most people would not do well with a cut in pay – I suspect that the island’s economy would not either.”

Patrick: “Tourists are a drain on limited resources and further contributing to environmental issues that contributed to this fire?” So now the tourists are responsible for the fire? Wow. Please explain.

Jamie: ” I live and have deep roots on Maui. We will welcome respectful visitors as always. 80% of the island is unaffected. Stay out of Lahaina side. If we all lose our jobs, as many likely will, our grief will be compounded!”

Travel agent Susan said: “It is such a fine line. I do have clients that will be arriving in Maui August 19th and they are staying in Wailea. My best information has said they are functioning and need the reservations. With great sadness and full respect for all of Maui that has experienced the most devasting disaster with horrific loss of life and property, I hope supporting the businesses that are able to keep operating might allow them to provide the help their neighbors are in dire need of.”

JB: “I am canceling a trip to visit a friend upcountry in September. I don’t mean to have a holier-than-thou attitude about it, but it just didn’t feel right to me, so I’m not going. If it feels right to you to continue your own trip to Maui, do as HTA says. If you might be able to spare some funds for a donation toward Lahaina families or restoration efforts, that could be nice too.”

AJ: “I would say most people are extremely mindful of the events that have taken place over the last few days. Asking visitors to stay away is only going to make it more challenging. For e.g., the cruise ship industry just removed Maui from their itinerary. Emotions are high, and rightfully so, but when cooler heads prevail, Maui residents will realize that having a job with a source of income is far better than being homeless, frustrated, and hungry. We are only trying to help, not trying to be a burden on anyone.”

Caren: “I heard people comment that they would continue to their Maui destination and take their chances. This is instead of honoring the devastation and lost lives that the island has endured this past week. Maybe we need to step back and think about what just happened to the humans, animals, and livelihoods that have been lost and devastated by this tragedy. This world is caught up in its own needs and wants and disregards any moral values. Let Maui heal!”

Guy, who also lives on Maui said: “The Kihei Wailea side of Maui is just fine. Just as our island was recovering from The Covid debacle, we have now experienced our worst natural disaster. We do not need further economic disaster. Let’s keep the south side viable. It will only help to rebuild the areas that need it the most.”

John on Oahu said: “The concept of tourists staying away beyond the recovery period could really hurt the residents and would be the equivalent of kicking someone when they are down. Maui needs to be supported, not deserted. They aren’t ready yet, but sooner rather than later. And for sure, supporting local businesses is part of the rebuilding…. I’d say it’s a very small but self-centered faction that could care less about the well-being of the people that have lost everything, and they don’t care if they are unable to be employed and start the rebuilding process. So many people are heartbroken by this disaster, and it’s a time to pull together, learn from, and recover.”

Maui tourism was already on hyper-drive.

Maui was challenged long before the fires by the sheer number of flights and visitors the beautiful island attracts. Not unlike other intensely popular visitor destinations worldwide, it has simply been overrun with visitors.

Previous calls for tourism changes on Maui went unheeded.

Many have been seeking a way to reduce visitors to an average of no more than 33% of the island’s population. Instead, tourism runs up to 45% of the total population or more. There have also been calls for moratoriums on new hotels.

Visitors and locals share the frustration.

We’ve heard from some in the visitor industry who say they are dealing with angry and frustrated travelers who have a hard time finding places to eat, park and stay. Unfortunately, no one seemed entirely happy even before this.

Primary economic driver on Maui.

One Maui councilperson 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.”

We concur. Balance is key in the discussion.

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23 thoughts on “Should You Visit Maui? Conflicted Views at Crossroads”

  1. We will be wintering in Maui for our 35th year. Wailea area. What things can we bring to help? Of course we plan to leave these things behind. Dr. Thomas and Ruth

  2. It actually feels disrespectful to cancel our trip and whilst our small $$ spend won’t save the economy, hopefully if more tourists come we can help avoid some job loses. We’re choosing donating to “Maui Strong” rather than bringing products that then poses the logistical problem of distribution?

  3. We canceled our Wailea condo reservation Oct 24, 2023 to Nov 4, 2023. Out of respect for the devastation and loss of life we felt that this was the action to be taken.
    After reading various comments about the importance of tourism for the island we are now wondering if we should rebook out reservations.
    Your guidance will be appreciated.

    1. Hi Nancy.

      It’s a personal decision. But if visitors don’t return to the rest of Maui soon there’s no doubt that a financial disaster will come next.


  4. Condolences to all. The loss of an entire town and so many people is difficult to grasp. Our family had a trip planned to Kaanapali in September, but not now. I read where HDOT is installing privacy screens along the bypass. And I think even if transiting the area becomes normal, it will still be awkward visiting for many months. I also understand that there are a lot of rooms on the other side of the island, but the island isn’t that big. Vacations are about celebrating. How can you celebrate when the people around you are struggling to rebuild. Maybe in 6-months. Maybe.

  5. As a Kanaka Maoli with family there on Maui and a family member who is still unaccounted for, this is my heart felt opinion. Water diversion to luxury hotels, golf courses and luxury estates is the lead reason for the loss of Lahaina. They ran out of water trying to put the fires our. Not blaming tourists but blaming the government and money hungry corp.. Let all of Maui ‘aina and people heal before moving on with business as usual. Redivert the water to the whole island again so this never happens again. Quit putting tourist and money before the rights ofKanaka Maoli to survive. Quit pricing us out of our land.

  6. If you are going to Maui is the furture. Bring lots of cash instead of using credit cards. That way the money stays local instead of the banks getting a cut every time money changes hands.

  7. Tourism can not stop, nor should it. Maui needs tourists. Respect and obey all directions about Labaina town. But to shut down tourism north of Lahaina would be foolish. As well as Wailea, Kihei, and the rest of the Island. All the markets, restaurants etc exist because of mix of tourism and locals. The entire Island economy is at stake. Tourist still coming allows people to keep working.
    Yes, it’s a sensitive subject. But even those who lost their homes have to work to help in the process of healing and going forward.
    Surprised that anyone who lives here would even question this..
    Help those who were affected directly. But tourism is the best benefit to the local’s economy and recovery for all.

  8. BOH We are planning to come at the end of October. Where can we find a list of things that we can bring with us — “bring a duffle bag of supplies”. We have donated cash already. We want to be a help. Also can we donate a day of our stay to volunteering?

    1. Hi Gloria.

      We’ll keep an eye out for what might be needed in that time frame of October and report. Also re volunteering. Thanks for asking.


  9. We considered moving to a more unaffected area for our extended family vacation. As our original rental was in the burned area. But it was impossible to find a place to accommodate us in Dec.
    Plus it felt wrong to do a vacation rental that might be needed for a rebuilding family. We are staying on another island.

  10. Here is an example of what is happening, Mama’s Fish House has always been very hard place to get a reservation if you don’t do it 2 or 3 months in advance. I checked yesterday for reservations for the week of Aug. 30 and every day, any hour is open. The Tourist keep these places alive. The locals will be laid off with no guest, which means the locals cannot pay rent, pay their bill or survive. There can be a happy medium.

  11. Thank you for the article and discussion. Clearly, as you’ve mentioned in the article, passions that have run high in the past, are now in overdrive, and I appreciate the balanced nature on this posting. I’ve been a Travel Agent for 42 years, and have been sending guests, groups and events to Maui for most of that time. Hawaii (and especially Maui) has been gracefully gracious in their hospitality and the last thing I would want to do is show any disrespect .. by abandoning those who’ve not only lost so much, but also those (and often the same people) who will loose so much if visitors stay away….

  12. We like others, are waiting for a decision on whether the Maui Jim Basketball Tournament will be played in November. We’ve supported it in the past and have tickets for this event but others have plans that will be affected by their decision.

  13. We love and respect all of the Hawaiian Islands and their people including Lahaina and West Maui, and we are both mourning the unspeakable loss of life and property, and financially contributing to this cause. We would certainly abide by any official consensus on when to visit or not to visit, and we would definitely avoid and respect the Lahaina area the same way as we have learned to with any Heiau throughout the islands.
    We, as well as most locals, have also been concerned about congestion from too many tourists on the islands at the same time caused by over-development and added flights from newly allowed carriers like Southwest airlines. The limited infrastructure and human resources can only handle so many tourists.
    I wonder what local and state government could do to reasonably limit the number of tourists coming in at any given time. Whether it be a lottery or permit type of process, or multiple different steps taken. Economic forces like higher prices on lodging, cars, restaurants, and high taxes don’t seem to be a limiting factor.
    I hope the federal government can see fit to write the six billion check for reconstruction and preservation of this most adored and historic jewel of Hawaii.
    With sympathy and aloha,
    Tom N

  14. My daughter, son in law and I were supposed to use my Kaanapali resort timeshare (Marriott Ocean Club) September 15-22. This has been my favorite vacation spot for the past 20 years. Unfortunately, due to the devastation, Marriott has indicated it cannot accommodate visitors at least up until October due to lack of resources, access, and infrastructure. An email received today states that the local fires are still not completely contained and thus fires continue to burn and that the air quality is terrible due to various toxins released during the fires. My heart bleeds for all of the residents in and nearby affected areas and tourists who may have lost their lives or the lives of family members and those close to them and for all who have lost homes and businesses and livelihoods. I look forward to a time in the not too distant future when I may be able again to visit my beloved resort and spend my money to contribute to West Maui’s economy.

  15. My daughter, son in law and I were supposed to use my Kaanapali resort timeshare (Marriott Ocean Club) September 15-22. This has been my favorite vacation spot for the past 20 years. Unfortunately, due to the devastation, Marriott has indicated it cannot accommodate visitors at least up until October due to lack of resources, access, and infrastructure. An email received today states that the local fires are still not completely contained and thus fires continue to burn and that the air quality is terrible due to various toxins released during the fires. My heart bleeds for all of the residents in and nearby affected areas and tourists who may have lost their lives or the lives of family members and those close to them and for all who have lost homes and businesses and livelihoods. I look forward to a time in the not too distant future when I may be able again to visit my beloved resort and spend my money to contribute to West Maui’s economy.

  16. I rent my condo in Kihei and following the fire cancelled all visitors as requested through 9/20 but soon learned only visitors to West Maui were advised to cancel. Consquently, I have urged all pending visits to proceed and visitors encouraged to spend liberally. Quick restoration will require immense funds. I hope everyone will support the rapid reconstruction of Lahaina.

  17. It’s real simple: Maui Needs tourists.

    Most “locals” (those with actual “roots” in Hawaii who grew up here and who did not have the freaking luxury of being able to CHOOSE to live here, while buying THEIR OWN home) would be out of work if not for terrible tourism.

    The only people who do Not seem to care about “locals” (who Need tourism) also seem to have a pathetic, narcissistic NIMBY attitude towards tourism.

    Their insular indifference, no doubt, stems from being privileged, spoiled and coddled in the very real sense that *they* already “have theirs” and have no apparent empathy for the *majority* who are *not* coddled, *not* spoiled, and anything *but* privileged.

    Hint: The *majority* of us are just trying to survive while the vocal minority petulantly and disingenuously whine about the “environment.”

    And inconveniences.

    Again, they have theirs.

    That’s all they seem to *really* care about.

    Sad and pathetic that they dismiss Our concerns about the continued flow of crumbs that they callously and casually brush from their tables.

    I bet *none* of The Petulant Whining Privileged would comment negatively about tourism here if it were mandatory they disclose their street address.

    Prove me wrong.

  18. From as far back as I can remember the “locals” have always had an ‘island chip’ on their shoulder regarding tourists. Living in a popular beach town myself, I get it! We can’t wait for the pesky tourists to head back to Arizona. Our restaurants are overcrowded, tourists don’t know how to drive…and beach etiquette is lost on these folks. Having said that; Emotions are running high for the citizens of Maui it will take years to come to terms with what just took place. This is a true disaster leaving hundreds, thousands without family members, shelter and food. Heart-wrenching
    One thing to keep in mind for the locals is that you live in a resort town, a resort island. People come to the islands for the beauty, the lifestyle and most of all what they envision as the true spirit of Aloha. Please don’t air the local folks demanding ‘cultural sensitivity’ this could delay and perhaps have a bigger impact on tourism. Our beach communities can’t survive without tourism dollars, why chase them away? I assume that many of the hotels and restaurants employ locals? Do we want these folks to lose their income because the people of Maui told us to stay away.
    For now, the island needs to heal. I hope to visit to the Hawaiian Islands and contribute to their economy but for now I’ll stay put and do what I can from the Mainland

  19. Thanks for all the comments — They are all helpful. My husband and I having been coming to Maui since our honeymoon 43 years ago. We love Maui.
    We have been returning every December (our 44th anniversary is Dec. 11th) –since the beginning of our marriage. (other than when covid kept us away) —
    but we ‘did’ just cancel our December Kaanapal vacation for ‘this’ years.
    Given our ages –now in our 70’s with some health issues, (concern if we needed medical/hospital needs too) – we felt we should stay close to home this year.

    Blessings and healing –

  20. Yes, balance is key. If there ever was or could be a silver-lining to this awful tragedy, finding that balance in order to make Maui and the state of Hawaii, more sustainable, this is it. Hopefully, those in state, county and local community leadership can come up with a multi-year plan to do just that. It’s so important for the future. I can’t believe that tourism is 75-80% of Maui’s economy. That is very scary and a disaster waiting to happen and guess what, it already has. I suspect that many more Kanaka Maoli will be forced off island as a result of the necessary infrastructure not being able to come back fast enough to give them their jobs back. This is devastating.
    We live in an age of A.I. and all of this glorious technological advancement, there must surely be some idea of how to better diversify the economy of Maui, as well as the entire state.
    It actually feels like the state of Hawaii is being held hostage by the need to have tourists. How can that possibly promote a happy and fulfilling existence for the residents and the visitors? Too many people chasing a very limited supply of goods and services makes everyone miserable, visitors and residents alike. This has already been proven time and time again as this article eluded to. Let’s be smart and industrious, rather than lazy and greedy when it comes to a solution. Tourism is low-hanging fruit and oh so tempting, but in the long run, it gives everyone a bellyache when you have too much. Aloha.

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