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.