Sep 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Maui's message to tourists: Don't stay away after wildfires

Data: Hawai'i Tourism Authority; Map: Axios Visuals

One month after wildfires in Hawai'i ravaged the entire town of Lahaina and other parts of Maui, the local community is suffering a fresh layer of hardship on top of the trauma: a severe economic downturn.

The big picture: Locals and government officials have a new message: Come to Hawai'i, come to Maui. But be respectful and don't try to visit the Lahaina area or west side of the island.

  • Consider volunteering during your stay.
  • Tip well to help local working people.
  • Know that people are grieving.

Why it matters: Most of Hawai'i's residents depend on tourism to pay the bills. 

  • Many on Maui have seen work hours cut or business drop off while they're also trying to bury the dead and help others in need.
  • Most everyone knows someone who lost a loved one or whose home was burned down.

Catch up quick: More than 300 people are still unaccounted for, and the government continues to plead with families with missing relatives to provide DNA samples.

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority says the drop in tourism is costing the entire state $9 million per day. "They need to know it's OK. ... And by coming, you're supporting Maui's economy. You're supporting Maui's ability to recover," the group's spokesperson T. Ilihia Gionson told Hawai'i News Now.

  • A new map by the agency shows hotels on the west side of Maui not accepting reservations but other parts of the island are "open."
  • The state agency's board last week approved a $2.6 million new marketing plan to encourage "respectful, compassionate, responsible travel" to Maui.

Between the lines: The state's new message may help address confusion for tourists, who aren't sure what's an appropriate way to enjoy a vacation.

  • "I'm trying to be respectful and have ridden the roller coaster of 'don't come' to 'please come' these past few weeks but now I'm more confused than ever and wonder if I should just cancel completely after all," wrote one member of the Facebook group "Maui Friends," asking locals for advice.
  • Another person answered her: "We are going through all the stages of grief on a public stage. Grief is hard to go through, and hard to observe. But most people here, we appreciate visitors coming, especially when they come with aloha so we can give them aloha."

Want more stories like this? Sign up for Axios PM

Go deeper