Two months after wildfires on the western shores of Maui killed 97 people, destroyed the historic town of Lahaina and burned greater than 2,100 acres, a state order discouraging travel to the realm was lifted on Sunday. But whether local hotels and businesses plan to welcome visitors stays uncertain.
Maui, Hawaii’s second largest island, stays within the throes of recovery, with West Maui schools still shuttered, a whole bunch of businesses closed and hundreds of individuals out of labor and living in temporary housing at local hotels. The state government’s decision to reopen has encountered fierce pushback amongst some residents, who say the step is rushed, and a petition to delay the reopening has been signed by greater than 15,000 people.
The mayor of Maui County, Richard Bissen, said tourism’s return will likely be measured, and in late September announced a voluntary, staggered approach to reopening, one which begins with only hotels within the northernmost portion of West Maui welcoming guests. In a press release issued on Thursday, Gov. Josh Green called the phased approach “a mild reopening that may serve each the people and native businesses.”
The absence of tourism, the island’s foremost economic driver, has threatened a second crisis: Since the fires, Maui has lost greater than $13 million per day in visitor spending, in response to one evaluation by the University of Hawaii.
Here’s what visitors must know.
What areas are actually open to travelers?
The West Maui communities of Kaanapali, Napili, Honokowai and Kapalua, north of the region hardest hit by the fires, are actually open to tourists, in response to the emergency proclamation, posted Sept. 9 by Governor Green. The town of Lahaina and its surrounding areas remain closed to tourists.
Travel to other areas of Maui that weren’t damaged by the fires, reminiscent of Wailea, has not been restricted, despite initial pushback from some residents concerning the propriety of visiting any a part of Maui. And there have been no prohibitions against travel to Hawaii’s other islands.
However, the reopening doesn’t mean all hotels, restaurants and other businesses in West Maui are operating — and a few state and native officials for weekswere seemingly at odds on what shape and cadence West Maui’s reopening should take.
In his statement, Governor Green appeared to clear the air, by praising Mayor Bissen and indicating that the mayor should handle the reopening.
“The recovery is usually a community-led, government-supported effort to assist the people of Lahaina,” the governor said.
The first stage of Mayor Bissen’s voluntary plan — opening hotels and businesses in communities from Kapalua to Kahana — will likely be assessed before two subsequent phases, which concentrate on neighborhoods farther south, where a greater variety of displaced residents are being housed, start. No dates for these latter stages have been shared.
Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, called the competing directives from Mayor Bissen and Governor Green “mixed messages” which have confused hotel operators, residents and tourists alike.
“Everybody is hurting,” she said last week. “We’re still reeling from the devastation so these contradictory messages aren’t helping anything.”
Mufi Hannemann, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said that almost all hotels wish to comply with the mayor’s phased reopening, but he also emphasized that this was a suggestion that doesn’t include any enforcement.
What hotels in West Maui are open now?
Hotels in West Maui will likely be opening in a piecemeal fashion. Under the mayor’s guidance, businesses on a three-mile stretch from the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua to Kahana Villa in Kahana were encouraged to open starting Sunday. Only several hotels on this area — including the Ritz Carlton — will actually welcome visitors by Oct. 8, Ms. Paulson said. According to its website, Kahana Villa is asking “any reservations through October seventeenth be rescheduled.”
What happens after that could be very fluid, Mr. Hannemann said, with hotels evaluating each day whether and once they should open.
Farther south in Wailea and Kihei, all major hotels and resorts are already open, Mr. Hannemann said. In Wailea, the Fairmont Kea Lani is offering guests a fifth night free, a spokesperson said. They’re hoping to lure guests who previously canceled, with incentives including free breakfast and room upgrades.
Overall, hotels are continuing to waive cancellation fees until they reopen.
Over the last two months, hotels operated by local and major brands, including Outrigger, Marriott and Hyatt, have sheltered emergency responders and wildfire evacuees, in addition to their very own staff members who were displaced. The bulk of this housing effort is concentrated within the Kaanapali area, industry leaders said. Most hotels there won’t be open in early October, Ms. Paulson said. Some, just like the Westin Maui Resort and the Hyatt Regency, aren’t accepting latest bookings until November.
What about Lahaina and its residents?
But everlasting housing stays a crisis. As of this week, greater than 6,800 people were staying at dozens of area hotels coordinated by the Red Cross, including the Hyatt Regency and the Royal Lahaina Resort in Kaanapali. About 545 others are staying at Airbnb rentals and roughly 100 people have acquired housing through a government program crowdsourcing available rooms and units from homeowners, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism said.
Officials have stressed that evacuees won’t be displaced to accommodate anyone, including the tourists they seek to galvanize the island’s recovery.
“We don’t anticipate numerous people coming, but we also didn’t want the numerous individuals who asked us to divulge heart’s contents to must relocate themselves,” Gov. Green said at a news conference on Sept. 21. “We aren’t pushing people out.”
What should travelers expect?
Recent visitors have commented online about how empty the island feels, with a whole bunch of hotel rooms vacant, once bustling restaurants closed and beaches deserted.
Owners of restaurants which can be heavily reliant on tourism, reminiscent of Merriman’s in Kapalua, said they will’t open without more tourists to maintain them afloat.
“What we’re going to do is wait and judge the market and open when we predict demand can support our restaurants,” said Peter Merriman, the restaurant’s chef and owner. “It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg. Tourists want restaurants before visiting, we would like customers before we reopen our restaurants.”
In August, Maui reported the lowest visitor arrival and spending numbers in greater than two years, in response to the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Compared to August of last yr, visitor arrivals dropped to 112,259 from 266,176, or nearly 58 percent, and spending fell by 49 percent, to $247 million from $484 million.
The tourism decline in Maui has reverberated statewide, with visitor arrivals decreasing by about 7 percent and spending plummeting by roughly 8 percent to $1.58 billion last August in comparison with the identical month last yr.
Travel industry leaders said they anticipated tourism’s return after Oct. 8 to be a slow drip.
Officials are requesting respectful tourism. What does that seem like?
State and native officials, industry leaders and residents have described the form of tourism they hope to cultivate after the fires as “conscious,” “mindful” and “respectful.”
But this just isn’t a latest sentiment in Hawaii. The state has long grappled with balancing tourism and its negative effects — soaring rents and residential prices fueling a housing shortage — with its economic reliance on the industry.
Until recently, locals and officials signaled that respectful behavior wasn’t limited simply to staying clear of Lahaina, but avoiding the entire neighborhoods in West Maui. Now, with West Maui’s return, the boundaries and norms are fuzzier. Some officials and residents suggest that visitors should prioritize local businesses and potentially include volunteering to help relief efforts.
“The visitor experience will likely be different for some time, but we welcome people back to support us and our communities, and get people back to work,” said Jerry Gibson, president of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance.
But officials and residents alike repeat one thing. A stop at Lahaina shouldn’t be a part of any traveler’s itinerary. And keep in mind that all the community in Maui has experienced trauma and is grieving.
“Knowing this, proper attitude and reverence needs to be applied toward the place, in addition to the individuals who live and work in Maui,” Mr. Hannemann said.
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