Hawaii’s second largest island, Maui, is set to re-open for tourism across nearly all its recently fire-stricken west. From 1 November 2023, only gutted parts of the historic port of Lahaina will remain off-limits.
At least 97 people lost their lives in the August 2023 wildfires that were exacerbated by winds from Hurricane Dora. 31 are still missing. As islanders continue to mourn and attempt to deal with the catastrophe, and with many still living in hotels and temporary accommodation after the destruction of their homes, questions have been asked about the right moment to “move on” and recommence commercial activities.
“Not for everyone”
A plan to re-open from 8 October had been put forward by Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green last month. But Mayor Richard Bissen intervened to stagger the re-opening. He was influenced by a petition of over 3,500 signatures, plus an advisory team and aid partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross to revise the opening in a way that would better balance the economic needs of the community with the need for time and support. As a result, only a portion of north West Maui opened first.
West Maui’s phased reopening continues with Mayor Richard Bissen’s announcement that the rest of West Maui, from Kahana to Kā’anapali, will reopen on November 1, where returning travelers will support jobs, businesses, and the community.— Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) (@HawaiiHTA) October 25, 2023
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Of the now-proposed November date for a return to work and routine, Bissen said “this isn’t for everyone,” recognising for instance there are still families without the childcare they need to go back to their jobs. But it’s clear the argument about the islanders’ most pressing needs has been won by those who say they need to attract tourists back, not discourage them.
No one’s housing in jeopardy
West Maui, described by some as the ultimate tropical escape, has beautiful beaches, vegetation-napped volcanos, spectacular sunsets and about 11,000 hotel rooms. But with flights to and from the island almost empty and many online and in-person Hawaii guides urging visitors to stay away to let the island recover, it remains to be seen how many of those will be filled when the area re-opens for business.
Some would-be holidaymakers are concerned about the impact of a visit to the island when resources, including accommodation, are still needed by families displaced by the fire. But Bissen has sought to reassure potential guests, that no one’s housing is “in jeopardy”. He also emphasised that the decision to re-open would be a personal one for business owners and noted that some hotels have already done so.
“Kindness, understanding and aloha”
Meanwhile, the Governor’s Office of Wellness and Resilience has prepared a leaflet with advice for tourists about how to behave in the light of the tragedy. In addition, hotels and businesses have posted requests to visitors with pleas such as this one from The Mauian hotel: “we humbly ask that if you visit West Maui in coming months, please do so with sensitivity and respect for those who have suffered great losses. Your kindness, understanding and aloha will be appreciated during this time.”