In the wake of the severe wildfires that devastated large areas of the Hawaiian island of Maui, authorities on the island asked travelers to cancel or at least postpone their trips but many chose not to do so.
While a significant number of tourists accepted the plea of Hawaiians and took action accordingly, others were less adamant. Several thousands chose to remain on the island, and others stuck to their vacation plans and flew in. Residents have expressed their disappointment, even frustration. “If this was happening to your hometown, would you want us to come?” resident Chuck Enomoto told BBC. “We need to take care of our own first.”
A Maui local told the UK news outlet that some tourists had been snorkeling in the “same waters that our people died in three days ago”. The company organizing the snorkeling tour later apologized saying it had first offered their “vessel throughout the week to deliver supplies and rescue people but its design wasn’t appropriate for the task”.
The whole picture is, however, more complex as the island relies heavily on tourism. The Maui Economic Development Board has estimated that the island’s “visitor industry” accounts for roughly four out of every five dollars generated here, calling those visitors the “economic engine” of the county. According to data from BBC, more than 45,000 people have since left the island and now hundreds of rental cars now sit parked on the grass field surrounding highway close to the airport.
If this was happening to your hometown, would you want us to come?Chuck Enomoto, resident
The wildfires have cost the lives of at least 106 people, an estimated of 1300 missing and much of the historic town of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed. Thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated, and the US Coast Guard said its members rescued 14 people who jumped into the waters off Lahaina Harbor to escape the fire.
The wildfires have brought to the surface the disparity on the island. Many locals must have more than one job to make ends meet. Jen Alcantara told BBC that she worked for a Canadian airline as well as having a senior administrative position at Maui’s hospital. “That’s Hawaii,” she added. About Wailea, an area where several high-end holiday rentals and resorts can be found, many locals were quick to point out that the daily routine of luxury and comfort was barely disrupted. Brittany Pounder, 34, an employee at the Four Seasons told the UK news outlet that some guests seemed more concerned about other matters such as whether they would still be able to stick to their scheduled activities including as horse-riding, ziplining, or even dinner at a chosen restaurant.