Visitor industry sees slow Maui recovery

Members of Hawaii’s visitor industry are preparing for the reopening of West Maui tourism on Oct. 8, but many are bracing for a slow festive season given the breadth of the wildfire-­related cancellations, and some say full recovery might not occur until at least spring.

Gov. Josh Green declared Friday in a statewide address that the West Maui communities of Kaanapali, Napili, Honokowai and Kapalua would reopen two months after the Aug. 8 wildfires that destroyed nearby Lahaina, which will remain closed as county, state and federal emergency responders continue with their disaster efforts.


Green said in his address, “Beginning Oct. 8, all travel restrictions will end, and West Maui will be open to visitors again, so people from Hawaii and around the world can resume travel to this special place and help it begin to recover economically. This difficult decision is meant to bring hope for recovery to the families and businesses on Maui that have been so deeply affected in every way by the disaster.”

The downturn in travel to Maui after the wildfires has wreaked havoc on Maui’s tourism-dependent economy. It also caused a ripple effect throughout the state both from the drop in tourism spending on Maui, which helps fuel state coffers, and from a general downturn in tourism across the state due to visitors not understanding geography or feeling unwelcome. Indeed, on Thursday the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism estimated the loss from business closures and visitor expenditures related to the wildfire on Maui at $11 million a day. DBEDT, due in part to Maui, also revised its statewide economic growth projections for 2023 and 2024 downward, to 1.1% from 1.8% for 2023 and to 1.5% from 2% for 2024.

At the same time, there has been a strong push by some residents to delay the return of tourism to Maui while emergency responders still work to identify victims and the missing and clean up debris and hazardous materials.

They also have said that West Maui needs time to heal from the fire that killed at least 115 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. Another issue raised by those who want to keep West Maui closed to tourism longer is that much of West Maui’s labor force is still displaced and that too many challenges with child care and schools remain for them to return to work with ease.

Tamara Paltin, who holds the County Council seat for West Maui and chairs the Disaster, Resilience, International Affairs, and Planning Committee, said Monday that some constituents were blindsided by Green’s announcement, which came just days after he had indicated that he was exploring reopening West Maui just to kamaaina visitors in October and postponing West Maui’s tourism reopening to November or December.

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