West Maui reopened to tourism on Wednesday (Nov. 1), marking a new chapter in the island’s recovery almost three months after a raging wildfire destroyed Lahaina and left nearly 100 people dead.
The phased reopening of West Maui’s accommodations began on Oct. 8, and as PAX learned in October during a visit to the destination, the reopening of tourism has been a slow and steady process (and subject to some controversy).
Read our on-location report from Maui here, and stay tuned for more coverage from the island as it moves forward.
In a notice posted on Oct. 25, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced that the rest of West Maui north of Lahaina — Phases two and three from Kahana to Kā‘anapali — will begin reopening on Nov 1.
The decision was made following discussions with the Mayor’s Lahaina advisory team, the Red Cross and other partners, and the community feedback following the first phase of reopening.
Addressing one main concern, Governor Josh Green, M.D., Mayor Bissen, and the Red Cross assured the public that housing for displaced wildfire survivors will not be in jeopardy as a result of the reopening.
The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) is advising travellers to check with individual accommodations, activities and businesses in West Maui for their availability and hours of operation.
“As travellers return to Maui after the devastating August wildfires, they will help to sustain jobs, keep businesses open, and support the community,” the HTA noted.
In coordination with various community members and partners, the HTA is launching new videos featuring a diverse cross-section of Maui residents welcoming mindful visitation and sharing how visitors can mālama Maui.
One of the main takeaways from PAX’s recent visit to Maui was that returning tourists must be respectful.
This includes a request from locals to not take selfies in front of devastation zones, nor ask tourism workers about the fire and how bad it was.
Governor Green’s Office of Wellness and Resilience, HTA and the County of Maui have partnered to create informational flyers and signage with tips for respectful, compassionate and responsible travel to support the community’s healing.
This inter-agency collaboration follows the leadership and guidance of Governor Green and Mayor Bissen who continue to emphasize mental health support for Maui disaster survivors.
It’s also worth clarifying that the wildfires hit a very specific stretch in West Maui – this being Lahaina.
Tourism in other parts of Maui (such as in Kihei and Wailea in the south and Hana in the east, for example) is open and has been for some time now.
Mixed messages in the aftermath of the fires may lead some to believe that all of Maui was closed, which is not true.
Lahaina, however, remains fully blocked to the public until further notice. As PAX observed, the once-vibrant town has been reduced to rubble and ash and, in most parts, it’s unrecognizable.
Reduced lift, for now
Scheduled airline seats to Maui for the months ahead, meanwhile, remain below 2022 levels.
Total domestic air seats to Maui are down 23 per cent in November and 21 per cent in December, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Lift from Canada to Maui has also been scaled down.
Air Canada’s service out of Vancouver will be one flight daily through April 2024, while WestJet will operate twice-daily service from Vancouver through April 2024.
WestJet’s Maui service from Edmonton and Calgary will meanwhile see reduced frequencies.
About 70 per cent of every dollar in Maui is directly or indirectly generated from tourism, according to the Maui Economic Development Tourism Board.
“It is safe to visit Maui,” Daniel Nāhoʻopiʻi, interim president and CEO of the HTA, told PAX earlier this month. “Our residents are looking forward to hosting [visitors] because it ensures they have their livelihoods, jobs and businesses sustained.”
The interim CEO is calling for regenerative tourism – the idea of leaving a place better off than it was found.
“This can be through buying local, visiting a local establishment, or contributing time and effort to a cause,” Nāhoʻopiʻi said.
The HTA has listed volunteer opportunities throughout the islands on its website here.