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Lahaina residents split on welcoming tourists back to the island

The Hawaii Tourism Authority says more than 46,000 people flew out of Kahului airport in the immediate days after the fire.
Lahaina residents split on welcoming tourists back to the island
Posted at 2:37 PM, Aug 22, 2023

After the devastating fires in Lahaina, there is an unusual moment of silence on Maui. It's a needed pause for some, but too quiet for others. As the extent of the devastation in Lahaina became clear, there was an even clearer call for tourists to stay away from Maui.

Actor Jason Momoa took to social media telling his followers, "do not travel to Maui." — many listened. The Hawaii Tourism Authority says more than 46,000 people flew out of Kahului airport in the immediate days after the fire.

Many on other parts of the island worry what will happen without the engine of tourism driving the local economy. State data shows about 1 in 5 of Maui county jobs are related to tourism. Tourists spent $5.7 billion in Maui last year.

On a desolate Kaanapali Beach,  empty shops and unused rental cars remind these Hawaiians of another event they were just starting to recover from. Almost everyone Scripps News talked with has a loved one either displaced, still missing or worse. And while people here mourn what happened, many know their future depends on visitors spending money.

SEE MORE: President Biden tours damage in Maui, promises support for rebuilding

Locals who want tourists to return to Maui say there's a way to be here respectfully, something many feel has been ignored by some visitors, like of tourists snorkeling in the same waters people used to try to escape the flames. In addition to respect, nobody wants to see resources like hotel rooms taken away from locals who need them.

"Right now we are in a period of mourning, and all of the resources need to be brought to bear to help the people of Lahaina, and upcountry Maui," said Rep. Mazie Hirono.

The governor addressed the world during President Biden's visit Monday, saying nobody can travel to West Maui at this time.

"But all of the other areas of Maui, friends and the rest of Hawaii are safe. They're open, they're available. The mystique and love here. The aloha is here for you. And the reason I say that is because when you come you will support our local economy and help speed the recovery of the people that are suffering right now," said Hirono.

There are other ways to help too.

"I met some tourists from Germany and Austria and other places who are spending their last few days on Maui volunteering at the center," said Hirono.


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