Maui Asks For “Tourism Emergency,” Desperate For Visitors To Return

Last week I wrote that Maui’s mayor said it was time for tourists to return to the island. Just stay away from the western part. They need visitors to Wailea. They need visitors to Kihei.

And many of you slammed me, calling me insensitive to the tragedy that had occurred on the island. One commenter wrote that I was “tone deaf and steeped in the colonial privilege.”

I had written that,

  • After the fires it didn’t make sense to go right away. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, tourists would be a burden on limited infrastructure.

  • But it would soon be important for Maui that tourists return.

  • This switch would happen before people realized it had happened. So trip shaming would last longer than it should – long than what’s in the best interest of locals.

That is… exactly what happened. Maui is heavily reliant on tourism. It is 80% of the island’s economy, and open hotels are less than 50% occupied. The number of people unemployed on the island has increased ten-fold.

A commenter on this site last week wrote, “Just because someone is working in Wailea doesn’t mean they do not have family and friends who may have been severely impacted in Lahaina. Forcing those individuals to wait on you because you feel you deserve your vacation and are “helping the economy” is insensitive at best.” The problem is locals are being punished twice first by the fire (and those who failed to stop it) and now by those who think it is ‘insensitive’ to travel there, and those who feel shamed by them out of visiting, who are costing them their livelihoods.

Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green, speaking with President Biden, said that the rest of the island is open and travelers are encouraged to visit. Airlines have culled about one third of flights to the island, though, because people are trying to be ‘sensitive’ and staying away.

The local tourism authority is asking for the state to declare a “tourism emergency” and unlock $5 million to get the message out that only West Maui is closed. The tourism board’s budget is tight, slashed because of pre-fire ambivalence and hostility towards tourists. Ironically, once the tourists left, locals became desperate for their return.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve had many happy experiences in Hawaii across 4 of the islands. These all took place before the pandemic. After seeing Hawaii’s horrible response to the pandemic (putting onerous requirements on their fellow Americans to visit, presenting an unwelcoming attitude) I’ve decided it will be 10 years before I return, if ever. The “shaming” response to this fire is more of the same. I would be just as happy if no tourist ever went there and all the people went back to farming.

    Go visit Bali. The people are super welcoming and friendly. Spend your dollars where they are appreciated and stretch further. Anyone going to Hawaii gets what they deserve.

  2. Hummmmmm….They don’t want mainland tourists, so I assume they also don’t want mainland building materials and all the other things from the mainland that keeps them from living in the pre-colonial era.

    Who wants electricity? They prefer to just keep eating poi.

    Or maybe they just expect cars and furniture and cell phones just to wash up on the beach like they do in south seas cargo cults.

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