Hawaiian tourism officials say that travelers should not refrain from traveling to Maui in the wake of the wildfires that decimated the town of Lahaina but should stay away from fire-ravaged West Maui itself.
“While vacation travel to West Maui (including Lahaina, Napili, Kaanapali, and Kapalua) is strongly discouraged through Oct. 17, travel to all other parts of Maui (including Kahului, Wailuku, Kihei, Wailea, Makena, Paia, Makawao and Hana) and other Hawaiian Islands are welcomed to keep residents employed and our economy alive,” according to an Aug. 22 statement from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
“No one can travel to West Maui right now. We will share when that is possible again,” said Hawaii Governor Josh Green during remarks delivered during the recent visit to Lahaina by President Joe Biden. “Only returning residents and authorized emergency relief workers should come here now. But all of the other areas of Maui … and the rest of Hawaii are safe. When you come, you will support our local economy and help speed the recovery of the people that are suffering right now.”
Heather Cross, owner and travel advisor at New York-based VBH Travel, took Maui off the itinerary of a planned August trip to Hawaii, adding extra days in Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai instead.
“I found rates went up and availability went down on the other islands within a couple of days of the fires as people who had plans to go to Maui rejiggered their plans,” she said. “Maui is the second most popular island for visitors, so avoiding travel there limits a lot of inventory.”
The Aug. 9 wildfires in West Maui killed at least 115 people and left thousands more homeless. About 80 percent of the historic town of Lahaina—a former royal capital of Hawaii and famed for its attractive Main Street—was destroyed in the blaze.
In the aftermath of the fires, some anti-tourism sentiment was sparked by reports of “disaster tourism” by some visitors. “You have tourists taking pictures of the destruction in Lahaina while there’s still bodies there,” local resident Courtney Lazo told ABC News on Aug. 28. “They’re snorkeling off the waters while they’re pulling people out of the water. It’s just extremely frustrating, and it feels like a slap in the face.”
Parts of Maui Are Welcoming Visitors
The MauiGuide.com website, based in Maui, urged anyone not involved in the relief effort to stay away during the month of August but urged visitors and groups with plans to visit the parts of Maui unaffected by the fires in September onwards not to cancel but “arrive with respect:” “Do not take a selfie with someone’s burnt house behind you. This tragedy will haunt our lives as a community forever, and there will be a very short fuse for any disrespectful actions by way of visitors.”
“Our businesses will need visitors to build back the economy in West Maui so please frequent the restaurants, stores, and shops,” the Maui travel site advised. “But be careful with your curiosity with the locals you meet. They may offer their story, and they may not. Genuine caring questions about how one survived the Lahaina fires could be triggering and not helpful. Just be uplifting, generous with your aloha and money, and help these people recover without bombarding them with questions. Ask for permission if you have a question, and if it’s too painful for them to discuss, leave it be.”
Cross agreed that clients shouldn’t be discouraged from visiting Hawaii in general and destinations outside of West Maui on that island.
“Some people questioned our decision our take our trip, but we have had a wonderful time so far,” she said. “Unless someone was debating between donating the funds they would have spent to the recovery efforts versus taking their trip, these islands and their residents rely on tourism for their livelihood, so staying home would do more harm than traveling sensibly and sensitively.”
The Maui Goodness website has a list of local organizations that are accepting donations and welcoming volunteers to help with the West Maui recovery efforts.
This article first appeared at recommend.com.