West Maui to Reopen for Tourism Nov. 1, Cancels Phased Opening Plan

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Kiai Collier of the Hawaii Land Trust walks with a hala sapling to a reforestation site at the Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, Wailuku, Maui. (Photo by the Hawaii Tourism Authority / Heather Goodman)

The county of Maui announced early this week that a gradual phased reopening of West Maui following the devastating wildfires of early August had been accelerated, and that the entire county—with the exception of hardest-hit Lahaina—would open to tourism on Nov. 1.

As international aid poured into fire-ravaged, historic Lahaina and adjacent West Maui lands in August and September, state Governor Josh Green announced a phased and “mindful” reopening that started on Oct. 8, but Maui officials including mayor Richard Bissen nixed the phased approach on Monday the 23rd in favor of a full resumption of tourism.

Although some residents and business owners have expressed dismay at the earlier reopening—calling it “disrespectful” and “a shame”—others approve of the decision.

“We’ve seen surveys that show 75 to 80 percent of the people looking for more permanent homes also have expressed a desire to get back to work to have a sense of normalcy in their lives,” Mufi Hanneman, president & CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association told Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV this week. Hanneman also said that residents who are living in West Maui hotels would not lose their housing and that reopening schedules for hotels would be voluntary.

HTA Director Highlights Affected Areas of West Maui

Hawaii Tourism Authority map shows areas still impacted by the August wildfires alongside areas preparing to reopen.

Meanwhile, at last week’s Ascend travel industry conference in Cancun, Maui was spotlighted in a presentation helmed by Robyn Basso, CTC, senior director of travel industry partnerships for the Hawaii VCB, who used a map to highlight the relatively small area—including Lahaina—still feeling the impacts of the disaster.

“We’re so grateful for the outpouring from the world as recovery efforts continue. The spirit of Maui is intact,” she said, but also noted that diminished tourism has interrupted the island’s flow of commerce and may be delaying its resurgence.

“It’s estimated that Maui is losing 11 to 13 million dollars a day,” Basso said. “We welcome visitors, and we invite them to visit in a respectful way. Understand that the hotels are adapting to the new normal,” she added, cautioning meeting planners and travel advisors to let potential visitors know that while the majority of the island is “business as usual,” parts of West Maui are still struggling.

“We understand it’s a deeply personal decision to visit Maui,” she said. “Group and leisure business to Maui, with the exception of Lahaina, and other parts of the Hawaiian Islands are welcome, and are helping to keep the economy alive.”

For more information, visit gohawaii.com.

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