West Maui Reopens: Is it Too Soon?

Skift Take

Hawaii Governor Josh Green reopened fire-stricken West Maui this weekend although some locals say the grieving community is not ready.

Two months after wildfires devastated West Maui, Hawaii Governor Josh Green has ended all travel restrictions. From October 8, the West Maui communities of Kā‘anapali, Nāpili, Honokōwai, and Kapalua will gradually re-open. However, out of respect to the town’s residents, Lahaina, the island’s crown jewel, remains closed to the public until further notice.

The devastating losses of area residents and businesses are still fresh. Many are not yet ready to welcome back visitors. The fires killed 97 people and damaged more than 2,000 structures. Parts of both Upcountry and West Maui continue to be under unsafe water advisories from the fires.

Finding the Right Balance

The tourism industry brings about $5.7 billion in revenue each year to the island. The Maui Economic Development Board says this accounts for roughly four of every five dollars generated on the island. With tourism the largest employer on the island, it is important to balance the urge to reopen with being respectful to those who suffered tremendous physical, financial, and emotional losses.

“With West Maui open to visitors again, people from Hawaii and around the world can resume travel to this special place and help it begin to recover economically,” Green said. “This difficult decision is meant to bring hope for recovery to the families and businesses on Maui that have been so deeply affected in every way by the disaster.”

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority has committed to financially supporting nonprofits and other events in Hawaii through their new ‘Umeke Digital Portal. “The funding opportunities offered through these programs leverage tourism’s economic benefits to support successful community initiatives,” said Daniel Nāho‘opi‘i, HTA’s interim president and CEO.

But for many local residents, it’s too soon. According to the Associated Press, on Tuesday, the Lahaina community delivered a petition to Gov. Green with more than 14,000 signatures requesting a delay as they struggle to recover and grieve.

Group Business is Critical for Maui

Meeting and incentive groups, such as the Signature Travel Network (STN), will aid recovery through their direct economic impact. The group’s annual Owners’ Meeting at the Grand Wailea on Maui from Sept. 6-9 brought about 450 attendees to the area and poured more than $2 million into the local economy.

“There was obvious concern for the people of Maui who were impacted by the devastation and whether it was even appropriate to be on the island so soon,” admitted John Monahan, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau president and CEO.

Such conversations continued until it “became clear that coming to Maui in a respectful and responsible manner was the best way for the group to help the residents and the economy,” said Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network. He believes that holding their annual owners’ meeting in Wailea was not only the right decision but led to the best meeting of their 67-year history.

“For those attendees concerned our event would distract from recovery efforts, all concerns were immediately put to rest as soon as they met local Maui residents, each there with open arms and gratitude for travelers returning to the island. Giving back to Maui gave our meeting purpose and the outpouring of gratitude lifted everyone’s spirits,” said Sharpe.

Making a Direct Financial Impact

The group’s impact on the local community and economy was notable in many ways. It donated more than $400,000 to the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, Maui Food Bank, and Maui Humane Society. An additional $75,000-$100,000 from AmaWaterways, based on its booking incentive to give $100 per booking for the next month to the STN Travel Elevates Maui Relief Fundraising Effort.

Local charity partners received more than 7,000 pounds of donated supplies.  Hundreds of volunteer hours helped to make meals, serve at the Maui Humane Society, and sort through donated items. The “Maui Market” at The Andaz Maui on September 8 generated tens of thousands of dollars for local vendors. 

“The aloha shown by the entire Signature Travel Network towards the people of Maui was an incredibly beautiful thing to see,” said HTA’s Nāho‘opi‘i. “They demonstrated that it was possible to continue with their meeting on Maui during a very challenging time, and truly benefit the community in many ways during their stay with us. I extend my sincerest aloha and mahalo to Mr. Sharpe and all the STN attendees for their courage and trust in staying the course.”

How to Help Maui

Meeting planners and event industry professionals interested in making donations to help communities and families recover on Maui can contribute to the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Kāko‘o Maui Fund, the American Red Cross, or any other qualified organization that is providing help on the ground. Those looking for volunteer opportunities in the community can find inspiration at