Skift Take

Public officials sped up the full reopening of West Maui to help save the pivotal holiday season for all of Maui. Hopefully, it's not too late.

Maui’s western region will be fully reopened to tourism on Wednesday. Yet the recovery of the island as a whole remains uncertain two months after a wildfire devastated Lahaina and left nearly 100 people dead.

“It’s still slow right now, and we know that come November 1st, the reservations won’t be coming in fast and furious,” said Sherry Duong, executive director of Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It’s going to be a slow trickle.” 

Scheduled airline seats for the months ahead remain below their 2022 level. Total domestic air seats to Maui are down 23% in November and 21% in December, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

After the August 8 wildfire in West Maui, the region was closed to visitors to allow for clean-up, a search for survivors, and respect for grieving residents. 

About 70% of every dollar in Maui County is directly or indirectly generated from tourism, according to the Maui Economic Development Tourism Board.

Tourism to the whole island, which drives roughly 40% of its economic revenue from tourism, plummeted.

The nosedive has stopped. But it likely won’t move in a positive direction for quite some time.

“Booking trends stabilized in the weeks that followed, and cancellations have abated, but it will be a while yet before demand fully returns to the robust levels we saw earlier in the summer,” said Peter R. Ingram, Hawaiian Holdings president and CEO, during a third-quarter earnings call. 

Some financial executives are optimistic about December, a peak tourism season.

“I do believe you will start to see activity start to come back over the holidays, maybe not as soon as Thanksgiving, but probably over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” said Robert Scott Harrison, CEO and president of First Hawaiian Bank, during an earnings call.

Opening West Maui

The November 1 opening signals to employees and businesses that they could start to generate revenue again.

Roughly 8,000 residents across the island are out of work, and many residents have had to migrate, said Duong. 

Amid the quick reopening, most of the 3,000 displaced residents staying in Kalaipuli hotels will not become homeless. Local officials are looking for long-term housing for them. Some of the displaced whose homes didn’t burn down are waiting for their homes to be cleaned up of smoke left by the fire, said Duong.

Slow Recovery

The previous plan was to open the region in three phases. Phase 1 started on October 8 for select island areas. But that didn’t do much to speed things up for West Maui.

“I spoke with my general manager partners that were from Kapalua to Kahana, and all of those accommodations between all of them, they only had 30 reservations,” said Duong.

Residents assumed there would be a swarm of tourists similar to when the island opened up after the pandemic, said Duong. They didn’t take into account that international travel back then was restricted. Now, Americans have been rushing to travel abroad more than domestically.

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Tags: disasters, hawaii, hawaii tourism authority, maui, tourism

Photo credit: West Maui has been fully reopened to tourists. Farid Askerov / Unsplash

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