In the throes of responding to the Maui wildfires that razed the celebrated town of Lahaina and claimed over 110 lives, Hawaii remains mostly open for tourism, despite the misgivings of both residents and tourists.
“Do not come to Maui,” Kate Ducheneau, a Lahaina resident, said in a TikTok video that has been viewed more than two million times since it was posted on Sunday. “Cancel your trip. Now.”
“It’s just kind of a gut-wrenching feeling to see other people enjoying parts of their life that we used to welcome,” she said, adding that her home was severely damaged by fire and her family evacuated with minutes to spare.
Last week’s tragedy has intensified long-simmering tension over the archipelago’s economic reliance on tourism, a dependency that sparked anti-tourism protests in recent years and brought the state to its knees during the pandemic. Many residents, particularly in Maui, are furious over the uncomfortable, contradictory scenario of visitors frolicking in the state’s lush forests or sunbathing on white-sand beaches while they grieve the immense loss of life, home and culture. Others believe that tourism, while particularly painful now, is vital.
“People forget real quick right now, how many local businesses shut down during Covid,” said Daniel Kalahiki, who operates a food truck in Wailuku on Maui, east of Lahaina. The island needs to heal and the disaster areas are far from recovered, he said, but the tourist-go-home messaging is irresponsible and harmful.
“No matter what, the rest of Maui has to keep going on,” said Mr. Kalahiki, 52. “The island has already been shot in the chest. Are you going to stab us in the heart also?”
The devastating loss of life, and these conflicting messages, are causing travelers to grapple over the propriety of visiting Maui, or anywhere in Hawaii, in the near future, prompting them to ask if their dollars would help or their presence would hamper recovery efforts.
“If we’re in a Vrbo, is that going to take away from a potential person who’s been displaced?” said Stephanie Crow, an Oklahoman traveling to Maui this fall for her wedding.
Official guidance from the Hawaiian government has shifted in past week, first discouraging travelers from visiting the entire island of Maui, and now, from West Maui for the rest of the month. Travel to the other islands, including tourist-draws Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island, remains unaffected.
State tourism groups say that travel is encouraged…