Mon, Oct 9, 2023 10:47 AM
By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square
West Maui reopened to tourists Sunday over the objection of the county council members, but arrivals to Maui will not return to previous levels until 2024, according to Chief State Economist Eugene Tian.
The governor announced plans to reopen West Maui to tourism a month ago.
“Many have asked about the right time to reopen West Maui to visitors. There is no easy answer to this question, but I can say that if we support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and can continue to be able to afford to live on Maui,” said Gov. Josh Green in a statement to The Center Square.
The Maui County Council voted unanimously Friday to urge Green to postpone reopening West Maui.
“While there are financial pressures to help the economy, I believe the economy could suffer more if opening is done prematurely and visitors are met with contempt or disdain,” said Councilmember Shane Sinenci.
Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said during Friday’s meeting that reopening West Maui was the governor “cracking the whip sending everyone back to work.”
“The spectrum of tourists who come, from amazing human beings, to some uneducated, to the downright deplorable humans, more of the amazing humans are going to be choosing not to come because they have compassion for our community,” said Rawlins-Fernandez. “More of the deplorable ones would choose to come right now.”
Maui County Councilmember Tamara Paltin said ever since the governor announced plans to begin reopening West Maui, “a lot of people” have been feeling the strain.
“We need certain things to be able to open to tourism. We need stability of housing. We’re not machines,” said Paltin. “There’s so many things that we could be doing differently and I think the best thing of it is when people tell us how they’re feeling, when people come and they talk to us politely, we listen to what they request. There was ten hours of testimony. There’s over 270 pieces of written testimony. And these are from people, like I know their name when I see their name and I see the address and I see where they used to live.”
Sunday’s opening represented part one of three phases. Lahaina remains closed “out of respect to the town’s residents,” according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Air bookings are down for October compared to last year, and domestic passenger counts to Kahului Airport are much lower than the daily average before the wildfires, the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism told The Center Square on Monday.
However, there has still been an uptick in passenger arrivals to Kahului Airport since September, the department said. Additionally, Tian told The Center Square in a statement that arrivals to Maui are expected to improve over the next few months.
At least 97 people were killed in the Aug. 8 fires that damaged or destroyed more than 2,220 buildings. The cause is under investigation.