To be honest, this is currently a sensitive and controversial topic both within the islands and around the rest of the country.
The bottom line and current official government and agency directive is that, outside the areas affected by the wildfires, Maui is open for visitors.
Previously, right after the fires broke out in Maui, the Hawaii Travel Authority and the State of Hawaii requested that people avoid traveling to Maui, except for essential services. At that time, the State was still trying to assess the damage to affected areas, which we eventually learned encompassed the historic town of Lahaina and parts of Upcountry Maui.
This was necessary at the beginning because Maui was desperately trying to relocate displaced tourists and residents and move people off the island. In addition, all resources were needed to bring in essential workers and supplies to the impacted regions. Maui also needed all accommodations possible to house people and workers displaced by the fires.
This recent and current directive has reopened Maui for visitors but with mixed sentiments, with some people – both Maui residents and visitors alike – arguing that it’s too soon after the wildfires, and others believing that blocking tourism will further hurt the Maui economy. Many businesses not impacted directly by the wildfires are already seeing sharp declines via cancellations into the fall and winter seasons.
All things considered, I think it’s important that there is an official directive stating that most areas of Maui are open to visitors because it then it’s up to you if you want to continue or start new travel plans to Maui – I don’t think there is a wrong answer. If you are concerned about travel plans to Maui, you could also consider the other Hawaiian Islands, including the Big Island too.
Keep in mind that while some people have been heavily impacted by the wildfires, other local businesses on different parts of Maui are still being negatively impacted in the aftermath, even though they were far from the actual wildfires. With tourism being an integral economic driving force of the island, completely stopping all tourism to Maui could have serious repercussions for island residents, especially since many of these businesses may have also been impacted by the recent Covid pandemic. At the same time, I think it’s important that tourists are respectful of the situation and losses as a result of the wildfires. Many residents have lost loved ones and property, plus people are still missing.
If anything, just keep these things in mind when you decide on your travel plans:
- Stay away from affected areas like West Maui and some areas of Upcountry Maui. In these areas, roadway access will be restricted.
- Be respectful. Many residents have just experienced heavy losses of life, personal property, and businesses. People are grieving – this is not the time to create your viral TikTok video of Lahaina or voyeuristically record images of wildfire damage.
- Avoid putting additional strain on resources ‐e. one rescue respondent needed to help you because you decide to explore a restricted area of a hiking trail or snorkel in a dangerous, unauthorized area means one less person available to focus on the wildfire recovery efforts.
- If you are unsure if your accommodations were impacted, please contact your hotel for further information. You may also want to contact your hotel prior to making new reservations if you are unsure of their location.
- Know that everything will NOT be up and running again, especially in the near future; there is still much work left to do and the State is expecting recovery to take months and even years.
- Honestly, not everyone will appreciate visitors at this time and that’s okay. People grieve differently and some people are experiencing multiple losses simultaneously (maybe the loss of a loved one, survivor’s guilt, loss of property, homelessness, joblessness, etc.) and it’s a lot to take in and process. At the same time, there are other residents who are grateful that you’re supporting their businesses. You’ll probably get a little of both if you travel during this time.
Whether you decide to visit or not, if you would like to help with the Maui recovery efforts, what are the best ways to aid Maui right now? Here are some organizations where you can see what is needed right now – this website will be updated regularly.
Be wary of scams that unfortunately pop up during post-crisis situations like these. While you may earnestly want to help, please thoroughly check all individuals and agencies as there are many scammers and spam links popping up alongside legitimate requests for help. Make sure to cross-check with official sites to ensure that your donations are actually going toward Maui relief efforts.
Sending out our heartfelt prayers for those impacted by the Maui wildfires❤️