West Maui will reopen to visitors on Oct. 8, two months after devastating wildfires tore through the town of Lahaina, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green has announced.
In a statewide address, the governor declared that the West Maui communities of Ka‘anapali, Napili, Honokowai, and Kapalua will fully reopen. Lahaina, however, will remain closed to the public while emergency responders continue to search for victims and clean hazardous debris that the fires left behind.
“Beginning Oct. 8, all travel restrictions will end, and West Maui will be open to visitors again, so 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.”
On Aug. 8, wildfires quickly spread through the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, killing 115 people, according to the latest reports. About 66 people are still missing. Hotels on other parts of the island helped to house displaced residents who lost their homes and, in some cases, their loved ones.
Since disaster struck the island, there has been some debate about whether tourists should continue visiting Maui. The Hawaiian government strongly discouraged travel to West Maui but welcomed travel to other parts of the island. Officials now say that West Maui will be prepared for visitors by Oct. 8 and that tourism is necessary for the area’s economy to bounce back.
“No one in Hawai‘i will ever forget the tragedy that our friends, families, loved ones, and colleagues in Lahaina are enduring,” said Daniel Naho‘opi‘i, Chief Administrative Officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “The response from residents statewide and by people around the world to support Maui’s recovery has been incredible and inspiring. Now is the time for people everywhere to show their support for Maui by booking trips, making restaurant reservations, and frequenting Maui’s retail stores and attractions that support workers and their families.”
Airlines are expected to introduce special offers to entice travelers to return to Maui and support its local businesses. Alaska Airlines has offered a $99 flight to Maui for those who book by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 11.
Travel advisors say the governor’s announcement is “welcome news” because many clients had trips to Maui that were still in limbo. With a set reopening date for West Maui, where there are many hotels and resorts along the coastline, advisors can now make definite plans for clients.
Jim Bendt, owner of Pique Travel and a Hawaii travel specialist, told TMR that advisors must “encourage responsible tourism” and advise clients to “resist the urge to check out Lahaina.”
“There is no need to take selfie pictures of the devastation,” he said. “As travel advisors, we play an important role in educating clients about culturally sensitive things to avoid so we can support Maui's economy while also being empathetic to the tragedy that impacted so many people.
“As an industry, the best way we can support Maui is by sending clients to the hotels, shops, and restaurants in Ka'anapali, Napili, Honokowai, and Kapalua,” Bendt added. “Even if your guests are staying in Wailea, eating meals, and shopping in West Maui will help spread tourism dollars to hardest hit areas of the island.”