Activists debate tourism in wake of the Maui wildfires

It has been a little over two months since the wildfires ravaged the town of Lahaina in West Maui, Hawaii. It is believed that 97 people died in the fires and some residents are still looking for family members. There are also people who were put out of their homes and forced to stay in hotels as the island tries to work towards healing. Despite all of this chaos, West Maui was opened to tourism on Oct. 8, a move that residents are against. 

Tourists would be unable to access Lahaina as it is still being cleared of harmful materials from the disaster, but they would continue to revel in the other usual commodities of a Hawaiian vacation. Civilians are furious, wondering why people would want to come to Maui in the midst of figuring out the next step, knowing that families were lost.

The natives and businesses are unable to see eye to eye, despite not necessarily disagreeing.

“Why do these displaced people that lost family members – lost everything they own – have to go to work now and put on a smile to serve cocktails, to bring towels, to clean their room? How would that make you feel if you lost your family and everything you own?” Jeremy Delos Reyes, one of the many residents dealing with losing his home, explained in an interview with ABC News

With this much despair, you might be wondering: why are they opening up to tourism in the face of social rejection? The answer is that tourism is the number one source of Hawaii’s economy and without it, businesses are struggling. Especially small businesses, which get most of their income from tourists.

The debate over tourism as a vital part of Maui’s economy has been a long-term debate between businesses and native Hawaiians. Native Hawaiians dislike businesses taking large plots of land and water from them, which has resulted in a drought. This only made the wildfires more devastating as it partially caused hoses to run dry during efforts to extinguish them.

So, the concern now is what to do next. The natives and businesses are unable to see eye to eye, despite not necessarily disagreeing. It seems most of the people who are against opening up Maui are only against it for now and arguing that tourists should wait until things are more stable. One idea that has been mentioned is having tourists volunteer during their time in Maui in order to help the recovery process. 

I think volunteering would work out, since the articles I have been seeing have given the impression that many people are heading to Hawaii anyway despite the outcry from the residents to stay home. It would bring in a large amount of helpers and still provide for the economy while allowing people to have their trip.

Overall, it is a very complex issue with many layers that have overlapped for decades now. While I would like to say more about the topic, at the end of the day, I cannot properly speak on the subject as someone who does not live on nor has ever been to Maui. All I can do is spread the word and let readers know about the complications associated with tourism, perhaps forewarning anyone who had any ideas of going soon and inspiring them to maybe help out.

If you want to help more but aren’t planning on vacationing, there are certain organizations raising funds for the community such as Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s Maui Strong fund or you can contribute to the Maui Food Bank.

 Featured photo courtesy of Sunsplash, Flickr