Maui tells tourists ‘we need you’ following wildfire

By Neal Baldwin
Home » Maui tells tourists ‘we need you’ following wildfire

Tourism bosses in Hawaii have issued a renewed call for visitors to return to Maui following the island’s devastating wildfires earlier this month.

More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed and least 115 people killed when disaster struck the west Maui district of Lahaina, and since then the tourist industry has seen a slump in bookings and wave of cancellations.

While all visitors are being ordered to stay away from Lahaina and the nearby districts of Napili, Kaanapali and Kapalua out of respect during the recovery operation, hotels and other tourism businesses elsewhere on the island are still open. However, they are warning they now face financial ruin unless trade picks up.

Maui is the Hawaiian island most heavily dependent on tourism, with around 70% of its income coming directly or indirectly from the sector.

“We are seeing cancellations across the board,” said Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association CEO Mufi Hannemann. “Last we checked, Maui had dipped to about 57% occupancy, while statewide we’re at about 80% occupancy. And, obviously, the number of passenger arrivals also has taken a steep decrease.

“It will be devastating if people don’t steadily come back. It’d be naive to presume that everybody in Hawaii is pro-tourism, but this is a very different environment that we’re operating under. We’re seeing more local residents, on the news and on social media, saying, ‘I need to go back to work.’ We need to take a balanced approach while we grieve.”

Executive Director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association Lisa Paulson said the scale of the downturn could be seen at the airport, with unused rental cars piling up.

“I’ve talked to a couple of general managers, and they’re seeing massive cancellations and very low occupancy. And planes are flying in, but they’re not full.”

In a further blow, United has slashed its scheduled flights programme from the US to Maui’s Kahului Airport for September and October, virtually dropping Denver and Chicago services and almost halving flights from Los Angeles.

Vishal Patel, Sales and Marketing Director of Travelpack, which rescued clients from Maui during the wildfires, said the company will continue to promote and sell Hawaii but he said there is ‘little to no demand’ at the moment.

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