Hawaii’s Maui Locals Speak Out Against Tourism Amid Housing Shortage

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Hawaii and Maui won’t see a full tourism recovery if the public perceive them as responsible for leaving the wildfire victims homeless.

Maui locals voiced their frustration with tourism promotion at a community meeting held by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority on Monday. Participants were upset about accommodating tourists as wildfire survivors are still in need of housing.

“Tourism has added to the trauma by adding to the fear of the displaced being kicked out of the hotels where they have been staying since losing their homes,” said one Lahaina resident at the meeting. 

The housing situation of the displaced residents was a lightning rod. Thousands lost their homes to the August 8 wildfire and then were housed in hotels. 

Local relief agencies and the government have yet to find a long-term housing solution for the displaced. The entire island was opened to tourism on November 1.

“We’re worrying about what’s going on tomorrow while these people galavant about and have a good time,” said one resident.

Tourism is vital to Maui’s economy. About 70% of every dollar generated in the island comes directly or indirectly from the visitor industry, according to the Maui Economic Development Tourism Board.

Maui Struggles to Recover Tourism: Latest Data

  • Tourists spending in Maui down by over $100 million. Visitor spending was $326 million in October, down from over $436 million last year.
  • 20,000 fewer tourists in Maui per day. Daily visitor count in October totaled 36,000, down over 59,400 from last year.
  • 2024 demand is underperforming. Flight and hotel bookings are “lower than usual compared to a year ago,” said Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer of Hawaii Tourism Authority.
  • Many tourists are still confused about whether it’s okay to travel to Maui due to inconsistent, sometimes conflicting, messaging, according to a survey by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Over 5,000 were unemployed for the week of Thanksgiving. That’s down from the peak of 8,800 in mid-September, but that could be because people moved out of Maui to find work elsewhere, said Gionson.

Over a third of wildfire survivors say employment and financial recovery is their most pressing need, according to the Hawaiian government.

Alaska Airlines CFO Sees a Recovery Next Year

“I think that’s going to happen in due time. It’s got to be right for the community,” said Shane R. Tackett, Alaska Airlines’ CFO in a call with investors about the proposed merger with Hawaiian Airlines.
“But we just know that’s a destination people are going to want to travel to over the long term. I don’t think it’s a several-year process. I think there’s a lot of demand already starting to show up that wants to go back to Maui.”

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