Spurring controversy locally but undoubtedly a necessary step for the economy, the reopening of iconic hotels in West Maui is underway, with different dates set for each hotel.
Many locals displaced from their homes by the August fires have been in hotel rooms while they await next steps. Some have not been back to their homes to retrieve personal effects, and they worry that the arrival of tourists may hinder progress.
But balance is key for tourism officials. Tourism is integral for Maui, and the state government supports the return of visitors. To that end, they have invested in a $2.6 million tourism campaign, with a heavy focus on supporting local businesses all over the state while encouraging responsible and respectful travel.
Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, noted that the return of visitors will not displace disaster survivors who are staying in hotels and that they will maintain their existing support from FEMA and the Red Cross.
“The best way to support Maui in its recovery is for travelers to continue with their Maui vacation this fall and don’t cancel those trips,” said Gionson, who also emphasized buying local as much as possible when in the state. “Maui’s economy is dependent on a robust visitor industry, and there is still plenty to see and do away from the Lahaina area.”
What’s reopening and when
Hotels in the Kaanapali resort area were not affected by the fires. Hotels including the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort and the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort are all open.
It’s important to remember opening dates are shifting quickly; readers should be sure to check with the hotels before making travel plans.
According to the latest information from Maui mayor Richard Bissen on Sept. 27, the county will be implementing a phased approach to reopening West Maui to visitors.
As part of Phase 1, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua will open Oct. 8 with on-site activities coming in phases. Room service will begin Oct. 15, and its weekly Tales of the Kapa Moe luau begins Oct. 17. The Montage Kapalua Bay and the Napili Kai Beach Club also reopen Oct. 8 with pool and restaurant facilities available.
Phase 2 includes most Kaanapali hotels, including the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas and the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas. Reopening dates for Phase 2 hotels will be based on the success of the Phase 1 reopening, with dates determined after Oct. 8.
Since the majority of displaced residents are sheltering in the lower Kaanapali area, this will be the last phase to allow for more time to address housing options. That is why hotels have had to push their opening date so as not to displace anyone.
These properties include the Outrigger Kaanapali Beach Resort, the Royal Lahaina Resort, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. A date has not yet been set for the reopening of these properties.
The ethical dilemma
After a traumatic event, travel to any place can cause ethical concerns. When is it appropriate to return? Does it seem right to relax and enjoy a place when others are suffering? Each traveler has their own opinion, but the feeling among those in the industry as well as many local businesses is that a visit to Maui now will do more good than harm.
The artist Welzie of the Welzie Art Gallery in Wailea said, “Supporting small businesses provides the resources needed to restore the Lahaina community and help support the rest of the island as a community to move forward.”
Local businesses and hotels are committed to the same goal, encouraging visitors with various promotions and donation opportunities. The Montage Kapalua Bay is one of many island hotels to create an emergency fund that accepts public donations to support affected employees.
Maverick Helicopters on Maui will donate $10 to recovery efforts for every seat it sells this year.
The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is launching a Love for Lahaina program with weekly pop-ups from local chefs and farmers. All the proceeds from each dinner go back to an emergency fund to support locals.
The hotel, which was the setting for the first season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” has also introduced a package that includes a donation of up to $200 per paid night to the Maui Strong Fund.
Chieko Garland, owner of Island Power Yoga in Kihei, summed it up best: “As a guest, please visit with respect and give grace and patience, but know we are ready to welcome you with aloha.”
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