HONOLULU (KHON2) — Wednesday, Nov. 1 marks the first day that all of West Maui is open to visitors. The Maui mayor’s office said the decision involved many discussions with businesses, residents and the American Red Cross.
Local businesses are hoping this next chapter will provide much need financial stability.
The Maui Ocean Center said it’s been a slow climb since the first phase of reopening tourism to West Maui back on Sunday, Oct. 8.
“We’ve seen a little bit of an improvement there but we’re interested to see what this next phase does for us,” said Maui Ocean Center Marketing Director Mark Matthews.
Fortunately, the popular tourist attraction has not laid off any employees but it said this next phase will be essential in moving forward.
“Unless we see a more of an uptick, then we’re going to continue to operate as tight as we can and hopefully not finding ourselves making tough decisions that so many other companies have already had to make,” Matthews explained.
For Auntie Snorkel in Lahaina Gateway, it’s a different story. The company had to layoff some of its employees, but they’re optimistic business will flow in.
“We’re looking forward to seeing more people,” said the owner of Auntie Snorkel Mark Noble. “UNA I guess that’s been our challenge. The north part of the island reopened and that’s a little far from us. So we’re looking forward to the Kaanapali area reopening which is as of today.”
Almost three months after the fires, the full return of West Maui tourism comes with mixed feelings.
“It’s been very challenging. We have our own concerns but it seems so minor compared to what so many folks have been through,” said Noble. “But at the same time we all know how important it is to pay our bills. I have four children that were born on the island, of course they’re expensive.”
Lahaina resident Andrew Candelario, who lost his home in the fire and moved into a hotel before relocating to Kihei, said the return of tourism is a balance hard to navigate.
“I have mixed feelings about tourism,” said Candelario. “I know we need them and some of my best friends are tourists because they come every year. I worked in the industry on the beach and now they’re like ‘hey what’s it like? Should we come? Should we not come?'”
According to the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, the impacts from the Maui wildfires were significant in September with both visitor arrivals and spending down by 50%. While more visitors are expected to touch down on the Valley Isle residents are asking for respect, compassion and aloha.
“I’ve been fortunate enough where people have been helping me people that I don’t know,” said Candelario. “So that’s the thing I would say, if you’re coming — find something to do for somebody.”
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
DBEDT said with the reopening of West Maui, tourism is expected to improve over the next few months. It does not expect pre-wildfire numbers for Maui until late 2024.