KAHULUI (KHON2) — Social media has been abuzz recently with posts, some from local celebrities, claiming that Maui is closed. While parts of West Maui are indeed shut, a large portion of the island remains open to visitors.
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Local businesses on the Valley Isle are starting to feel the impact of misinformation, as there has been a significant decrease in visitor arrivals. State data indicates that passenger arrivals to Maui have plummeted by nearly 80%, from approximately 7,500 daily to just 1,500 in the past week.
Mike Phillips, owner of Coconut’s Fish Cafe and a Maui resident for over 25 years, is feeling the strain. Besides mourning the tragic fire-related deaths — a grief he likens to the passing of his mother — Phillips is deeply concerned for his staff.
“My employees cannot survive on unemployment. Just yesterday, we made only $4,000, compared to an average of $17,000 in daily sales. With reduced tips and wages, how will they manage their expenses?” Phillips questioned, revealing that he might have to shut one of his two eateries on the Valley Isle soon.
Erratic messages circulating online, including warnings from some of Hawaii’s celebrities, have mistakenly portrayed the entire island of Maui as closed.
Kurtis Chong Kee, a resident of Haliimaile, clarified, “Lahaina is closed, not Maui. Many here still depend on various sources of income, so let’s be respectful.”
Mufi Hannemann of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association added, “Some interpret these messages as all of Hawaii being shut down. It’s crucial for those with platforms to be accurate in their communication.”
In contrast to the support during the COVID crisis, Governor Josh Green stated that substantial unemployment relief might not extend to those unaffected by the fires. However, he assured that there will be significant financial assistance for those directly impacted.
“In this crisis, the support will be primarily for those who lost jobs in Lahaina or suffered property or life losses. Still, we’ll be compassionate, ensuring emergency appropriations and housing for those rebuilding Lahaina,” Governor Green said.
Hannemann advised visitors with reservations to continue their plans to visit Maui. Phillips shared a heartwarming gesture where a customer donated $20,000 in gift cards for first responders. He hopes to utilize his closed restaurant to prepare meals for the needy.