HONOLULU (KHON2) — University of Hawaii economists said at least $15 million in visitor spending was lost every day in the weeks immediately after the Lahaina fires.
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West Maui is supposed to reopen to tourism on Sunday, Oct. 8 but there is mixed reaction from the Valley Isle.
Hawaiian Kingdom clothing store in Wailuku has lost about 50% of its business since Tuesday, Aug. 8. Their message is that Maui is still open.
“You know, I know everybody says, ‘We don’t need tourists, we can support ourselves,’ but we do. We really do,” Hawaiian Kingdom manager Racquel Kaires said.
Gov. Josh Green announced the west side will reopen however, two months to the day after Lahaina burned down. West side resident Jordan Ruidas said that is too soon.
“The ones who aren’t ready are being pinned against the small business people who are and the people who are, by our government,” Ruidas said. “And that’s not fair because we should be sticking together in a time like this, you know?”
Ruidas founded the community group Lahaina Strong and created a petition to delay the Oct. 8 reopening date.
“And then in a little more than 24 hours, we got like 3,000 signatures,” Ruidas said.
That number was above 6,700 on Friday, Sept. 22 but economists pointed out that a delayed reopening will have other consequences.
“The longer we postpone the return of visitors and visitor spending, the longer families are going to be without jobs or with reduced hours,” said UHERO executive director Dr. Carl Bonham.
Bonham added that reconstruction in Lahaina is very unlikely in 2024, it is possible by mid-year in 2025. There are still some outstanding challenges.
“We don’t know how effective the marketing campaign will be to let people know that, you know, it wasn’t the entire island that burned to the ground. It wasn’t the whole state that burnt,” Bonham said.
Businesses are asking Hawaii residents to buy local in the meantime.
“We have to pull together, stay strong, you know, and help each other get through this time cause it’s not going to be done overnight,” Kaires said. “But in time, if we all work together, you know, it’ll all come together.”
Click here to view UHERO’s full economic forecast.