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Residents of Maui Consider Tourism’s Role in Their Rebuilding Efforts

Residents of Maui are grappling with the role of tourism in their efforts to rebuild after a devastating wildfire. The tension between longtime residents, known as kamaaina, and the visitors who contribute to the island’s economy has existed for generations. However, the recent wildfire that swept through Maui, killing over 100 people and destroying the historic town of Lahaina, has heightened this tension.

In the aftermath of the fire, signs appeared in distressed neighborhoods, ordering tourists to “KEEP OUT.” While tourism is a significant economic engine for Maui, contributing to 70% of every dollar generated on the island, some residents are questioning the role it should play in the recovery process.

Kapali Keahi, a resident affected by the fire, expressed concerns about the impact of tourism on their ability to take care of their families. The Maui Economic Development Board acknowledges the significant role of tourism in the local economy but recognizes there are no easy answers when it comes to balancing the needs of residents and the long-term recovery efforts.

Experts point to past experiences, such as the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017, as a guide for navigating the aftermath of a disaster while keeping people employed. In Las Vegas, the focus initially shifted to supporting victims and the community before gradually inviting tourists back. The priority is to prevent the situation from worsening while ensuring economic stability.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green urged tourists to avoid fire-ravaged West Maui but stressed that the rest of the island and state remained open and safe. The governor also emphasized the importance of tourism in supporting the local economy and aiding in the recovery process.

Maui residents acknowledge the need for work and the economic consequences if tourism were to come to a halt. However, there is also a desire for locals to have the space to grieve and heal without constant outside scrutiny.

As Maui continues to rebuild and recover, finding a balance between tourism and the needs of the community will be crucial in ensuring the well-being of both residents and visitors.

Perspective: The debate surrounding tourism’s role in the rebuilding efforts of Maui highlights the delicate balance between economic reliance and the desire for privacy and healing. It serves as a reminder that while tourism brings significant benefits, it is essential to consider the needs and concerns of the local community in times of crisis. By finding ways to support both the economy and the well-being of residents, a sustainable and inclusive recovery can be achieved.

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