Tourism to Maui all but stopped in the aftermath of the wildfires in early August after Governor Josh Green asked visitors to Maui to stay away.
Account director for Hawaii Tourism Oceania, Jennifer Gaskin, said “a lot of people are worried about whether they should be visiting Maui at this time, whether it is the right thing to do.
“Maui is one of the islands with the highest reliance on tourism for local people: over 80 per cent of people are directly employed in the tourism industry. Aside from the devastation and loss of life and homes caused by the fires, what we want to avoid is a second disaster, which would be an economic disaster if people stopped visiting the island of Maui,” she said.
“So, we are really strongly encouraging people not to cancel their plans to Maui and if they are thinking of visiting the Hawaiian Islands, consider Maui as one of their top choices. That is the biggest way people can really support the people of Maui and local businesses on the island.”
Apart from the township of Lahaina which bore the full brunt of the wildfire fuelled by 107km/h winds, the rest of Maui is open for business.
She said that from October 8 the area known as West Maui – Kaanapali, Mapili and Kapalua – will be open to tourists. West Maui has housed many of the 7,500 displaced residents, employing 29 hotels and hundreds of short-term rental apartments. Up to five of the hotels in the region – comprising major international five-star brand hotels popular with leisure, conference and incentive guests – will be used mid-term to house residents until alternative arrangements are in place.
Gaskin highlighted that Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands and a relatively small area was affected by the fires. Other popular destinations were not directly affected and remain open, including South Maui with accommodation in Wailea, Kihei and Makena. The north shore, including the town of Paia and the popular Road to Hana are also unaffected.
While Lahaina, formerly the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, has lost its role as a busy retail and dining precinct, both west and south Maui have a range of restaurants, open-air retail malls and traditional event spaces.
Late last week authorities revised the death toll down from 115 to 97 after DNA testing. The number of missing, which had been reported at more than 3,000 initially, has also been reduced to 31 following extensive missing person inquiries by police.
Gaskin said a range of airfares available for travel this year had recently been placed into the market and it was hoped these would spur the return of Australian visitors.
One bright note was the recent eruption of the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, which she said would draw visitors, particularly at dusk and dawn for the spectacular light show – “a bucket list item” she said.