West Maui Travel Reopening In October Uncertain (Updated)

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As of September 9, Hawaii seems to have a problem setting reopening dates. We saw this with COVID and now once again with West Maui following the Lahaina fire. It appears now that the October 17 visitor reopening date previously set may now be moved one way or the other. It could be sometime later, as far away as December 1, or earlier, as soon as early October. But nothing is entirely clear yet, and we are awaiting further clarification.

Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, first indicated a potential delay in reopening at a recent questionably private meeting held behind closed doors with business owners, the Maui Mayor, and state officials. Others who wanted to attend were not included. What a delay in the West Maui reopening date would do to the already severely distressed Maui economy is extreme.

Since then, however, the governor has been under obvious pressure to suggest visitors come back to West Maui sooner that he would like. Thus he may opt to reverse the plan to hold reopening, and instead suggest visitors return to West Maui as soon as early October.

Consensus on when to reopen West Maui still missing for everyone.

“We’re trying to find a balance between giving West Maui time to grieve, and saving the economy on Maui. And so my current inclinations is to — with more input — open West Maui to Kamaaina as early as October, and to follow that with a more broad opening four to six weeks later. “

Governor Josh Green, speaking Tuesday, September 5.

What exactly does it mean to open to Kamaaina first?

Could it be the family of those in West Maui, Hawaii residents, returning visitors, or precisely what? That term can mean different things to different people, and no precise definition exists.

It is clear from comments we have received and from what Governor Green reported as well, that those working in the West Maui visitor industry “have been suggesting they want to be back at work so they can survive, but we’re very sensitive to where people are in the cycle of grieving the loss of their homes or friends or family.”

The reality of an impending financial disaster.

Governor Green is reported to have said, “It’s a very delicate question, but if we don’t act, we do worry that lots of people could go bankrupt and be forced to leave Maui, and that won’t be good for anyone.”

That is precisely what comments here have indicated, including, for example, this one from regular commenter Nita, who lives in West Maui, who said just this week how dire the financial situation is:

“Aloha! I live in Lahaina/Kaanapali, and if things don’t change here, and I mean quickly, I do not see how Maui will survive; locals say things are worse than Covid lockdowns…there are many suffering from the Lahaina fires (and they need long term housing asap; hotel lodging for those displace is a temp solution; housing has been an urgent need here forever) and now the suffering has spread across the island as many rely on tourism for income/paychecks/livelihoods and are literally one paycheck away from disaster…Please come visit Maui! Ignore our inept Governor Green (where the heck did he come up with the October 17th date?!?) Visit areas that are fully open – Southside areas…We need tourists for better or worse, and please pray that those in fear of losing their livelihoods will be okay…there is talk of a Covid-like government payout…We don’t need more government, We just need the government to Get the Heck out of our way so we can make decisions best for us and our Ohana !!!

Lisa, a visitor, just added to the conversation, “We are booked in Kahana for early October. We read that the road is open. Maui wants visitors. Then you say…that West Maui is closed until at least October 17. Should we rebook for October 17? Is that date guaranteed?” This is exactly our problem as well… yesterday I got an email saying Leilani’s has canceled our dinner rez for 10/12, saying they’re open on the patio from noon to 7:00. Are restaurants and businesses open in West Maui? If there’s nothing open yet, is the October 17 date real? This is the frustration because we want to do the right thing, but it’s a lot of money for flights and condo to just wait and see…”

And lastly, Ken said, “I live in Kahana just north of Kaanapali alot of businesses are opening everyday. Our beaches are empty and it’s as beautiful as ever. We need support for our restaurants and many other businesses. The hiway has no restrictions please come and stay.”

Business owners need to reopen or abandon ship in many cases.

Business owners told the governor, and have continued to tell us, that they must reopen immediately in order to stay afloat. $10K or $20K won’t cut it. On the other hand, Maui County officials, according to Green, are more concerned with “opening too soon.”

Will the October 17 date hold or not? Three new dates emerge.

During the private meeting with the Lahaina Town Action Committee, Governor Green spoke about reopening West Maui to Kamaaina as soon as October 1, while other visitors might need to wait until November 15 or December 1.

The reopening date also depends in part on the availability of hotel rooms. One of the many significant tasks is moving about 6,000 residents out of Maui hotel rooms and into longer-term rentals in the next two to four weeks. But finding rental properties on Maui is not easy and it isn’t known what’ has been’s being done to move this process forward.

The personal choice of when to return to West Maui.

Obviously it will take years to rebuild Lahaina, but the remaining parts of West Maui were not damaged. The state has asked that visitors avoid West Maui for now. That is not an order, however, just a request. The road is open and if visitors wish to go there, that is a personal choice and they are able to do so. Comments reflect different issues including allowing the area to heal and focusing the area’s efforts on helping those impacted by the fire, as well as the need to have business return to normal as quickly as possible.

West Maui represents just 15% of Maui.

Just to clarify for anyone not familiar with Maui, the majority of the island, including South Maui and other areas of the island are not included in this request. It is only for West Maui, which does include the areas beyond the fire-burned area of Lahaina, including Kaanapali and Kapalua.

Courteous comments are always welcome.

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