Editorial | Our View Editorial: Tourism one part of Maui recovery Sept. 22, 2023 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! ASSOCIATED PRESS Unused rental cars fill a dusty field near Kahului Airport on Sept. 1. Something feels strange about urging tourists to return to Maui, so soon after Lahaina burned to the ground. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Something feels strange about urging tourists to return to Maui, so soon after Lahaina burned to the ground. Moreover, reopening West Maui to tourism exactly two months later, on Oct. 8, seems counterintuitive: Who can imagine frolicking at the resorts at Kaanapali, Napili-Honokowai and Kapalua, just down the road from the still-unfolding tragedy? And yet, that is exactly what is happening. The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is investing millions of dollars to develop a statewide Tourism Recovery Plan, and already has launched the Maui Marketing Recovery Plan, a $2.6 million effort to invite “mindful” visitors back to Maui. Meanwhile, Gov. Josh Green announced his plan to reopen West Maui to tourism Oct. 8, “so people from Hawaii and around the world can resume travel to this special place and help it begin to recover economically.” It’s a recognition of how deeply the fortunes of Maui’s residents are intertwined with tourism, which accounts for about 40% of the island’s economy. Nearly 8,000 people filed for unemployment in the last three weeks of August, compared to 295 during the same period In 2022. In the immediate aftermath of the fires, the industry was losing $13 million a day. Occupancy in Maui hotels dropped to 52.2% in August. “If we can support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and continue to be able to afford to live on Maui,” Green said. However one feels about tourism, the governor is right. People are struggling to survive, and restoring their means to do so is a crucial part of Maui’s recovery. It’s no less crucial than addressing the psychic and emotional damage; in fact, financial stability can make it easier to deal with less tangible wounds. Still, there is no denying the cognitive dissonance. An online petition from Lahaina Strong has gathered nearly 6,000 signatures, urging that the Oct. 8 reopening of West Maui be delayed. “The voices of our displaced residents, who have endured immeasurable hardships, have not been adequately heard,” the petition read. “ … We firmly believe that before any reopening takes place, it is imperative to consult with and prioritize the needs of these working-class Lahaina residents.” No one can deny that restoration must involve much more than physical rebuilding, reclaiming property rights and getting back to business — the petition is evidence enough of that. And it’s true that Maui residents, from West Maui and Lahaina especially, must lead the way. Otherwise, disruptive protests and social unrest are inevitable — especially if the recovery is perceived as under the control of wealthy outside interests. Here’s a good start: On Tuesday, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced the formation of a five-member Lahaina Advisory Team, a group of Lahaina residents who will help guide the recovery from a community perspective. Two public meetings are scheduled for today and Sunday to provide more information, including the establishment of a Maui County Office of Recovery. Bringing Maui back requires a truly all-inclusive effort that addresses everyone’s needs — a complex task, as everyone’s needs are different. That includes helping tourism-affected workers and businesses thrive again. It also includes the tourists themselves — who in their own way are part of the community, and play a crucial role in Maui’s recovery, not only by spending money, but showing empathy and respect for those hosting them. The HTA and Green need to tailor their tourism pitches to reflect these values. Ultimately, recovery means helping all the survivors rebuild their lives physically and emotionally, using every tool available — among them generosity, patience, much aloha, and yes, a stronger economy. Previous Story Editorial: Preserve what’s best of ‘Mill Camp’ Next Story Column: E akahele i ka ‘ai kini ‘ūhā pua‘a?