In the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that recently swept through parts of Hawaii, particularly affecting the historic West Maui town of Lahaina, there have been significant developments in terms of the impact on tourism. Here's the latest information on how travel has been influenced.
Travel to West Maui: What's the Situation?
Travel guidance updated on August 14 by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority states that all nonessential travel to West Maui, which includes Lahaina, Napili, Kaʻanapali, and Kapalua, is "strongly discouraged" until the end of August. Governor Josh Green's emergency proclamation has led to this directive. Those visiting West Maui for nonessential reasons have been requested to leave the island.
Hotels in these areas have temporarily halted bookings, as certain properties are currently unable to offer essential services. The authority advises visitors to postpone contacting West Maui establishments for reservation adjustments until stability is regained.
At present, West Maui hotels are accommodating evacuees, first responders, employees, and their families, with the number exceeding 1,000 and more expected to arrive.
Maui and Other Hawaiian Islands: Open for Business
Other parts of Maui, such as Kahului, Wailuku, Kihei, Wailea, Makena, and Hana, remain open to visitors. Similarly, other Hawaiian Islands, including Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, and Hawaii, are welcoming travelers.
The tourism authority emphasizes the importance of visitors being considerate and respectful during this difficult period for the local community.
Vacation Rental Properties: What's the Deal?
Rental site Vrbo has introduced an extenuating circumstances exception for eligible reservations, providing travelers with full refunds. Airbnb's extenuating circumstances policy encompasses all of Maui. Affected guests will receive details on cancellations through their Airbnb accounts. Future bookings will be governed by the policy based on the evolving situation.
Owners of vacation rental properties are encouraged to temporarily house displaced West Maui residents. Airbnb.org, Airbnb's nonprofit arm, will offer free temporary stays to at least 1,000 people.
The Challenge of Balancing Tourism and Housing
The island is grappling with a heightened dilemma between tourism and affordable housing, particularly as thousands of displaced West Maui residents seek accommodation. With prior economic setbacks due to the Covid pandemic, officials are cautious about discouraging tourists from visiting other parts of Maui.
Refunds and Changes to Hotel Bookings
West Maui hotels are temporarily suspending bookings. Several hotel properties have temporarily closed, including Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali; Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa; and The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Cancellation fees are waived through August 31.
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, for instance, is closed to arrivals through September 5, with refunds for affected deposits and prepayments.
The Plantation Inn in Lahaina has suffered irreparable damage. Outrigger Hospitality Group is relocating current guests within its properties across the Hawaiian Islands, maintaining rates and room types based on availability.
Flight Changes to and from Maui
US airlines flying into Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) have introduced flexible rebooking policies for affected travelers. Hawaiian Airlines has created a Mālama Maui Desk for relief organizations.
Currently, the travel situation for affected areas remains uncertain beyond August. Canceling trips preemptively might not yield added benefits and could exacerbate the potential loss of tourism revenue, which is crucial for the local community's well-being. The best course of action, once officials deem it safe, is not to cancel trips.