The Only Way To Save Maui’s Economy - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Chris Mentzel

Chris Mentzel is an engineer originally from Germany. He has lived on Maui since 1991.

Maui faces an epochal choice between wealth and health. How will our leaders decide?

Will they protect the health of our residents by keeping tourists out? Or will they restart tourism in order to protect the economy, which will bring back COVID-19?

This question is debated hotly these days, but it is the wrong choice. It is like the Woody Allen quote: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction.”

If Maui opens up to tourists, we will have never-ending outbreaks of COVID. Even with testing and precautions there is no way around that. Based on numbers from a recent UHERO study, a full return to tourism with the most careful screening will miss 171 actively infected people every month.

If things go wrong, Maui may become known as a death trap and tourists won’t come back for years. That’s not the path to wealth.

Wailea Beach on Maui. A reputation as a safe place to travel will help the Valley Isle’s economic recovery. Flickr: scott1346

If Maui doesn’t let tourists in, we face continuing poverty with all the side-effects of the desperation that comes with it. Tens of thousands without a job, mortgages failing, suicides, the economy in ruins. That is not healthy.

We also have to come to terms with the truth that the worldwide pandemic is far from over. The virus has not magically disappeared in April, it won’t disappear in the summer and there are no breakthrough treatments. Worldwide lockdowns have temporarily flattened the curve, but the fundamental situation has not improved.

But we are lucky. Thanks to wise decisions by Mayor Mike Victorino and Governor David Ige, Maui will have eradicated COVID-19 by July.

Maui’s Greatest Asset

New Zealand has achieved eradication and life is back to normal with parties, sport events, no masks and no fears. Maui could be there soon and attract visitors as the only COVID-safe destination.

This is a binary thing. Either there are zero cases on Maui or we are part of the pandemic. There is no margin of error, no safe amount of cases. If only one person is infected, life stops and the masks go back on. That means there is no way around an even stricter 14-day quarantine for all arrivals. It will get shorter, as better tests become available.

Pivot Towards Long-Term Visitors

Affluent people from the mainland want to come and ride out the pandemic here. They can enjoy the island and live in a no-mask, no-fear luxury hotel while the ICUs on the mainland fill up.

Most knowledge workers (employees who work only via computer and phone) are working from home now. They will soon realize that they may just as well work from a no-mask, no-fear luxury hotel in paradise.

Sanctuary Maui from Chris Mentzel on Vimeo.

These are just two of many target markets that can fill our hotels within months, bringing the sorely missed tourist jobs back. Switching from 8-day luxury tourism to pandemic-fleeing visitors has a huge advantage.

There is no competition. There are no other locations in the United States that can control their borders, which is a necessity for eradication. Meanwhile foreign travel is largely blocked and feels unsafe.

Eradication Brings Health

Going back to a mask-free, fear-free lifestyle will be a relief for the residents. Isolation has been hard on most people and many need kind support to reconnect and once again breathe deeply. And finally our kupuna can get out again without any fear.

Jobs will be coming back and a positive vision for the future will already bring relief. Like in every crisis, we will continue to see a lot of neighborly help.

Eradication Brings A New Economy

Maui’s efforts towards developing a high-tech economy have been hampered by a lack of expertise and funding. With tens of thousands of knowledge workers and affluent people in our hotels that may just change.

As they come to love Maui, some may start their own businesses. If it’s only 1% a year, that would be 300 new ventures. With a little direction from the county they may even choose to invent technologies that help the island or solve world problems.

It’s Not Hard To Do

A managed quarantine needs to be organized. Hotels should develop their offerings around the needs of the new visitors. Stylish working tables for the computers including fast internet will help.

Add social support for those who miss the far-away family. Marketing may move towards direct sales, increasing profits. The county should collect fees for its services.

What seemed like the biggest disaster for our economy in May 2020 with 35% unemployment may turn into the greatest opportunity ever. A “Sanctuary Maui” could be a safe place in a turbulent world.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Hawaii's Moment Of Critical Consciousness Raising

Before you go

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism. The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.

Will you consider becoming a new donor today?


About the Author

Chris Mentzel

Chris Mentzel is an engineer originally from Germany. He has lived on Maui since 1991.

Latest Comments (0)

We have made Maui our home for 5 & half years now before this we lived on Big Island for over 9 months. Although I see the importance of getting tourism back to Maui and the whole state of Hawaii, now is the time to become self-reliant. With all the farm land that has become available since the pulling out of the big sugar cane plantations. There is no reason Maui / Hawaii cannot become a producer of some sort of Agricultural Product, and even take it one step further and become a manufacturer of a product that can supply the entire United States.  Simply one thing to look at would be  dietary supplements, produced from plant extracts... Due to Maui's / Hawaii's unique microclimates throughout all the islands, it has an advantage in farming a very unique  Agricultural Product. Imagine all the jobs that can would be created just by becoming not only the grower but the processor and manufacturer of vitamins and dietary supplements.

LuisEB_Maui · 1 year ago

We come to Maui every other year in December for two weeks.  We had the chance to go again this December after being there this past Christmas.  We will not due to the virus.  And we can only hope it will be safe again to return in Dec. 2021.  Time will tell.  We love the island and have been visiting like this since 1997.  The pandemic has changed all of us..hopefully for the better ultimately.  

MDiPa63 · 1 year ago

We love HI. Have spent 5 amazing family vacations there. Honeymooned there. But honestly, isn't this what the "locals" have been asking for, forever? A tourist free, or nearly, state? If so, now is the time to ask, no demand, that the state stop relying on tourism and become self sufficient. We'd miss it but, it is not our state. So do as you wish.Good luck and mahalo!

Bobby68 · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.