The county is accelerating the timeline for visitors and others to return to the island’s west side following the Aug. 8 fires.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said Monday that all of West Maui, except Lahaina town, will reopen to tourists and others starting Nov. 1.

The announcement during a news conference at the Lahaina Civic Center accelerates reopening the fire-affected area. The mayor had planned a phased approach designed to roll out in three parts, with part one beginning on Oct. 8 with the Ritz-Carlton and areas from Kapalua to Kahana Villa.

Phase two would have reopened Mahinahina to Maui Kaanapali Villas. And phase three would have opened up Royal Lahaina Resort to the Hyatt Regency, where the majority of displaced survivors of the Aug. 8 wildfire are staying in rooms arranged by the American Red Cross with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

No firm dates for starting phases two or three were ever provided, only that the timing would follow an assessment of the previous phase’s reopening. And residents staying in the affected areas have said some hotels had already starting booking visitors to stay there before the reopening.

All four county mayors in Hawaii appeared together Monday at a press conference at the Lahaina Civic Center to share updates and offer support to Maui County. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

On Monday, Bissen said phases two and three will be combined and launched Nov. 1 based on feedback from community partners, his Lahaina advisory team and the Red Cross as well as observations of how the last couple weeks have gone.

“The interaction of our visitors and our local community has been positive,” said Bissen.

When Bissen originally announced the phased reopening on Sept. 27, he said the staggered approach was meant to do several things. It would allow residents to return to work, find childcare, settle children into temporary school settings, and “provide for a more deliberate process to help with housing needs for the thousands in temporary shelter at many hotel properties.”

As of last Thursday, just over 6,800 people were staying in 35 hotels, according to Gov. Josh Green.

Three of Lahaina’s schools reopened to students following the end of fall break earlier this month. A fourth temporary school is under construction in Kapalua.

Bissen said the Red Cross assured him that temporary housing arrangements for fire survivors “will not be in jeopardy” as a result of the Nov. 1 reopening.

As far as childcare, Bissen said, “we have a commitment from some of our partners to work on that as well.”

The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas is one of numerous visitor accommodations on the island’s west side. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The mayor said those who are not ready to go back to work should not feel any pressure to do so.

“This isn’t for everyone. Those who are not ready to go back to work, please contact their employers and seek the help and the attention that they need,” Bissen said.

When Bissen and Green announced the reopening of parts of West Maui weeks ago, it was met with hostility in some quarters.

A group of West Maui residents, activists and politicians delivered a petition with more than 14,000 signatures to Green’s office on Oct. 3 asking him to hold off on opening the area back up to tourism. They said it was too soon because residents were still grieving the loss of 99 lives and more than 2,200 structures, the majority of them homes, in the worst U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

Politicians who outspokenly supported delaying the resumption of tourism in West Maui included Sen. Angus McKelvey, a fire survivor, as well as Rep. Elle Cochran, whose district includes Lahaina, and West Maui County Council member Tamara Paltin.

The Maui County Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution on Oct. 6 urging the governor to delay the reopening.

“I hope it sends a loud message,” Paltin said at the time.

Sne Patel, president of LahainaTown Action Committee, a group that represents businesses in West Maui, was heartened by Monday’s announcement.

“I think it’s going to definitely help make people feel as though they can come here again. There was confusion about whether they should come or not come,” Patel said in an interview Monday afternoon.

That confusion wasn’t just among tourists.

“Even kamaaina from the other side of the island who haven’t come over here since the fire weren’t sure what to do,” he said.

Whether tourism rebounds in West Maui anytime soon remains to be seen. Bookings remain soft and it could take months to rebuild the momentum that was lost, Patel said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority says it is launching “new videos featuring a diverse cross-section of Maui residents welcoming mindful visitation and sharing how visitors can malama Maui.”

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author