Just over two months after the tragic Maui fires, Maui’s visitor industry continues to struggle, and the County continues to hemorrhage money. Unsurprisingly, those affected can’t wait anymore and, as a result, businesses and residents are leaving Lahaina. Some with the intent of returning, and some are leaving for good.
I’ve said it time and time again. Maui County is dependent on visitors for survival. Over 80% of the County’s GDP comes from visitor and visitor-related activities. But visitor arrivals have yet to recover. Pre-fire, Maui saw an average of 7,500 to around 8,000 arrivals per day. In the near aftermath, that plummeted to around 2,000 to 2,500, slowly recover to 2,500 to 3,500 visitors per day. Most recently, that average has increased to around 4,000 people a day, or roughly 50% to 54% of what it once was.
That bump in arrivals is likely thanks to the start of Maui’s controversial phased reopening plan. A plan that actually has no plan other than to “evaluate” how things go after an undetermined amount of time. That’s too bad, as it’ll further hamper tourism, and is something that anti-tourist hardliners are still against. Of course, it’s this uncertainty, combined with the ambiguity around rebuilding that’s causing West Maui’s latest predicament – businesses and residents are leaving Lahaina.
Businesses and Residents Are Leaving Lahaina
In a recent article, The Civil Beat highlighted the plight of the people. One of the businesses they focused in on is Cheeseburger in Paradise, which got its start on a waterfront parcel on Front Street 30 years ago. But due to newer building codes, and absolutely zero hints from the County as to whether exemptions to the new codes will be made to rebuild what was there before, the owners of the restaurant have decided to call it quits in Lahaina. At the moment, they’re considering a move to Kihei so that they can get up and running again and will re-evaluate a return to Lahaina in the future. For now, though, they’re done.
The above is an example of a business that is able to weather the storm. But this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, Island Printing, a business that was critical for Lahaina’s many artists and other businesses has, not only made the decision to not reopen, but its owner and his family are moving to California. While no specific reason, I suspect that the loss of their home and business, plus the vagueness of what the future holds were deciding factors.
The departure of Island Printing and its owners could have a domino effect on other area businesses, too. Over 400 customers relied on them for smaller print jobs others wouldn’t do, or to reproduce original pieces of art for sale in the many galleries in the area. As a result, some businesses will, undoubtedly, end up paying higher costs when they reopen, while other, especially artists, may not even return due to loss of resources.
A Long Road Ahead
These examples are just two of the many that are likely occurring in this small historic town. Unfortunately, everyone faces a daunting recovery process that will be filled with uncertainty and will likely stretch years, or even decades into the future. Even if we could get everything cleaned up, permitting issues taken care of, and new plans drawn up immediately, you can simultaneously rebuild thousands of homes and businesses – it just isn’t possible. Yet, people’s lives must go on.
What do you do? The answer isn’t easy. Tourism will play a vital role in the areas recovery, and will greatly aid those that decide to stick around. But, I suspect we’ll hear that more businesses and residents are leaving Lahaina, some for good, some temporarily, and all because they don’t have any other options.
Businesses and Residents Are Leaving Lahaina, Final Thoughts
I’m a proponent of finding balance between the visitors that are the economic lifeblood of our islands, and the quality of life of our residents. These hardliners, though, I want to know – what’s their end-game? How do they expect the area and island to recover with our visitors? Are they happy that businesses and residents are leaving Lahaina?
At any rate, our government needs to do better. They need to give us plans with more substance, they need to provide support to affected residents and businesses, and they need to communicate WAY better.