Maui Mayor Richard Bissen has changed his mind again. Just weeks after switching to and beginning a phased reopening plan, he’s ditching altogether and now saw West Maui will reopen on November 1.
As you’ll recall, all of the unaffected areas of West Maui were slated to reopen as a whole two months after the deadly fires. However, addressing outcries from residents regarding concerns over visitors flooding back in, Mayor Bissen decided to switch to a vague phased reopening plan. Under that plan, which began on October 8, visitors were able to return to Kapalua Resort. Unsurprisingly, that reopening didn’t result in a flood of visitors and has proven many of the most vocal complainers wrong. But I didn’t expect Bissen to make drastic changes. I was wrong.
West Maui Will Reopen on November 1
Naturally, the phased reopening plan was untenable, but it was concocted to appease both sides of the reopening argument. However, as one would expect, the plan satisfied no one and is likely why West Maui will reopen on November 1. And there isn’t too much to add to that announcement than that – all of West Maui, with the exception of Lahaina, will reopen to visitors on November 1. Plain and simple.
Of course, questions regarding how that will happen abound and, for now, remain unanswered. For example, Mayor Bissen states that survivors currently housed in hotels and vacation rentals won’t be displaced. That should be a non-negotiable part of the reopening plan, but it also begs the question – does this mean that survivors and visitors will have to intermingle on properties housing both? Or will officials finally consolidate survivors into specific properties that will serve to house survivors exclusively? As of last Thursday, 6,800 survivors are being housed in 35 different hotels.
What is abundantly clear about Bissen’s decision is that this is about getting economic recovery back on track. In fact, Bissen states that the move “will allow more Maui residents to return to work and won’t displace people who lost their homes to the fire and have been staying at West Maui hotels under Red Cross arrangements.”
Further, as he announced that West Maui will reopen on November 1, Bissen even acknowledges that concerns from vocal anti-reopening residents have been unfounded. He states, “[t]he interaction of our visitors and our local community has been positive.” Indeed, many visitors to Maui have been mindful of what’s going on and have been volunteering to help survivors and recovery efforts.
To be clear, the silent majority is likely in favor of reopening. We’ve read countless interviews of survivors stating how they want to get back to work. This should also help area businesses – at least those not in Lahaina – get back up and running and, hopefully, stop the outflow.
A Long Road to Recovery
At this point, I feel like I’m beating a dead horse – it’s gonna be a long road to recovery. But, in this case, I’m not talking about Lahaina’s recovery – I’m talking about tourism recovery. As we’ve seen already, the fact that West Maui will reopen on November 1 doesn’t mean visitors will come flooding back in. Prospective visitors are, understandably, weary about returning to Maui. Some are hesitant because of the highly confusing messaging we’ve been fed over the past (almost) three months. Others are concerned about the hostile anti-tourist sentiment that’s been on display as of late. Still, others might take a while to learn of West Maui’s reopening or have other reasons to not want to visit now.
Of course, those are the Maui-specific reasons why recovery will take long. Also working against a quick rebound are external factors, such as:
- Inflation: Maui was already incredibly expensive. Inflation just made it worse.
- Options: With Japan reopened and favorable exchange rates, many are flocking there and other international destinations that weren’t available during the lockdowns.
- Japan: Speaking of, the favorable exchange rates for us means its more difficult for them to come, limiting one of Hawaii’s most important sources of visitors.
- Hawaiian Airlines: The A321neo issue is wrecking havoc on Hawaiian, and it’s getting worse. Hawaiian will be cutting quite a bit of direct service to Maui in the coming months, and that’s in addition to what’s already been cut.
West Maui Will Reopen on November 1, Final Thoughts
I’m sure there are people that are pissed that West Maui will reopen on November 1. But, on the flip side, the business community, along with those looking to return to work – or those already back at work but seeing reduced hours, gratuities, etc. – are breathing a sigh of relief. What’s the correct answer? There isn’t one. As Mayor Bissen said, “[t]his 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.”
At the end of the day, while I feel for those who continue to struggle with what happened, it’s time. We need to give survivors choices – return to work or not – and the only way we’re going to do that is if we give them work to return to. Keeping West Maui, especially the unaffected areas, closed is increasingly unsustainable and even downright damaging.