West Maui, devastated by August wildfires, will reopen to tourists, prompting immediate reaction from island residents. “I wake up thinking that me, my wife and my family are going to be kicked out because tourists need a place to stay.”
The authorities’ plans to open tourism take place against the background of the tragedy of residents who lost all their belongings and still live in nearby hotels. More than 7,000 displaced people are waiting to return to their ruined homes, which is expected to take place after federal approval. Currently, only specialized personnel are allowed in the disaster area. While they wait, they live in hotels that have been renamed temporary crisis units. The influx of new tourists creates fears of being thrown out onto the streets.
Tourists will return to the island destroyed by fires
West Maui will reopen to visitors on October 8. This will happen exactly two months after the tragic fires on the second largest island of Hawaii. More than a hundred residents died while fighting the fire, making it the deadliest fire in the recent, hundred-year history of the United States. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, only the region’s main historic center, Lahaina, will remain completely closed to visitors. This city was hit hardest by the August natural disaster.
The decision to invite tourists sparked outrage among many residents, many of whom remain homeless to this day. The fire took all their belongings and even members of their families. “Why do I get stuck in a resort every day and wake up thinking that me, my wife and my family are going to be kicked out because tourists need a place to stay?” – said a man who has lived on the island for 48 years in an interview with ABC News. “Why do these displaced people who have lost family members – lost everything they owned – now have to go to work and smile while serving cocktails and bringing towels and cleaning their rooms? How would you feel if you lost your family and everything you own?” Jeremy Delos Reyes told a reporter.
They don’t want tourists and are signing the petition
The tense situation between residents and tourists has been reported since August. Then, despite the crisis, there were vacationers who decided to take advantage of their planned holidays and stay on the island. “If you are a tourist, don’t come to Lahaina. I don’t care if you have a reservation, now is not the time for tourism… Go somewhere else, please,” councilor Tamara Paltin insisted immediately after the natural disaster. Then it seemed that the appeals actually had the desired effect, and Maui would be able to rebuild without the sight of tourists on deckchairs. Today, when many residents are still without safe drinking water and children have to go to school on the other side of the island, the authorities’ idea of opening up to travelers seems absurd to many.
Residents decided to express their opposition through a petition, which has already been signed by 5,000 people. “Considering that exactly two months have passed since the tragic fires, such actions are like a slap in the face,” Jordan Ruidas, a social activist and author of a petition delaying the admission of tourists to western Maui, criticized the authorities’ idea. There are voices among entrepreneurs that opening the tourist market may be a necessary step towards the desired reconstruction. “As someone born here, it’s hard for me to want tourism to reopen and come back. However, as a business owner, I know we need it. I know our families need it. You know, we have to be able to get back to some kind of normality to be able to continue operating,” said Noah Drazkowski, owner of one of the local businesses.
The basis of Hawaii’s economy is tourist services, but in the current situation, many residents would prefer to delay the process of “returning to normality” at least until the conditions offered to them are not an insult to their dignity. The government is criticized for insufficient action. According to Hawaiians, the incumbent President Joe Biden, despite visiting the island, did not implement quick enough steps to remove the damage. “The work we are doing will take time. In some cases, a long time,” Biden said during the visit. However, restoring order to Maui may take longer than residents would like.