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Thousands Sign Petition Calling for Extension of Tourism Suspension in West Maui

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Thousands of people have signed an online petition that calls for an extension of the tourism suspension in West Maui, saying it’s too soon to welcome visitors back.

The petition comes after the governor announce Oct. 8 as the date to invite visitors to West Maui, which includes the world-famous Kaanapali Beach.

Officials said more than 50% of the island’s lodging accommodations are located in West Maui.

For now, the area’s hotels are housing those displaced by the Aug. 8 wildfire that destroyed Lahaina.

Courtney Lazo is among the evacuees.

“Some of us don’t even know were we will be next month, or next week,” Lazo said. “It’s hard. It feels like we are being abandoned as a community and our voices don’t matter.”

The state says without reopening, hotels would have to lay off many of the nearly 3,000 unionized workers impacted by the fires.

Gov. Josh Green says the state is working with the Red Cross to re-organize those sheltered to make room for visitors.

“We will concentrate our individuals that stay in hotels into just two or three hotels, and all the other hotels will be able to function as normal,” Green said in an interview with HNN’s “Spotlight Now” last Tuesday.

Lazo says it’s easier said than done.

“Having to pack your bags and relocate especially when you have kids is really hard,” she said.

While there have been calls for visitors to enjoy other areas outside of West Maui, some in the tourism industry feel it is tough to sell a vacation to Maui when Kaanapali is off limits.

One travel agent telling us its where almost all her clients want to book rooms.

“I would say probably 80% stay in West Maui,” said travel agent Elizabeth Kimmel with Amazing Sojourns. “It has beautiful, pristine, amazing beaches. It has really nice accommodations.”

Kimmel said even though the area will be considered open, she’s concerned visitors may upset residents from impacted areas.

“As much as someone can be mindful, they are there to have fun, they are there on their vacation,” she explained. “And it’s easy to forget people are suffering around you.”

The Oct. 8 reopening date set by the governor was meant to dispel those concerns after his office says he talked to hundreds of working-class families and small businesses devastated by the wildfire.

“No tourists hurts all of Maui when the rest of Maui is still trying to survive,” said Barbie Yamamoto, who runs Eco Sea Scooter Snorkeling Academy in West Maui. She says while she supports the October 8th re-opening, displaced residents need to come first.

”I live on Lahaina side. I feel for all the families that are misplaced. We need to take care of them 1st and foremost. They are our main priority. They need perminate housing not temporary.”

On Saturday, a petition to push back that date started garnering hundreds of signatures. Nearly 24 hours later, more than 3,000 people signed their names.

In his last address, Green explained his decision saying:

“Many have asked when it will be the right time to reopen West Maui to visitors. There is no easy answer to this question, but I can say that if we support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and continue to be able to afford to live on Maui.“

For families like Lazo, who lost her home in the fires, tourism dollars are the last thing on her mind.

“[My kids] ask me this question: Are we going to be okay? Are we going to have some place to live after this?” Lazo said.

In response to the petition, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said:

We share many of the same concerns raised and would like our community, especially those facing hardships brought on by the disaster, to know that we will be addressing how we can support their well-being and welfare through several announcements we plan to make this week.

A full statement from Gov. Josh Green’s office reads as follow:

The decision to reopen West Maui to tourism on October 8 was made after weeks of meetings and conversations with a broad spectrum of stakeholders within the Lahaina community that included hundreds of working-class families and small businesses devastated by the wildfire.

The decision was not based on a closed-door meeting with hotel executives at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua as the petition implies.

Source : HawaiiNewsNow