HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Top officials responded to growing controversy over the government’s plan to reopen West Maui, including an online petition with thousands of signatures aimed at keeping visitors out.
Last Friday, Gov. Josh Green announced Oct. 8 as the date to invite visitors back to West Maui.
It includes the world famous Kaanapali Beach where tourism officials tell us more than 50% of the island’s lodging accommodations are located.
Right now, its the temporary home of people displaced by the deadly Aug. 8 fires.
Courtney Lazo is one of the thousands of displaced Lahaina residents staying in hotels and AirBnbs in the Kaanapali area.
Once considered by some as the Mecca for tourism on the island, it’s become a refuge for fire survivors.
“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.
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. “It has beautiful, pristine, amazing beaches. It has really nice accommodations.”
Kimmel said she’s concerned that residents will be resentful toward visitors who are vacationing on the island.
“As much as someone can be mindful, they are they 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.
But 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.
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.
HNN has also reached out to the governor’s office for comment and is waiting to hear back.
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