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Wednesday,  May 22, 2024 7:30 PM 

Visitors welcome! Maui calls for more tourists

Visitors welcome! Maui calls for more tourists
Maui’s tourism team (from left): Daryl Fujiwara, Festivals of Aloha, director; Sherry Duong, executive director, Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau; Leanne Pletcher, director of PR & marketing, Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau; PAX writer Michelle Froese in Vancouver. (Supplied)
Michelle Froese

One of the best ways to support the Hawai’ian Island of Maui: E Kipa Mai.  The term closely translates to “Come visit!” Travellers are welcome.

Maui is the second largest of the main Hawai’ian Islands and the county most dependent on tourism. Nearly 85 per cent of jobs in Maui and 38 per cent of the overall economy rely on visitor spending. 

However, last summer the island experienced one of the most devastating wildfires in over a century, destroying much of West Maui’s Lahaina and displacing thousands.

View of Maui from above (Pax Global Media/file photo)

Despite an outpouring of support since then, fully regaining the visitor industry is critical to Maui’s overall recovery.

“Although Lahaina is closed and we ask visitors to respect and avoid that area, the rest of Maui is open for business as usual, and there’s a lot to do and see,” says Daryl Fujiwara, Festivals of Aloha director, during a recent visit to Vancouver.

This can mean relaxing the day away on one of the island’s white, gold, salt-and-pepper, green or garnet beaches (there are more than 80 to choose from), golfing, hiking, horseback riding, whale watching, ziplining or enjoying a cultural museum tour, a traditional Lūʻau, or a spa day.

At 729 square miles, Maui is the second largest of the main Hawai’ian Islands. Although Lahaina was devastated by fire last summer, the rest of Maui is largely unaffected and open for business as usual.

It can also mean giving back through voluntourism. 

There’s truly something for everyone.

“We just ask one thing,” adds Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. “We ask that visitors travel more mindfully than ever. Kindness goes a long way, and compassion and patience are warranted.”

A part of mindfulness means shopping and dining locally. 

Travellers unsure of where to go can check out Maui Nui First, an online directory created by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development to celebrate and support the diverse businesses, products, services and activities that make Maui no ka oi, meaning “the best.”

“I think nearly 500 businesses were affected by the fire last year,” says Leanne Pletcher, director of public relations and marketing with the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Those that are no longer brick-and-mortar have pivoted online, so shoppers can still support them.”

READ MORE: On Location: After the fire – tourism in Maui resumes, one sunset at a time

“Tourism dollars are extremely important to us,” adds Fujiwara. “The people who were impacted by the fires and lost their homes still have to pay the mortgage on those homes that no longer exist. They still have to work and make a living. The hotel and tourism industries provide great opportunities and benefits to most of their employees, even part-timers. So by simply visiting Maui tourists are really supporting our people and communities.”

From over to under-tourism

Hawai’i has historically been one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. In 2019, the Islands received a record high of 10.4 million visitors, supporting 216,000 jobs statewide. 

But this also put pressure on some of its destinations and communities.

As a result, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), in partnership with the counties and their respective visitor bureaus, developed the Destination Management Action Plans (DMAPs), which aimed to redefine the direction of tourism.

The DMAPs included a strategic plan to manage Hawai’i tourism in a responsible and regenerative manner.

Videotorial: Elevate local communities by supporting local on Maui

Part of regenerative tourism, according to the DMAPs, means recognizing that “communities and places are living systems, constantly interacting and evolving.”

As part of its regenerative tourism imitative, Maui's Destination Management Action Plan is dedicated to ensuring destination hotspots are safer and more convenient. With funds provided by the Hawai’i Tourism Board, they’ve installed and maintained several mineral-only sunscreen dispensers, free for public use.

Now that plan is evolving and has shifted to encourage and rebuild tourism in Maui, both post-Covid and post-fires. 

The drop in tourism not only affected island business but has also resulted in fewer flights from key Canadian hubs, such as Calgary and Vancouver.

Compared to 2023, scheduled air seats from Canada to the Hawai’ian Islands statewide were slightly up in April (2.2 per cent), but are down in May (by 10.8 per cent), and June (25.9 per cent).

“Unfortunately, given the fires and then some mixed messaging, it’s led to fewer travellers to Maui," says Duong. "It’s understandable. The airlines have to fill seats to offer flights, so it makes sense they’ve been reduced. And this has also affected Maui residents travelling from the Island for work or to visit family. The only thing that will change it is increased demand, and that’s what we’re hoping to encourage.”

Something for everyone

Fortunately, Maui is a destination with plenty of options for visitors, and those options are growing. 

World-class beaches aside, there’s also a community of food trucks, a chocolate factory, distilleries (including vodka distilled from pineapples), vineyards and an increasing array of festivals to choose from that share and celebrate Maui’s heritage and culture.

Maui from above. (Supplied)

“The primary Maui profile visitor is spontaneous… it’s someone who might chill by the beach for a bit and then randomly decide to throw on some fun, luxury attire from a local shop and hit up one or more of the many activities we have to offer,” says Fujiwara.

Each part of the island offers something unique.

“If you’re looking for outdoor adventure and hiking a more back-country field, we’d recommend going upcountry Maui, which is toward Haleakalā," says Pletcher. "It’s also where you’ll find farm tours and farmers markets."

Central Maui is where the airport and the main shopping district are located, including many of the food trucks. 

“You’ll also find Wailuku here, a wonderful small town with a big art program — you’ll find about 30 murals worth photographing and you can do an art tour, shop quaint stores and enjoy local eateries,” she adds.

South Maui is the luxury part of the island, including resorts such as the Fairmont, Grand Wailea, and Ritz-Carlton, among others. 

It also has a world-class golf course, miles of beautiful beaches, and opportunities for snorkeling, kayaking and other water sports.

Wailea Beach Resort's nearby beach. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

East Maui offers the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park, the active shield volcano Haleakalā, and the remote and beautiful town of Hāna.

“East Maui also has a pilot program in place with ambassadors stationed at several tourist hotspots, sharing information about the culture and the do’s and don’ts of visiting that area,” Pletcher says. “So they’ll divert people from going to certain unsafe areas — such as viewing a waterfall from the side of a busy road — and suggest alternatives.”

For the most part, it’s best to avoid Lahaina in West Maui, but there are a few updates of new places that have opened, including the Maui Kuʻia Estate Chocolate Factory Experience, Old Lāhainā Lūʻau, Aloha Mixed Plate, Māla Ocean Tavern and the Lahaina Gateway and Lahaina Cannery Mall.

Additionally, the County of Maui has two smaller islands that may interest some visitors. 

Lānaʻi offers a historic town with two luxury resorts, which can be accessed by the Expedition Ferry Service, now sailing from Maalaea (it used to depart from Lahaina). 

Moloka’i is for veteran visitors who want to experience a more rugged and rural Hawai’i — and some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.

Giving back

“The travel-related volunteer experiences, or voluntourism, actually started quite some time ago," says Pletcher. "But it definitely shifted with the fires to provide more specifically to those who were impacted. People want to know how they can help and that’s wonderful. We just want to ensure that there’s balance. If visitors simply want to enjoy a vacation and experience Maui, we want them to feel more than welcome. Maui has so much to offer.”

There are several ways to give back on the island, whether through non-profit donations or time. 

There are even cultural volunteer vacations where visitors can help care for the a’ina (“land”) and participate in conservation, wetland restoration, or beach and reef cleanups.

“If visitors want to give their time, we want them to have authentic, grounding experiences," says Fujiwara. "This can include reforestation, planting native trees, or getting rid of invasive species — which is so important because we live on this water table that’s essentially re-energized by the native plants. There are great opportunities for visitors to touch the land and make a forever impact.”

For those who'd like to support those impacted by the fires, Hua Momona Farms has been supplying Maui and Oahu with fresh regeneratively-grown microgreens from their elevated oasis in Kapalua since 2019. 

The farm activated its foundation to aid Maui in recovery efforts following the fires. 

Volunteers can assist in preparing nutritious meals for those affected by the Lahaina wildfires or help with the efficient distribution of meals. 

For more information, click here.

Several other organizations offer opportunities for visitors to pay it forward. 

Click here and here to find out how to support Maui’s land and communities.

“In the spirit of mindful travel, we invite travellers to experience all Maui has to offer — whether that’s through a relaxing vacation or volunteering while on the island,” Fujiwara says. “We have something for everyone and would love to welcome you!”

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