After Fires, West Maui Reopens to Tourists Amid Fears of Displacement
Outrigger Ka’anapali Beach Resort is among the properties that reopened in West Maui in early November. The devastation of the fire that ripped through West Maui on Aug. 8 is hard to comprehend. It killed at least 97 people and damaged or destroyed 2,200 structures, and the estimated cost to rebuild is $5.5 billion. In the first few days after the fires, stars including Jason Momoa and Mia Tyler implored tourists to stay away. In the weeks since, many have, even as most of Maui’s hotels remained open. According to The New York Times, on Oct. 9 — the day after West Maui began a staged reopening — there were more than 4,500 arrivals in Maui, down 27 percent from the same day in 2019. On Nov. 1, with the reopening of the West Maui section that stretches from Kahana to Ka’anapali, only the devastated town of Lahaina remains closed.
Controversy Surrounds Reopening
“We’re excited to welcome back visitors as they not only aid in the recovery of our local economy but also reinforce the spirit of aloha within our community,” says Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association executive director Shelley Kekuna. The reopening, however, has proved controversial, with more than 10,000 residents signing a petition to delay it amid concerns that some people who lost their homes in the fire would be displaced from temporary housing in hotel rooms in West Maui. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen has denied that’s the case: “The Red Cross has assured me that housing for displaced Lahaina residents, including those staying in hotels, is not in jeopardy.”
Hollywood Support and Rebuilding Efforts
A number of individuals in Hollywood have raised funds to help rebuild. Conniff is on the board of the Lahaina nonprofit Mana Mentors, which raised $100,000 in the first month after the fire to help families in need. And the People’s Fund of Maui — started by Dwayne Johnson and Oprah Winfrey (they each donated $5 million) — has signed up more than 8,100 residents of the towns of Lahaina and Kula in its support program, with enrollees already having received two months of payments of $1,200 a month. A third payment to residents will be disbursed in late November, bringing total support to nearly $30 million.
The true test will come this winter, the busiest tourism season. Kekuna is optimistic. “We’re seeing new visitors every day, from one-off visits to pre-booked groups, that are coming to enjoy the wonderful west side of Maui,” she says. “There is still a wealth of…