‘Two Hawaiis now’: holidaymakers warned off wildfire-hit Maui

Visitors asked to stay away as the Hawaiian island seeks to recover from devastating wildfires

Destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina
Destroyed homes and buildings in the historic town of Lahaina, in West Maui
(Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

“Aquaman” star Jason Momoa has joined fellow Hawaiians in urging tourists to stay away from Maui as the island grapples with the aftermath of devastating wildfires.

In a video posted on Instagram, Honolulu-born Momoa said: “Maui is not the place to have your vacation right now. Do not travel. Do not convince yourself that your presence is needed on an island that is suffering this deeply.”

Almost 100 people are confirmed to have died in last week’s wildfires, with the death toll expected to rise, and thousands of residents have been displaced. A local forced to flee from Lahaina, which has been particularly hard-hit, told Reuters that the historic coastal town “is burnt to a crisp”, adding: “It’s like an apocalypse.”

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‘Tourists swimming where locals died’

Actor Momoa’s message was echoed by other Hawaiians dismayed by the sight of visitors lounging on the beaches “while residents were still counting the dead”, said the BBC.

“The same waters that our people just died in three days ago are the same waters the very next day these visitors – tourists – were swimming in,” one local told the broadcaster.

No native and resident Hawaiians were “having fun in tragedy and continuing their lives as if nothing happened”, said the unnamed woman.

“There is two Hawaiis now,” she added. “The Hawaii we're living in and the Hawaii they’re living in.”

‘Shock to economy’

Local officials are also urging visitors to stay away, but the loss of tourism to Hawaii could cause a “significant shock” to its economy, said the BBC.

According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, tourism was the largest single source of private capital prior to the pandemic, with 10.4 million visitors contributing a total of $18 billion (£14 billion) to the US state’s economy in 2019.

Maui absorbed a third of this revenue. And the Maui Economic Development Board has estimated that tourism directly or indirectly contributes to nearly 80% of all income generated on the island.

Hawaii’s tourism economy is “still recovering from its pandemic-induced visitor slump”, said The New York Times. Now, “the fires have halted that recovery in its tracks, at least for a while”, on Maui.

Authorities there have requested people on non-essential trips to leave, and asked others to cancel their plans to travel to the island. In a statement updated on Saturday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said that travel to the other Hawaiian islands was “not affected at this time” by the wildfires. But visitors bound for West Maui in the coming weeks were urged “to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time”.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.