The wildfires that have ravaged Maui are not only causing extensive damage and loss of life, but they also threaten the island’s crucial tourism industry. Local officials have urged nonessential visitors to leave and advised against traveling to Maui during this crisis. Tourism is a significant source of private capital for Hawaii, with the industry generating nearly $18 billion in 2019 from the 10.4 million visitors to the state that year, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Maui alone accounted for nearly a third of the average daily spending of $49 million by visitors in Hawaii. It is estimated that the island’s visitor industry directly or indirectly contributes to approximately four out of every five dollars generated on the island, as stated by the Maui Economic Development Board.
Before the wildfires struck, Hawaii’s tourism economy was in the process of recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The state welcomed over nine million visitors last year, but the first quarter of 2022 saw a 21.5 percent increase in visitor arrivals by air compared to the same period in the previous year. However, the wildfires have abruptly halted this recovery.
Travelers like Tijana Brien are experiencing the impact of the fires firsthand. When she arrived in Maui from California with her family, they immediately encountered problems. The hotel had no electricity, and they witnessed a massive cloud of smoke in the parking lot. They had to move to another resort, where they faced similar issues with no electricity or food. Adding to their troubles, Ms. Brien’s phone lost cellular service for 15 hours. Eventually, they made the decision to cut their trip short and return home.
Ms. Brien’s experience is not unique, as many visitors are feeling anxious and eager to leave the island. However, they also feel a sense of responsibility not to consume resources needed by those living in Maui.
The wildfires and subsequent impact on tourism not only threaten the immediate economy of Maui but also the overall economy of Hawaii. With tourism being a vital source of revenue for the state, the loss of visitors and their spending will have long-term consequences. As the fires continue to be a crisis, it remains to be seen how long it will take for Maui to recover and regain the trust and confidence of tourists once again.