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Visiting & Supporting Maui After the Fires

We’ve all seen and heard about the wildfires that destroyed Lahaina on Maui and devastated the nearby area. As a travel company that plans trips to Hawaii, we have a responsibility to support Maui in its rebuilding. I also have some first-hand experience in the area, as I had planned a trip to Maui prior to the fires. I’m sharing my recent experience so that it can help you work through conversations about Maui with your clients, and inspire you to continue to support the people of Maui with your money and by sending clients there in the near future.

On August 29th 2023, I arrived on the beautiful island of Maui with my family. Although I was a bit anxious about whether I had made the right decision not to cancel my trip, I chose to follow the advice from the Maui Tourism Board and go ahead with the visit. Upon entering the airport, the first noticeable indication that tourism was suffering was the car hire rental area. Typically, the lots are empty, but the car park was full of cars, so we selected our vehicle and then punched in our destination for the next five nights: Wailea in South Maui.

Walking into the lobby of the Fairmont Wailea, we were greeted with smiles from the staff and checked into our room. To the left of us was the ballroom, where FEMA and the Red Cross were positioned. They used the ballroom as a venue to host meals, counseling services, activities for children, and other much-needed services for the evacuees. In regards to the hotel itself, all of the restaurants were open and there was still a lot of people roaming around the hotel, but we later found out that the hotel itself was only at 40% occupancy, with 20% of the occupants being from FEMA, 10% from evacuees, and the other 10% tourists.

Venturing out of the hotel, Wailea was still somewhat busy, with the restaurants being full (Monkey Pod was jamming with live music), the shops were typical of what you would expect on a weekday in your hometown, and roaming about Kihei, there was still that warm aloha spirit.  The pool area was noticeably quieter than it usually is—we managed to get pool chairs everyday beside the pool—but once again it was full with families and couples, mainly travelling from the mainland and Canada.

The staff around the pool did make an effort to come and thank us for not cancelling our trip. They explained that due to tourism dropping significantly, at a time they were used to 95% capacity, they were only seeing approximately 10% capacity. As a result, many of their colleagues had been laid off; out of 26 pool staff they only had four working. They went on to explain that they needed our support, as many of them had relatives from Lahaina whom they were hosting. Without an income coming in it meant they were not able to support their families and their beloved island. This was the moment when I knew I had made the right decision to not cancel my trip. I told them I would spread the word when I returned home that Maui was open. That’s what I’m doing now.

If your clients have booked a trip to Maui this fall, please encourage your clients not to cancel.  During this trip, we didn’t venture out and naturally we did not go to West Maui. But we still had a meaningful visit to the island and did our part to support the locals who are rebuilding in West Maui.

As a travel professional, it is our job only to provide insight to our clients. Naturally, they need to do what is right for them. But from my standpoint, as long as they are respectful to the island and avoid travel to Lahaina, then I’m hopeful they will have a wonderful holiday. It’s important that we continue to support this beautiful island and its inhabitants in any way we can. And one of the most important ways is to ensure that people can regain their jobs and livelihoods with the important support of the tourism industry, one of the main economic drivers on Maui and the other islands. For more information about Maui, please visit Go Hawaii.

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Renee Stanton-Defaria

Renee’s love for travel and adventure has been a significant part of her life since she was just six months old when she embarked on her first trip overseas to Fiji. She has lived in different parts of the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Her travels have taken her to 58 countries across the globe, where she has had the opportunity to explore and learn about different cultures and ways of life. Renee’s academic background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Her career in the travel industry spans over two decades, during which she has worked as a travel agent and held managerial positions in aviation, insurance, and wholesale travel. Apart from her professional life, Renee has a passion for adventure and enjoys snowboarding, hiking, and immersing herself in new cities. She also has a keen interest in exploring the culinary delights of different countries. Overall, Renee’s extensive experience in the travel industry, combined with her love for adventure and discovering new cultures, makes her a well-rounded and knowledgeable individual in the field of travel.

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