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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Hawaii. Fires on Maui. Tensions on a Hawaiian island due to tourists

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After wildfires devastated part of Maui, one of the U.S.’s most popular tourist destinations, officials have warned tourists to hold off on visiting this part of Hawaii. Thousands of people have remained on the ground, however, and more continue to arrive, causing residents to rage in the face of the tragedy, the BBC wrote.

Last Wednesday, the day after the fires broke out, local authorities asked visitors to leave Maui as soon as possible. Officials have called for avoiding the island altogether, except for essential travel. “In the coming days and weeks, our collective resources and attention must be focused on returning to normal life residents and communities that have been forced to evacuate,” the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

Many travelers heeded this advice. About 46,000 people left the island in the immediate aftermath of the fires. The grassy field separating the airport from the surrounding motorway is now filled with rows of rental cars, the BBC reported.

However, thousands more people stayed on the island. Some ignored requests to leave Maui immediately, while others flew in after the fire. The BBC stressed that such conduct enraged the local community. – If this was happening in your hometown, would you like us to come? asked Hawaiian Chuck Enomoto. “We have to take care of ourselves first,” he added.

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“It’s really the only way to work”

The BBC stressed that the backlash against tourists is not without consequences, given that the island is economically dependent on travellers. The Maui Economic Development Council estimated that the island’s “tourism industry” accounts for about four out of every five dollars generated here, calling visitors “an economic engine.”

“You’re brought up to hate tourists,” a young hotel employee told the BBC. – But it’s really the only way to work on the islands. If not the hotel industry, then construction – he noted.

Hawaii fights wildfiresPAP/EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT

Several business owners have expressed concerns that rising anti-tourism sentiment could further harm Maui. “I’m afraid if people keep seeing ‘Maui is closed’ and ‘don’t come to Maui’, what’s left will be gone,” said Daniel Kalahiki, who owns a food truck. He said sales have already fallen by 50 percent since the fires started. “And then the island will lose everything,” he added.

The fires revealed disparities

The BBC pointed out that the fires had exposed the disparity between Maui’s catastrophic residents and isolated tourist hotspots.

Questions about tourists in the face of fires in Hawaii PAP/EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT

Among the former, the effects of fires are visible everywhere. In the shops, the evacuees search for the necessities, trying to replace the lost possessions with whatever money they have. In restaurants, staff can be seen in kitchens and behind bars holding back tears and making phone calls to coordinate relief efforts.

In the second part of Hawaii, everything looks different. As described by the BBC, as you travel from the center of the island to Wailea, home to Maui’s high-end resorts and resorts, the land suddenly changes, with dry brown grasses becoming rich, hydrated greens.

The day after the fires, a California guest asked if he could still get a booked dinner at Lahaina Grill, a restaurant in one of the hardest hit parts of the island. “It’s not right,” a hotel worker told the BBC.

“We don’t need another Waikiki, but it’s inevitable”

Concerns are growing that the eventual reconstruction of Lahaina will further meet the needs of “another Hawaii”.

Wealthy visitors have already contributed to exorbitant house prices by buying land and real estate in an area where home ownership is beyond the means of many permanent residents. They have their homes here, among others Jeff Bezos or Oprah Winfrey. Several locals told the BBC they fear Lahaina will be turned into another Waikiki, Honolulu’s luxury waterfront dominated by oceanfront skyscrapers and branded luxury shops.

“We don’t need another Waikiki, but it’s inevitable,” said Hawaiian Chuck Enomoto.

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT

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