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Being supportive or insensitive: Is now the time to go to Maui?

Some are calling on tourists to stop visiting the island. But others say that messaging is irresponsible.
Being supportive or insensitive: Is now the time to go to Maui?
Posted at 12:35 PM, Aug 16, 2023

Parts of Hawaii are completely destroyed and at least 106 people are dead after wildfires ripped through the state.

The wildfires are the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century, and Gov. Josh Green said the death toll could grow by scores more. 

While parts of Maui — mainly the city of Lahaina — appear burnt beyond recognition, other areas are less affected. This means some people are still accessing and traveling to the island.

While some say the travel supports the economy, others argue the timing is insensitive.

Actor Jason Momoa, who is of Hawaiian descent, spoke out on Instagram telling people not to go to Maui. 

"Maui is not the place to have your vacation right now," said the actor, writing in all caps: "DO NOT TRAVEL TO MAUI." 

"Do not convince yourself that your presence is needed on an island that is suffering this deeply," Momoa continued. 

He thanked those who have donated to the community and shared ways to send funds and learn more about the situation.

Maui resident Kaleikaumaka Johnson doubled down on Momoa's sentiment.

"The same water that our people just died in three days ago, are the same waters the very next day these visitors, tourists are swimming in," Johnson told RTÉ News.

But some do not agree.

SEE MORE: President Biden, first lady to visit Maui after deadly wildfires

When Momoa's post went viral on social media, commenters expressed their disapproval of the message. 

"This is an irresponsible post. I'm sure you have good intentions but Maui is NOT closed," commented Maui real estate agent Heleena Oliveira. "Lahaina is closed absolutely but the rest of us need to continue to work, keep jobs, pay bills and continue to support our community. PLEASE DELETE THIS POST! Maui is NOT closed. It's already starting to look like COVID times here. Local small business will not survive." 

Others shared Oliveira's sentiments. 

"Do the waiters, waitress, resorts not still need to pay their employees? How will the ones who didn't lose their home going to pay their bills unless people still vacation there? Bills don't stop," wrote Instagram user @cooper_the_all_boy_labradoodle on Momoa's post. "I'm not trying to be insensitive but the ones who didn't get hit still need to make money for bills."

Of all counties in Hawaii, Maui has the highest reliance on tourism in the state, as 51% of its jobs rely on sectors directly linked to tourism, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

It seems even officials are conflicted on the issue.

Gov. Josh Green said he will not be shutting down travel to the county because of its dependence on tourism. 

But when it comes to Lahaina, Councilwoman Tamara Paltin said she doesn't want to see tourists in the town.

"Just putting a plea out there: This is not the time for tourists to be in West Maui," Paltin said in a Facebook Live video.

"What is going on? Why [are] tourists coming in and videoing our people at their lowest points?" she continued. 

Paltin said residents are putting up signs that read, "Tourists keep out."


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