HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – After mixed messages about tourism in Maui, the local economy is in the doldrums, with layoffs mounting and businesses struggling to stay open.
Evidence of just how bad things are is visible right before you even land at Kahului Airport: a sea of rental cars can be seen from the air on the airport’s grassy field.
Officials say that field is usually left blank.
Maui wedding photographer Tara Lee Murphy was in Lahaina on Aug. 8, snapping photos of the happy couple on Front Street just hours before flames engulfed the city.
“It wasn’t until I got home that I started to see how it was unfolding, and it’s just been unfolding ever since,” she said.
Murphy, like many other small business owners, is now struggling to stay afloat as visitors to Maui are few and far between – and the short- and medium-term outlook is bleak.
Shortly after the wildfire, social media messages of “Maui is closed” spread and a flurry of cancellations appeared. That’s despite tourism officials saying all but West Maui is open.
Jonathan Silva is a school counselor at King Kamehameha III Elementary School, which burned down. He also works in three hotels to make ends meet, but is currently not working at all.
“Who will help me? Who will help the people in my canoe, yes? I don’t want to tell people we’re all in the same boat. No way. People in Lahaina are in a completely different boat. Their boat burned down. They don’t have a boat,” he said.
“There’s another group of us that’s in another boat and we’re diving.”
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, there were just under 3,500 visitors a day to Valley Isle this month. That’s half the number seen last August.
“Now we have a crisis on top of a crisis because not only is Lahaina economically affected, but the rest of the island is economically affected,” said business owner Maureen Bacon.
Business owners like Bacon want the world to know that while West Maui is closed, the rest of the island is still open — and needs help more than ever.
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