Still, many locals are worried that the messaging has gotten lost in translation, and want to make it very, very clear: Maui, with the exception of Lahaina, is very much open for tourism, despite the initial messaging that said otherwise. “For a while we said don’t come, and now the message is come respectfully, but don’t go to Lahaina. But at the end of the day, people hear that message and still hear, don’t come at all, because it’s hard to convey nuance and complexity in any sort of messaging and media,” explains Horcajo. “So while our county government has recognized and responded to a lot of its deficiencies in communication, it’s still hard to counteract the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of individual posts from people who say otherwise. And that’s the world we’re in right now.”
It’s a world that has left many locals, especially business owners on other parts of the island, struggling to stay afloat. Garrett Marrero, CEO and co-founder of Maui Brewing Company, Hawai‘i’s largest craft brewery, says that his beer business, which had one location in Lahaina and two in other parts of the island, has been severely impacted by the lack of tourists—and he wants to encourage people to come visit to help boost the economy. “There are unaffected areas of Maui where families can come and enjoy themselves, and that’s the single best thing anyone can do for Maui right now: Come visit and support the local small businesses,” he says. “This will allow our economy to begin to heal and provide much-needed jobs to our community.”
Shay Smith, founder and owner of Ocean Organic Farm and Distillery, an 80-acre organic farm and vodka distillery on the slopes of the volcano Haleakalā, echoes that sentiment: “The remainder of the island’s destinations are safe and open, and our community and businesses need your participation,” he says. And it’s not just public-facing businesses that are struggling, either, Horcajo points out. “There’s also a whole other side of the service industry that you don’t see: engineers, IT departments, all of the trades including electricians and plumbers. Everyone is taking a hit some way and somehow.”
But despite the tragedy, locals have not lost all hope. In fact, though they are very much still in the grieving period, many are also starting to see this time as a pivotal moment to reshape the future of tourism in Maui. “As tragic as this disaster has been, it also presents an opportunity for our community to envision our future,” says Tapani Vuori, general manager of the Maui Ocean Center. “So let’s start by asking anyone coming to Maui to have an open heart and to be respectful, caring, and compassionate when you visit,” he continues.