Episode 109: West Maui Reopening…already? What to Know About the Phased Reopening

by | Oct 4, 2023

Planning a trip to Maui soon? With West Maui set to reopen, there’s a lot you need to know. Dive into the intricate balance between the needs of the local community and the demands of the tourism industry.

Discover the phased approach to reopening, the concerns of the Lahaina community, and how you can travel responsibly. By the end of this episode, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions and travel with true Aloha spirit.

Listen to the episode now to get the full scoop!

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As West Maui gears up for its phased reopening, the decision has sparked a myriad of emotions and concerns. In this episode, we delve deep into the heart of the matter, understanding the perspectives of both the local community and the tourism industry.

The Heart of the Controversy: West Maui’s reopening isn’t just about welcoming tourists back. It’s about the Lahaina community that’s still reeling from the tragic fires, the businesses that are struggling to stay afloat, and the delicate balance of economic recovery and emotional healing. The decision to reopen has been met with both anticipation and apprehension.

The Phased Reopening Approach: To address the myriad of concerns, a phased reopening approach has been proposed:

  • Phase One: Starting October 8th, focusing on the northern part of West Maui with properties like Ritz Carlton and Maui Kapalua set to reopen.
  • Phase Two: Based on feedback from Phase One, this phase will see the reopening of areas from Mahinahana to Ka’anapali.
  • Phase Three: The most sensitive phase, focusing on areas where most displaced residents are currently sheltered.

The Local Voice: The Lahaina community, still grappling with the aftermath of the fires, has voiced concerns about the rapid reopening. With petitions circling and grassroots movements like Lahaina Strong leading the charge, the community seeks more than just a delay. They’re asking for a voice in the decision-making process, a chance to grieve, and stability in housing and rent.


  • The tragic fires in Lahaina and their aftermath.
  • The controversy surrounding the reopening of West Maui.
  • Insights from Lahaina Strong and local leaders.
  • The structured phased reopening approach.
  • The importance of traveling responsibly and with Aloha.

Wrap-Up: The West Maui reopening is a testament to the resilience of the Hawaiian spirit. But it’s essential to approach it with understanding, respect, and aloha. As travelers, we have a responsibility to be informed and considerate. So, whether you’re planning your next trip or just dreaming about Hawaii, remember to travel responsibly.

For more insights, stories, and travel tips, don’t miss out on this episode. Listen now!

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# 109-West Maui Reopening_01

[00:00:00] **Bryan Murphy:** West Maui is scheduled to reopen in phases starting October 8th, but is that too soon? Many locals think it is, so stay tuned for this one as we unpack the delicate situation of West Maui reopening.

[00:00:14] **Announcement:** Aloha! Welcome to Hawaii's Best. Here, you'll learn what to know before traveling as we discover Hawaiian culture, local businesses, and the experiences that make Hawaii one of the most incredible places in the world.

[00:00:28] And now... Your host, Brian Murphy.

[00:00:32] **Bryan Murphy:** Welcome back to another episode of Hawaii's Best. First off, a huge mahalo for tuning in. And if you're a first time listener, welcome. Thanks so much for hitting play. And we're all about traveling with Aloha to Hawaii and understanding this culture and promoting responsible tourism.

[00:00:50] So thanks so much for joining in. And if you're a regular listener, it's always a pleasure to have you back. Thanks so much. Well, it's been nearly two months since the tragic [00:01:00] fires in Lahaina that left the town destroyed. Previous episodes of the podcast, we have had on some local voices and as well as some local businesses.

[00:01:11] So if you love to hear how you can continue to support local Maui businesses, be sure to go back and listen to the last previous episodes. The recent news of reopening. West Maui has sparked more controversy and another dilemma on the Valley Isle of Maui. So there's a petition circling around with over 10, 000 signatures, all demanding a delay to the planned reopening of West Maui to tourism.

[00:01:39] And this isn't just a random outcry, it's a movement led by Lahaina Strong, a grassroots organization formed in the aftermath of the devastating wildfires during Hurricane Lane in 2018. As many of you know, the island of Maui has been open to visitors and the west side of [00:02:00] Maui has been closed off and strongly discouraged to travelers, South Maui, upcountry and the rest of Maui have been open and we've been hearing that a lot from a lot of the people that we've had on the podcast and that we have been talking to.

[00:02:18] Now when it comes to West Maui where Lahaina town is located. It's a different situation. This has been a topic of conversation for a while. And now that a date has been set and put to it, there's been a lot of pushback from the local community on West Maui. And it's a delicate balance of, is it okay to travel to West Maui?

[00:02:44] How do you travel to West Maui responsibly? Those are all really big questions, and I'm not exactly sure how to completely, it's not a black and white yes and no, so I hope that this episode helps to, [00:03:00] um, just give you an idea of what is going on, on Maui, so especially if you're planning a visit, this is for, for you, if you're planning a visit to Maui, and if you're considering staying on West Maui, I hope that this episode is beneficial for you.

[00:03:16] So, but why the hesitation to reopen? Well, the line I community feels that their voices, especially those displaced by the fires, that's the biggest reason they haven't been adequately heard. They're asking for more than just a delay. They're seeking a session with the governor time for survivors to grieve stabilization of housing and rent, and even a moratorium on foreclosures.

[00:03:42] As Lahaina Strong puts it, our community is in pain. The decision to reopen tourism seems ill timed. So why is this a contentious issue? Well, the tourism industry is a significant part of Hawaii's economy and nearly 75 percent of [00:04:00] Maui's economy. But as Senator Angus McKelvey points out, quote, pitting the needs of the tourism industry against the needs of the community trying to heal is not the solution we seek.

[00:04:11] And it's not just about the economy. There's a, obviously a human side, the most important side to this in West Maui council member. Tamara Paulton shares stories of people who've had to move multiple times, struggling with the unknowns and the emotional toll it's taking on them. Many of these people who have lost their homes in Lahaina are still paying mortgage on those properties.

[00:04:36] So that's a huge part and in trying to get some of that resolved and clarity and just basic need of shelter for those displaced residents. And then there's also the mental health aspect with the reopening of tourism just days away. There's a noticeable tension in the air. Nonprofits are saying that the arrival of visitors could [00:05:00] push some residents over the edge and it's a delicate situation to say the least.

[00:05:06] But there's a twist even with the plan reopening the numbers from the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association suggests that occupancy rates in West Maui are expected to be quote COVID low. So what's the rush? Why not give the region a little bit more time? And for the mayor of, of Maui, Richard Bison, he Has put forth this phase reopening approach, which is sold to be kind of a middle ground, if you will, and it's a staggered plan, starting with properties in the north most area of West Maui and gradually moving to other regions.

[00:05:44] So here's a little bit more of what the phase reopening plan is a closer look at phase reopening is a structured step by step approach to resuming normal operations and in the context of West Maui, this approach is particularly [00:06:00] crucial given the delicate balance between reviving the tourism industry and addressing the needs and concerns of the local community of Maui.

[00:06:08] So phase one is the initial phase that will start on October 8th, and it's focusing on the north part, like I mentioned, of West Maui properties like Ritz Carlton and Maui Kapalua to Kahana Villa are set to reopen this phase serves as a litmus test, if you will, gauging the response of both visitors and locals to the resumption of activities in a limited area.

[00:06:33] So phase two, phase two is based on assessments and feedback from phase one. So there isn't a date currently set for phase two. This phase, we'll see the reopening of areas from Mahinohana to Ka'anapali. The decision to progress this phase will be contingent on the success of the previous phase, phase one, ensuring that any issues that arose have been addressed.

[00:06:55] And then finally, phase three, this is the most sensitive phase as it [00:07:00] involves areas where the majority of displaced residents. are currently being sheltered. The focus will be on properties ranging from the Royal Lahaina Resort to the Hyatt Regency Maui. The decision to initiate this phase will be based on comprehensive assessments from the previous two phases, ensuring that housing needs of the locals are met and that there's a balance between tourism and local welfare.

[00:07:27] The biggest issue is that To get to phase one, which is the northern part of West Maui up by Ritz Carlton, you need to drive through all the other phases, if you will. Phase three being more of the locally Lahaina focus, phase two being the Kāʻānapali focus of the phases. You need to drive past all of that up towards Ritz Carlton.

[00:07:51] In that area. So that's where a lot of the sensitivity is, is just having visitors passing through, [00:08:00] many of which have been already stopping and taking pictures and selfies on the charred ground of Lahaina, which already that in itself. It fuels a lot of the tension. So if you are traveling to Maui, one, if you're on Maui right now, don't go to the west side.

[00:08:22] It's currently still off limits. And then once October 8th hits, please travel with super caution and with consideration and with Aloha and please don't take pictures of Lahaina and post them. Don't take pictures of yourself off the side of the road with. Charred remains of Lahaina and even taking pictures from the window of the airplane is also something that's very sensitive.

[00:08:54] Taking pictures of the charred remains of Lahaina. [00:09:00] Please just be super considerate of that. It's a very delicate, complexed situation in West Maui and all of Hawaii, but especially West Maui community. The phase approach is a tactical approach in all the three phases. It's essential to keep an eye on the bigger picture and the ultimate goal is to achieve a balance where tourism is as a vital economic driver can thrive without sidelining the needs and concerns of the local community.

[00:09:32] A phase reopening is a strategic approach to resuming operations. In a controlled and measured manner for West Maui is not just about starting up tourism again, but doing so in a way that respects, protects, and addresses the needs of the local residents. I'm not exactly sure how you do that. And it's going to be.

[00:09:56] A learning curve, if you will, for both [00:10:00] visitors and locals line has always been a hub for tourists for visitors, but after the fires, there's been a loud plea from local businesses to come back, but do so responsibly come back. And that's what we've been hearing a lot of from the. We've had on this podcast about, yes, travel to Maui, South Maui and, you know, Kihei area in other parts of Maui are all open up country, North shore, Paia town.

[00:10:31] All those areas are open and welcoming of visitors. The sensitive subject of West Maui has And it's still stirring up some emotions, especially just only eight weeks from the fires for many. It feels too soon. Residents are only just beginning to assess the damage and soon they'll be welcoming tourists.

[00:10:55] So there's two sides to every coin. And the governor's [00:11:00] office stated that the decision to reopen was made after. Extensive consultations without this move, thousands of hotel workers would face layoffs. So it's a tough situation between balancing economic needs with emotional healing. But again, many locals have mentioned that the rest of Maui is ready with open arms with the West side still needs a little bit more time to heal.

[00:11:23] So I don't know how much time there hasn't, it's hard to put a date on the local community who is saying that we need more time. There isn't a specific date or time frame that is being thrown out there, which makes it a bit difficult. I do feel two months. It's pretty quick to reopen. However, I am glad to see at least a phased approach and not just Conopoly, which is really close to Lahaina.

[00:11:54] And. Lahaina area is open to [00:12:00] visitors and to travel. The biggest thing is that I just want local voices to be a part of these decisions, and I hope that they are behind these closed door meetings. Some say they are, some say they're not. I'm not sure exactly what to believe. That's not my role. My role is just to simply encourage you as you're traveling to Hawaii to do so in a.

[00:12:26] Informed and in a humble and in a way, if you're, if you're going to Maui in a way that to serve and give back to the community, that's exactly what the community has been asking for and, and needs. But I like to hear your thoughts. You can find us on Instagram at hawaiis. best and engage with us there.

[00:12:48] It's a complex issue and there's no easy answer you can hear. I'm kind of I'm not exactly sure where I land right now as far as This phase reopening approach. I lean [00:13:00] more towards listening to local communities who also take into account the importance of the local economy there on island on Maui and how that all can be mitigated and how that all can be managed and with respect.

[00:13:19] To the Lahaina community, so there's no easy answer, but one thing's for sure, understanding and respecting the local communities is paramount. So whether you're planning a trip to Maui or just dreaming about it, let's remember to travel responsibly and with aloha. So thank you so much for joining me on this episode.

[00:13:37] And if you found value in this, I would just ask you to please consider leaving a review on Apple podcasts. It helps other people who are passionate about Hawaii find this show. So until next time, be well, aloha.

[00:13:51] **Announcement:** Mahalo for listening to this episode of Hawaii's Best. To stay up to date on future episodes, please subscribe and visit us at hawaiisbesttravel.[00:14:00]

[00:14:01] com.

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Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy is the owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel and is a recognized authority on responsible travel to Hawaii. Combining years of on-ground experience with insights from the top-rated podcast, Hawaii’s Best, he connects with a broad online community, offering a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.