Hawaii Tourism PR Disaster Creates a $2M Tourism Emergency

Most tourists who had traveled to the island of Maui fell in love with the small harbor tourist town of Lahaina. When the devastating wildfire tore through Lahaina, on the west side of Maui, the travel and tourism industry, tour operators, and resorts were quick to help in any way they could.

Local helicopter companies from around the state stopped carrying tourists on sightseeing tours and delivered food and supplies to the West Maui community.

Local cruise ship and boat adventure companies changed their modus operandi and became first responders, delivering supplies until the bypass road connecting Lahaina with West Maui was reopened.

Resort hotels in Kaanapali took in those who lost their homes in Lahaina and those who came to help.

But while we love to hear stories about the willingness and resourcefulness of tour and activity operators to respond to tragedy as real-life superheroes, it speaks volumes about the quality, strength, and passion of the travel and tourism community. It also speaks volumes about the friendly nature of Aloha, which one can only find in this Pacific Paradise.

Hawaii’s economy relies on tourism. Even for those not employed directly by tourism, this dependency does not end.

What will the broader implications for tourism in Hawaii be?

How much more can most SME tour operators, hotels, and vacation rental owners who are still rebuilding from the pandemic withstand? And where do we go from here?

In the short term, everyone has been focused on responding and helping with the relief efforts.

A local helicopter company partnered with Red Lightning, a company that normally provides disaster aid and emergency relief supplies to developing countries, to fly Starlinks over to Lahaina in order to provide them with interim internet access. 

Whether the tourism industry community can afford to foot the bill themselves or needs help covering the costs of their relief efforts, one has to be worried about the implications, since many of them are still recovering financially from the pandemic, if travelers choose to stay away or cancel their plans. 

This may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of businesses, sadly.

We want to make sure that everybody hears that Maui is open, which is the current and more urgent message from many businesses on Maui. There was little support for this message from those who are getting taxpayer money to promote tourism in the Aloha State.

Juergen Steinmetz, chairman of the World Tourism Network, a Hawaii-based global advocate for small and medium-sized businesses in 133 countries, said:

“In the first days after the disaster, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Governor Green made a big mistake by discouraging tourists from visiting Maui and scaring other tourists throughout the state to leave. It created panic among our visitors, and a run to the airport started. Visitors on Oahu, and Kauai, all far away from the fires in West Maui, also left the State immediately.

Every airline leaving any airport in Hawaii to fly anywhere to the US mainland, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, or New Zealand was completely sold out for days, creating a panic among visitors to leave the State.

Flights to Hawaiian airports arrived empty, with $89.00 one-way seats for sale from the US Mainland. Such low rates hadn’t been seen even during COVID lockdowns.

Tourists who had not yet left for their Hawaiian vacation rebooked to the Caribbean, Thailand, and other competing destinations.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority did little to stop this, educate visitors, or even attempt to get the correct message out prominently and effectively.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority ignored reports in the media around the world, that people in Hawaii are angry at tourists, saying it may not be safe to remain in the State.

Journalists from every corner of the world showed the burning city of Lahaina again and again, along with tourists fleeing the islands.

SOURCE: Hawaii Tourism PR Disaster Creates a $2M Tourism Emergency

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