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Is It OK to Visit Maui in 2024?

It's been almost a year since wildfires ravaged the island.

In 2023 Fodor’s put Maui on its annual “No List”, asking tourists to reconsider certain destinations for various reasons. For Maui, that reason was water. The Maui water crisis, an ongoing problem for many years, is multilayered and complicated, but that same year, Maui experienced the most destructive wildfire in the past 100 years. One hundred and one lives were lost and thousands of acres of Lahaina burned. One of the reasons the fire couldn’t be put out? No water. While the wildfires were devastating due to a combination of factors–including high winds from a nearby hurricane and a whole slate of issues from HECO, the Island’s electrical provider–the lack of water and the dry conditions were major factors in how quickly Lahaina was taken by flames.

Since the wildfires, which also affected part of Upcountry Maui, tourism has had its ups and downs. Initially, visitors were asked to stay away by Governor Josh Green–the right call during a time of chaos and tragedy. Soon it became obvious that the pendulum had swung a bit too far–maybe that messaging was a little too effective–and folks stopped visiting the entire island, not just the west side. This had a quick and devastating effect on Maui’s economy, and the messaging soon changed to welcoming visitors back to the Island. In unprecedented circumstances like these, it’s all been a bit confusing for everyone–for residents, leaders, and visitors.

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Last year’s fires: August 9, 2023, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, Maui, USA: Maui wildfire out of control in Lahaina. Draught and high winds from Hurricane Dora causing fires across Hawaii and prompted evacuations across the state.  ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Now, more than eight months after the fires, the messaging is, for the most part, unified–Maui wants visitors back to help support the economy and help the island regain a sense of normalcy. Overwhelmingly, the messaging from the government, community leaders, the tourism industry (obviously), and the majority of residents is: “Yes, we need your tourist dollars for recovery.”

There’s even a new campaign, Mākaukau Maui, created to convince visitors that it’s OK to come back with the tagline “Ready to work. Ready to serve.” The initiative’s website says, “With a deep commitment to our community’s well-being, West Maui is ready to return a comforting sense of stability to the lives of its residents. Reopening our doors is one step towards reducing the uncertainties that weigh on our shoulders. It also ensures our community has the jobs and financial opportunities to thrive.” The website offers resources to small businesses, connections to community resources, and a link to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s message to visitors to “mālama Maui.”

But not everyone in Maui is a cog in the tourism machine, and they’re not all right with residents being pushed to the side to welcome visitors. Protestors are advocating for dignified housing for Lahaina fire survivors, and until early May, had set up tents and a makeshift community on Ka‘anapali Beach. Housing for thousands of people is still untenable, with another of Maui’s tourism-induced crises–15% of the housing inventory is being taken up for short-term rentals–constantly rearing its ugly head.

But it’s not just the housing crisis that should give visitors pause when considering returning to West Maui.

As one recent visitor explained in a heartfelt Facebook post:

The level of grief and trauma is palpable. No one can move this quickly through such an experience, I know. Maui has been the place where I have gone to heal in my own grief. I feel the trauma is being pushed aside and hidden. The emotional cost to the people who called West Maui home is unimaginable. Add a massive shortage of housing on top of it and you have a real problem that tourism dollars are not helping (IMO).

When other commenters jumped in to let her know that they’d never felt more welcomed in Maui than they had after the fires, she agreed. But it’s important to keep all of this in mind when watching the island get marketed to visitors.

Determining whether or not you should visit Maui in 2024 is complicated, and it comes down to personal choice. The question now may be less about “Should I go” and more about “How should I go”? If you do decide to visit Maui in 2024, here is how you can be a respectful visitor that Maui residents will actually want to have on their island.

Be on Your Best Behavior, Including Being Patient, Kind, and Empathetic

Tourists behaving badly are always going to upset Hawai‘i residents, and unfortunately, these incidents are not uncommon. On Maui, there have been plenty of reports of looky-loos and photo-takers around the burn zone–which is just in poor taste. There have also been reports of tourists sneaking onto beaches in the burn area that have been closed. This is a HUGE no-no, as it’s not only disrespectful, it’s also extremely unsafe. If a sign says not to enter, heed those warnings.

EDITOR’S NOTEBecause of the conventions of the U.S. Postal Service, much of the west side of Maui has an address listed as “Lahaina.” This can be extremely confusing when visitors are being warned to stay out of Lahaina, but the zone of destruction that visitors need to avoid is mostly limited to the Front Street area/the area south of the Lahaina Bypass. Many of the businesses on the northern side of the Bypass have begun to reopen. 

Another big issue that has come up is service industry folks who have to tolerate nosy (though perhaps well-intentioned) people asking if they lost their homes and family members. Hawaiian culture is not the same as culture on the American mainland–people are typically very private and humble, and placing an order for a mai tai and the day’s fish special doesn’t entitle anyone access to their personal lives. Māla Ocean Tavern, the first business to reopen on Front Street in Lahaina, has specifically asked that customers not ask their staff about the fire.

Even worse are the reports from service industry workers on social media of rude customers who come in with extremely entitled attitudes, convinced that they are saving the people of West Maui with their 15% tips. If you wouldn’t want people visiting your recently decimated home and asking your friends and neighbors personal questions, don’t do it yourself. And while service industry tips are extremely important, they should never come with a sense of entitlement.

Make Your Time Meaningful

Being a more mindful tourist means making your visit one that’s more regenerative than extractive. At any given time and any given place the communities that you visit are more than happy to have visitors contribute by volunteering or donating. The great part about volunteering in Hawai‘i is that you can still have your toes in the sand or enjoy stunning mountain views while making a difference. Volunteering is also a great time to get to know locals and gain a deeper understanding of history and culture. Now, more than ever Maui needs volunteers to help with recovery efforts and to get to know Maui on a deeper level.

Volunteer opportunities include helping restore native plants, collecting and dispersing goods and food, and much more. To connect with these activities, the Maui Nui Strong website includes a wonderful list of a variety of opportunities on Maui, and the Lahaina Strong website includes ways to volunteer both on Maui and from afar. The Mālama Hawai‘i program also connects visitors with voluntourism through hotel incentives.

In West Maui, visitors have reported having deeply meaningful experiences volunteering with such organizations as Kipuku Olowalu and Maui Cultural Lands. To directly support fire evacuees with financial and goods donations, as well as volunteering, check out Nāpili Noho, a community distribution hub, and Hua Momona Farms, feeding those displaced by the fire.

Learn About the Historical and Cultural Significance of Lahaina

Though most travelers know Lahaina as a bustling tourist destination filled with art galleries, ocean excursions, and lively restaurants, Lahaina is one of Hawai‘i’s most historic locales. Originally known as Lele until the 18th century, this coastal community’s history is rich and regal. It even briefly served as the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early-mid 19th century.

Before the introduction of the beloved Lahaina Banyan Tree, now fighting its way back to life, the Lahaina coastline was a wetland, home to ‘ulu trees that provided sustenance for the lāhui (people). The introduction of non-subsistence sugarcane farming in the mid-19th century altered the lush wetland microclimate, with water diverted to sugarcane irrigation and ‘ulu trees and native plants cut down to make way for more monocropping.

Whaling was also an incredibly important part of Lahaina’s history, as it significantly opened the port up to the outside world. The new Hawai‘i Wildlife Discovery Center in Whaler’s Village does an amazing job of illustrating that history and should definitely be on any West Maui itinerary.

Most of Lahaina’s historic places were lost during the fire, including Pioneer Inn, Lahaina Heritage Museum, Old Lahaina Courthouse, and the Old Lahaina Prison, among others. Fortunately, however, many of the historic structures were built so soundly that there is hope for their recovery. According to Hawai‘i’s Department of Land and Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Division, their assessment in partnership with FEMA revealed that much of the stone and masonry survived enough that rebuilding with the help of experts and cultural advisors is possible. In addition to DLNR, the Lahaina Restoration Foundation does much of the work to restore Maui’s treasured history. Visit their website to learn more about (and support) their work and the recovery of these historic places.

Spend Money at Locally Owned Businesses and Restaurants

We all know by now how important it is to local economies to put money directly into the hands of small, local businesses. The economic impact is real, it is tangible, and it is the reason that West Maui has opened back up to visitors during this devastating recovery time. Make your visit impactful to the local economy by shopping local, tipping well, and paying with cash if possible so that businesses don’t have to pay exorbitant merchant fees for credit cards. You also have the added bonus of getting some really amazing, authentic, unforgettable food and products that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a win/win for everyone.

And don’t forget–tip, tip, tip (and well, 20% is the current baseline) so that cash goes directly into the hands of Maui’s family and economy.

Looking for suggestions on where to eat? Some favorites that also made significant contributions to the community after the fires include: Papi’s ‘Ohana; Joey’s Kitchen; Kui‘a Estates Chocolate Cafe; Maui Fresh Streatery; Merriman’s Kapalua; Taverna; The Plantation House; Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua; Hula Grill; and Leilani’s on the Beach.

Educate Yourself About What’s Open and What’s Safe

Many stores, businesses, and restaurants have reopened since the fires; if you have favorites that you want to visit, the Facebook group What’s Open West Maui has lots of information and on-the-ground updates about openings. The What’s Open Maui website is also a great resource, and for up-to-date information about all of Maui, MauiNow reports on the Island at the community level. The Maui County official website is also a great resource for current information, and Yelp is pretty accurate regarding restaurant closures.

Visitors can keep up to date with the daily snorkel report to ensure that they are entering the ocean during safe conditions; The Snorkel Store publishes conditions daily, and you can sign up to have them delivered directly to your inbox if you’re staying for a longer visit.

Of course, you want to stay informed and safe no matter where you are visiting in Maui. Flash floods, brush fires, sudden road closures, and other disturbances are not uncommon in Maui, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of alerts while visiting. Visitors can sign up to receive alerts via the Maui County website. Listening to local radio stations can also help keep you informed, and the Maui 24/7 Facebook group is an excellent resource for community-reported information about road closures, accidents, ocean incidents, and more.

So, to answer the question, “Is it OK to visit Maui in 2024?”–the answer is “yes, BUT.” Yes, but don’t stay in a short-term vacation rental. Yes, but be on your best behavior and travel with Aloha. Yes, but make your trip regenerative, not extractive. Yes, but make this the year that you get to know the real Maui and its history, not just the postcard version of it. If you love Maui, be a good visitor and make your vacation mean something not just to you, but to the people struggling through one of the most difficult times of their lives.

EDITOR’S NOTEA new bill is phasing out 7,000 short-term rental units on Maui, 2,200 of which are in West Maui. These unpermitted units were exempted through a loophole that is now being closed. The Lahaina Strong/Fishing for Housing group considers this a huge success in creating housing opportunities for residents instead of focusing on tourists.

pgriffin96 June 6, 2024

Great article...until I got to the part about not staying in short-term rentals.

Why would you say that?

The majority of visitors stay in short-term rentals, and have for the last 50 years. It's not like the rest of the US, where many short-term rentals were previously LTRs and are now infringing on neighborhoods. Very few STRs on Maui are in any type of neighborhood; they are all in resort areas. Also, very few STRs were every long-term rentals; they were built for STR use.Please do more research, and then remove your advice to stay away from STRs. Thank you!


Having read that the days of the Aloha spirit were ending, then having heard that the governor of Maui had asked tourists to just stay away, I was hoping for some clarificationfrom this article. Not so much.
I imagine the very rich are still welcome. For the rest of us, let us know when it's sorted and we don't have to walk barefoot on hot coals.

mauilvr June 5, 2024

The author makes some excellent points here. However, some fallacies are glaring when it comes to staying in an STR vs a hotel: 1. The STR's on Maui are LEGAL. They were zoned for hotel use when built and have been used for 40+ years as STR. 2. STR's pay the highest property tax rates on the island and account for $200,000,000 of Maui CO's operating budget every year. Hotels only paid $51,000,000. 3. STR's have contributed $45,000,000 towards Maui CO's affordable housing fund since 2019. Hotels have paid $11,000,000. 4. STR's monies stay local. Hotels ship billions in profits OFF the island each year. 5. Hotels do NOT pay a living wage, STR owners do. 6. The prosed ban on STR has not even been brought before a committee yet. The proposal will remove an estimated 14,000 jobs from Maui's economy. And cost billions of dollars a year in revenue. Maui needs housing NOW. But to imply that staying in a STR takes away housing is false. There are 500 empty FEMA units available right now. Offered up by STR owners. That fire victims cannot occupy for one reason or another. Mostly because they are studios or one bedrooms. They are NOT suitable for families or long term housing. Maui needs the support from those who love it. Where will you lend support? The massive hotel corporations or the mom and pop owners? Your dollars can either leave the island or stay there. Your choice. 

Sandy808 June 5, 2024

Cue the STR owners...most who don't live on Maui and who do not understand or even care to undestand the real issues Mauians face.  Thank you for this article as it covered quite a bit.  1 in 3 homes on the west side is a STR.  Majority are owned by off island investors claiming to bring jobs to the people of Maui.  The truth is many of those jobs are paying under the table, many of the owners even argue against paying GET for services such as from handymen.  There are thousands of job openings every day at actual businesses across Maui. In fact you'll see help wanted signs in most windows.  Hours are shortened and offices closed some days because of lack of workers.  Thousands of residents have had to leave since the fire.  My business has lost employees due to lack of housing.  STR owners in general have little concern about the plight of Maui residents, they instead tell us we need them for jobs and the tourists they bring to stay at their STR.  They tell us we can't afford their STR and could never live there except what they don't realize is we used to live there until they turned the properties into STRs and drove up the prices and drove the residents out.  These properties would not have been worth half of what they are if they were not STRs.  The entire situation has been caused by overtourism.  

brianparis9965 June 5, 2024

You absolutely should stay in a Short Term Vacation Rental. That is the only way to directly financially support the local community, small business owners and residents of Maui such as myself.  Not only is staying at a hotel 3-5x more expensive all that money goes back to the corporate offices in NY, Japan and China.  Always support local!  Mahalo