Maui wildfires: ‘If you want to help, keep your trip,’ Hawaii tourism official says

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The Hawaii Tourism Authority announced Friday it approved more than $2 million to help rebuild Hawaii’s struggling tourism industry.

The agency said West Maui accounts for 15% of Hawaii’s total tourism revenue, and since the deadly wildfires, the state has lost roughly $9 million per day because of the resulting drop in travel and tourism.

The tourism board voted unanimously to approve $2.6 million to rebuild travel demand from the United States to the accessible areas of Maui and other Hawaiian Islands not affected by the fires.

Ilihia Gionson, the agency’s public affairs officer, told CNN people should stay away from West Maui burn areas, but the rest of the island and other Hawaiian islands are open for business. He said people may not want to intrude, but when the economy is all about tourism, “the last thing you want is an economic downturn to follow the disaster.”

On August 18, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green declared a “tourism emergency” as visitors to the island have dropped significantly in the wake of the devastating wildfires.

A graph showing daily passenger arrivals in Maui, which could include residents, first responders, volunteers, and tourists alike, saw a steep drop after the fires, more than the typical drop in numbers this time of year.

Gionson said rental car companies, which are usually at 90% utilization of their fleets, are currently at about 25% utilization. While the Hawaii Tourism Authority is still trying to get a count of total job losses, Gionson said anecdotally, a small sample size of a dozen businesses informed the agency of about 200 layoffs.

Air Maui, which takes tourists on helicopter flights around the island, has gone from doing 25-30 flights per day to only one or two flights per day, according to Richie Olsten, the company’s director of operations. He said the company has laid off seven dispatchers, and its seven pilots are sharing the fraction of remaining flights.

“Most people that live on Maui have two jobs to sustain themselves. So they’re not going to be able to survive and pay their bills and their home mortgage, on unemployment insurance. It just won’t cut it,” Olsten said.

Gionson said if people want to help, they should keep their trips, as long as they are not staying in West Maui.

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