Pacific | Hawai'i

All out of aloha; Lahaina residents struggling to cope with return of tourists

Return of tourists masks hardships faced by locals

The people of Lāhainā are struggling to cope with the return of tourists after the fires that devastated the Hawaiian island of Māui.

The western side of Māui reopened to tourism for the Christmas and New Year holidays. But many residents are still traumatised by the fires that took 98 lives in August last year, and destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 properties.

Pa’ele Kiakona is an organiser of a grassroots activist group, Lāhainā Strong. He says it hurts to watch tourists in hotels and eat USD$26 burgers when displaced Lāhainā residents live in tents and rely on food donations.

“We can’t welcome people with open arms when our arms are wrapped around our family members, wrapped around the little bit of hope that we have left,” Kiakona told an American TV programme, News Nation.

Kiakona and other residents wanted to delay the return of tourism for a portion of West Māui, and in October last year delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to the Governor of Hawai’i, Josh Green.

But the island is dependent on tourism and Green argued that jobs and the economy were on the line if West Māui remained closed to visitors.

But it seems Lāhainā locals are all out of aloha.

Social media posts comment about food prices spiking with the influx of tourists. Real estate agents have snapped up native land from owners with nothing left, and outsiders have driven up housing prices.

Others say they don’t want to answer tourists’ questions about the fire or deal with insensitive behaviour when they are still mourning those who were lost.