The Maui Wildfire, should you go?

March, 2024

Paradise in peril. The Maui wildfire situation raises questions about vacationing on the island

Chris Norberg is attempting to reverse the last few weeks of social media messaging regarding the wildfires that devastated portions of Maui, where he lives.

“The message to visitors was initially crafted incorrectly,” explains Norberg, team manager for Hawaii Web Group and the Maui Guide, which produces content for both Maui visitor websites and social media profiles. “It was a short-sighted reaction. We wanted to keep visitors from coming for a week or two until we had a handle on what our displaced residents needed, but it turns out the message went out that we needed months to heal. This is incorrect. Only Lāhainā and some areas upcountry have been physically affected by the fires. That means the rest of the island is fine to visit and has not changed.”

The wildfires, which started Aug. 4 near Kahului Airport, are officially the deadliest in U.S. history in more than a century. The communities of Kula, Pūlehu-Kīhei and O’ahu were among areas where the wildfire caused damage, but as of this writing, it was Lāhainā that suffered severe human casualties, with 115 confirmed deaths and 388 people unaccounted for. Alberta tourists have spoken in newspapers reports of the surreality of the scene, and their deep sympathies for the residents. After all, they could go home, while almost the entirety of Lāhainā was burned down.

It’s a tragedy underscored by continuing questions about privilege and cultural imperialism on the island state, especially when it comes to tourism, which is their main economic driver. So when is the appropriate time for tourists to plan a trip to Maui? According to Nikola Berube, Director of Sales for AMA Travel, this is a question that potential visitors need to ask themselves.

“I can say that people are inquiring about trips that are booked for November through January, asking if they’re good. ‘Should we be thinking about going somewhere else?’ They’re wanting to know what our thoughts are, and all we can do is counsel them on the information that we have, and then they have to make a personal decision. As far as trying to travel now, there’s also the travel advisory; travel insurance won’t cover that, it’s for the unknown things that come up. So if people are booking under an existing travel advisory, it does limit their travel insurance coverage.”

says Berube.

Aside from the practical issues of booking a vacation in an area where a disaster has happened, ethical questions arise. Celebrities like Honolulu-born actor Jason Momoa have used their social media to make it clear: Do not visit Maui as the island attempts to rebuild and grieve. But then, it got even
more complicated as small businesses and workers in the industry pushed back, countering that tourism is the only way in which they’ll be able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.

Berube points out that the current focus of the Hawaiian government is to help their citizens in rebuilding houses and lives. After that, they’ll be looking at promoting travel to rebuild the economy, which is heavily weighted towards tourism. She’s cautious about the idea of booking a flight right at this moment, though.

“If you do decide to travel in the next while, there are a few things that you should expect from your experience because of the turmoil. There may not be restaurants or hotels that you might want to frequent. There was already a lack of accommodation and car rentals in Hawaii to begin with, and now that’s been compounded by the disaster.”


Norberg is much more specific. He readily admits that areas of West Maui should be off limits for some time, but argues that the rest of the island needs visitors to survive. The Maui Guide website that he oversees is very direct in its view that visitors to the rest of Maui are welcome from September on, while West Maui remains a “wait and see” proposition. He realizes that this is still a controversial view to some, but argues that many of the people pushing back don’t have any skin in the game.

“The dissenting voices are coming from locals that don’t work in tourism, as well as wealthy influencers that don’t need tourism to survive,” counters Norberg, who says that donations to Maui can be made on the Maui Goodness website. “Actors like Jason Momoa initially told visitors to not visit Maui, even though he’s not here and doesn’t need the money. He later went back on that message and corrected himself.”

For Albertans like Berube, this has been a heartbreaking time. The travel industry counts family, friends and associates all over the world, including Maui, and the devastation hits home. Berube can’t currently provide a good timeline for when a traveler can feel ethically correct in traveling to Maui, but she does feel that it requires a certain amount of inner reflection.

“There’s lots of things to debate about,” she points out. “It really comes down to what’s right for you. How do you ensure that you’re not creating a negative impact on the economy or the infrastructure by traveling after a devastation like this? It’s not an easy decision to make.”

It’s a tangled issue, made even more so by the aftereffects of the fires.

“West Maui is still having some issues getting power, cell service, [and] clean water,” says Norberg. “That means the areas above Lāhainā are still affected, even though the fires didn’t burn structures there.”

Still, adds Norberg, “The only problems we had were when the roads were briefly opened and a few disrespectful tourists went into the affected Lāhainā area. There’s no reason for visitors to be there. We still haven’t uncovered and found all of the victims yet. Our displaced residents are now temporarily in hotels and AirBnBs. We have supplies, and once we get water fixed, the island will be in better shape for our locals. The rest of the island is fine to visit and has not changed.”


County of Maui Hawaii

The government website for the island posts media releases and newsflashes on the wildfire situation. (

Lāhainā Town

Once a site designed to attract visitors, it now offers a tribute to a town that “is no more.” (

Maui Guide

This site contains an overview of activities on the island, blog posts on the situation, wildfire updates, flight information and a donor link to Maui Goodness. (

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