Javier Cantellops, a boat captain and dive tour operator hailing from Maui, urgently appeals to those considering a trip to the cherished vacation spot: Choose Hawaii’s second-largest island without delay.
Local entrepreneurs express their concern about the discouraging messages from certain government figures, airlines, and even celebrities advising against visiting Maui after the devastating wildfires that razed Lahaina, causing a tragic loss of at least 114 lives. This reaction is deemed inappropriate. As tourists cancel their planned vacations, the small enterprises on Maui find themselves in dire straits.
“The western side has suffered considerable damage, and Lahaina is inaccessible. However, Maui is still welcoming, and the most effective way to aid us during this crisis is to return. We earnestly need the presence of returning visitors and their cheerful faces,” conveyed Cantellops in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch.
Cantellops calculates that in the past week alone, his two ventures, namely Maui Dreams Dive Company and Island Style Diving, have collectively suffered substantial revenue losses of around $35,000 to $38,000 due to the wave of cancellations. Both these establishments are located in Kihei, on Maui’s southwestern shoreline, approximately 20 miles away from Lahaina.
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“That’s not just numbers on paper; those figures translate into real earnings and wages for individuals. And remember, I’m just one among many. Imagine the impact multiplied by a hundred,” he remarked. “Our reliance on tourism and the returning visitors is profound, and to cut off this revenue source due to a tragedy elsewhere is a grave mistake.”
Immediate Blow to Local Businesses
The immediate repercussions of revenue loss were felt acutely by restaurants, farmers, and activity organizers. This shortfall hampers the ability of those residing and working in parts of the island untouched by the fires to provide support to those who lost everything, as explained by various business proprietors interviewed by CBS MoneyWatch.
“This community is tightly-knit, and we’re doing our best by volunteering and assisting everyone. However, our efforts to aid the western side are hindered if our own jobs and employees are now at risk,” Cantellops expressed.
Typically, his companies conduct four to five excursions daily, encompassing boat trips and scuba certification classes that come at a cost ranging from $250 to $500 per person.
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Thai restaurant owner Nutcharee Case is grappling with the effects of the wildfires as well. Tourists are shying away from Maui, affecting her business. In an effort to contribute to relief, she has been providing free meals to the wildfire survivors in Lahaina.
“Our business has taken a significant hit. Yet, we still require tourists to grace our island. Their presence is crucial for supporting the locals who have been impacted,” Case emphasized. “Despite the challenges, we have beautiful beaches and restaurants that tourists can patronize, thereby generating funds to aid others.”
Her usual clientele is divided equally between tourists and locals. Although the locals are still dining out, the absence of tourists is stark, leading to a sharp decline in her business.
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Still Recovering from the Aftermath of COVID-19
Local suppliers of fresh produce to restaurants are grappling with concerns about sustaining operations, especially after the blow dealt by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
“We all bore the brunt of it. The restaurant shutdowns had a profound impact,” stated Ryan Eareheart, owner of Okoa Farms, a family-run farm in Kula on Maui. The farm spans 35 acres and cultivates 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, supplying them to wholesalers, restaurants, and the public through their store and local farmer’s market.
The wildfires destroyed two Lahaina restaurants that Okoa directly supplied to. While other clients’ establishments are standing, they lack essential utilities and have closed down.
“While we, as a business, might weather this storm due to our focus on the local community, we’ve already seen a significant decline in our wholesale orders in just one week due to reduced restaurant activity,” Eareheart shared with CBS MoneyWatch.
He also emphasized the importance of tourists supporting businesses still operational in parts of the island unaffected by the fires.
“While mourning is inevitable, we’ll find ourselves mourning even more if the income from tourists dries up,” he warned.
Gabe Lucy, the president of Sail Trilogy, a sail and snorkeling tour operator, recently relocated operations from Lahaina to Maalaea. He wants to unequivocally state that Maui is open for tourism.
“Maui remains accessible; it’s Lahaina that’s affected. That’s the core message. Amidst the confusion, if your intention is not mere sightseeing, then our island relies on tourism and responsible visitors,” he conveyed to CBS MoneyWatch.
“Large-scale layoffs are occurring, and this will only amplify Maui’s suffering. For Maui to recover fully, the other parts of the island must thrive. We must avoid a prolonged recovery path,” Lucy cautioned.