Area largely destroyed in Maui wildfire to start welcoming tourists back

The area around the Maui town largely destroyed by wildfire two months ago was scheduled to welcome back tourists on Sunday as Hawaii’s governor pushed ahead to kick-start the economy despite opposition from some local residents.

Five hotels in West Maui were accepting reservations again, according to their websites and the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association.

In addition, eight timeshare properties – in which visitors have an ownership stake in their room – were opening across the region early this month, including some a few miles from the devastation.

The reopening fell on the two-month anniversary of the wildfire that killed at least 98 people and destroyed more than 2,000 structures, many of them homes and apartments.

Opponents said they do not want travellers asking them about their traumatic experiences while they are grieving the loss of their loved ones and processing the destruction of their homes.

More than 3,500 Lahaina-area residents have signed a petition asking Hawaii governor Josh Green to delay the restart.

Mr Green said opening up again would help Maui’s tourism-driven economy get on a path to recovery.

It was not clear how many travellers were staying at hotels and timeshares.

Laura Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, said her organisation’s surveys indicated the number will be “low”. She predicted “a very slow ramp up to visitors coming back”.

Maui County on Saturday released a video message from Mayor Richard Bissen acknowledging the difficulties of the situation.

The Kapalua Ridge Villas
The Kapalua Ridge Villas is opening its doors to tourists on Sunday (Mengshin Lin/AP/PA)

Thousands of tourists staying in beachfront hotels north of the burn zone left Maui in the days after the fire.

Some 11,000 hotel rooms in West Maui have since either sat empty or housed displaced Lahaina residents under a programme administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross.

Mr Bissen said he was working hard to make sure no-one affected by the fire has to leave their temporary housing to make room for visitors.

The county prepared another video highlighting places visitors could go outside West Maui, including the town of Paia on Maui’s north shore and the scenic road to Hana on the island’s east side.

The video message urged visitors to show respect by staying away from the burn zone, not taking and posting “inappropriate images” on social media, and following signs and instructions.

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