Will the media end up doing more economic damage to Hawaii than the fires?

The loss of life in the Lahaina fire is sad, of course, but this post is about the economics. Folks I’ve talked to here in the Northeast (I’m traveling around via Cirrus) who’ve followed this by scanning media headlines have the impression that much or most of Maui has been destroyed and/or that all of Hawaii is a no-go zone for tourists. To the extent that they would have considered a vacation in Hawaii, therefore, they would now postpone it for at least a year or two.

Estimates of direct property damage from the Maui fires seem to be in the $3 billion range. But the big airport and the big resorts were untouched, so there wouldn’t be a rational reason for tourists to avoid Maui this winter. Hawaii’s extended lockdown was a serious self-inflicted wound from 2020-2022. About 20 percent of the state’s economy, pre-coronapanic, was tourism. Total revenue for 2019 was nearly $18 billion in pre-Biden money. If media hysteria reduces tourism by even 20 percent, therefore, the economic damage from journalists will exceed the economic damage from the fires.

Here is an example… “The Hawaii fires are a dire omen of the climate crisis’s cost to Pacific peoples” (Guardian). Note that it is not the “Lahaina fires” or the “Maui fires” but fires that have covered all of Hawaii.

From the righteous at CNN… “Survey of devastation left after Hawaii wildfires”.

If Hawaii is “devastated”, does that mean the winter of 2023-4 is a good time for a visit?

Update, September 1: “Tourists Were Told to Avoid Maui. Many Workers Want Them Back.” (NYT) Nearly a month after the fire, Maui, a tourism-dependent island with a hotel room for every seven and a half households, is hosting fewer visitors than at any point since the coronavirus pandemic. Pristine beaches sit empty, even those that are many miles from Lahaina. Hundreds of unused rental cars are parked in fields near the island’s main airport in Kahului, where planes arrive half full. … The implosion of Maui’s economy, of which tourism comprises about 40 percent, has been swift and severe. State economic officials estimate that the island is seeing about 4,250 fewer visitors each day than normal, representing a loss of $9 million a day. In South Maui, seven of every 10 hotel rooms sit empty, compared with about two in 10 during normal times.

5 thoughts on “Will the media end up doing more economic damage to Hawaii than the fires?

  1. I’m currently in Lahaina (and been in the downtown right before the fire started), and the real problem is the government. Terminally incompetent in pretty much everything and thuggish. Not only they neglected the basic fire safety for decades (despite the fact that wildires is a yearly occasion in West Maui), they actively made the disaster worse by closing the roads and trying to prevent community disaster recovery efforts.

    The press merely reposts their BS. A propos: big hotels in West Maui reopen on Sep 1st. The local businesses are desperate for customers. Life in other parts of Maui is normal, except for the lack of tourists.

    The press also uncritically parrots their loss of life numbers which are an order of magnitude less than reality.

    • “big hotels in West Maui reopen on Sep 1st.”

      Some are abiding by the current recommendation and not re-opening until mid-Oct. From the Maui Tourist Board: “Vacation travel to West Maui (including Lahaina, Nāpili, Kā‘anapali, and Kapalua) is strongly discouraged through October 17, 2023.”


      I am unsure how the road traffic in west Maui areas will be in winter with debris trucks probably in full forces on the single narrow highway. I am also unsure of ground water quality for drinking or even bathing given the current h20 state. Will locals jam the small condos and hotels? They certainly should be given 1st priority for accomodation but it may alter the character from older folk tourist enclaves to an extended native family atmosphere.

  2. Thanks for the in person reporting. I think the premise of this post is spot on. Discouraging tourists will devastate Maui’s economy (again).

    I sure hope they don’t sell all those Maui rental cars (again). Last time, it drove rental rates through the roof!

    • They are boosting the profits of big bational hotel chains, not the local economy. At the expense of American taxpayers, of course.

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