Maui is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to tourism in the aftermath of the wildfires they’ve experienced.

Some local residents, like “Kate from Maui” (Kate Ducheneau) shown in the TikTok screenshot above, ask tourists not to come to Maui. “Our devastation is not your vacation,” she says. Many are asking outsiders for some space to grieve and to cope with the aftermath of the disaster they’ve experienced.

At the same time, HGaweaii relies on tourism economically, and many more are asking tourists not to shun their islands. “Tourism is Hawaii’s major economic driver, and we don’t want to compound a horrific natural disaster of the fires with a secondary economic disaster,” Ilihia Gionson, a spokesman for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told the New York Times.

A state of emergency

Maui is in a state of emergency following wildfires that have so far racked up an official death toll of 114. That will not be the final number, we are sure. Hurricane Maria’s initial death toll was 65, but as deaths mounted from tainted water, lack of access to electricity for dialysis machines, and many more related causes, the final toll grew to more than 3,000 people.

As a state, Hawaii can probably expect a better outcome than the post-Maria situation in the territory of Puerto Rico, but a natural disaster of this size is tragic, however well prepared people are and however much help shows up afterwards.

Tourism’s effects

Travel writer Leyla Giray Alyanak lists some of the problems with “disaster tourism”:

  • Disrespectful behavior or voyeurism
  • Getting in the way of rescue and rebuilding efforts
  • Using resources needed by people affected by the disaster
  • Physical danger

But once the immediate state of emergency has passed, the economic benefits of tourism may outweigh the sensitivity of giving people room to grieve. Hurricane Maria caused at least $80 billion in damage, federal funds for rebuilding were seriously delayed, and Puerto Rico was soon hit with earthquakes, more hurricanes, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Island is still recovering. As soon as possible, the government was getting out the message: the way to help Puerto Rico is to come here for your vacation.

Tourism as an industry has its pluses and minuses, like most industries, but it has bounced back in Puerto Rico and that has helped shore up the economy.

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