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What to know about Hawaii travel right now

<i>Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images</i><br/>This is a view of Kilauea Bay on the island of Kauai in 2021. So far
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images
This is a view of Kilauea Bay on the island of Kauai in 2021. So far

By Marnie Hunter and Andy Rose, CNN

(CNN) — In the week since devastating wildfires tore through parts of Hawaii, destroying the historic West Maui town of Lahaina, more information has emerged about the near-term effects of the fires on tourism.

Here’s what we know right now about how travel has been affected.

What is the guidance around traveling to West Maui?

All nonessential travel to West Maui is “strongly discouraged” through the end of August according to Gov. Josh Green’s emergency proclamation, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority said in travel guidance updated on August 14. West Maui includes Lahaina, Napili, Kaʻanapali and Kapalua.

Visitors in West Maui for nonessential reasons have been asked to leave the island.

Hotels in those areas have temporarily suspended bookings, the tourism authority said. Some properties are still lacking essential services, and the tourism organization is asking visitors to hold off on trying to contact West Maui properties to adjust reservations “until the situation stabilizes.”

“In the weeks ahead, the collective resources and attention of the federal, state and county government, the West Maui community, and the travel industry must be focused on the recovery of residents who lost loved ones, homes, their belongings, and businesses,” the tourism authority said in its update.

Right now, West Maui hotels are hosting evacuees, first responders, and their employees and families. More than 1,000 people are being hosted, with more expected.

“Our hearts, our prayers, all of our Aloha is with those families who have lost loved ones, who have lost their homes, who have lost businesses, livelihoods, lifestyles — it’s just devastating,” Hawaii Tourism Authority spokesperson and native Hawaiian Ilihia Gionson told Fredricka Whitfield on CNN’s Newsroom on Saturday.

What about other parts of Maui and other Hawaiian islands?

Other parts of Maui – including Kahului, Wailuku, Kihei, Wailea, Makena and Hana – are open to visitors.

Other Hawaiian Islands – including Kauai, Oahu, Lanai and Hawaii – are also open.

“We urge visitors to be especially mindful and respectful in our island home as our community continues through this tragedy,” the tourism authority said in an August 15 update.

The organization also has a Q&A on its website to help with frequently asked questions.

What is the situation with vacation rental properties?

Rental site Vrbo is “applying an extenuating circumstances exception for eligible Vrbo reservations where travelers will be able to get a full refund,” according to a spokesperson for parent company Expedia Group.

Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy is currently in effect for all of Maui, the company said this week. Information related to affected properties, including how to cancel, will be provided to guests via their Airbnb accounts. Bookings further in the future could fall under the policy based on the situation at the time.

Owners of vacation rental properties are being encouraged to use those properties to temporarily house displaced West Maui residents, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority said. More information about housing is available here.

Airbnb.org, the lodging behemoth’s nonprofit arm that provides housing in crisis situations, will provide free, temporary stays to at least 1,000 people, the company said. More information about that program is on the company site.

The island is facing an intensified struggle between tourism and affordable housing as thousands of displaced West Maui residents look for places to stay.

Mike Cicchino and his family were staying in Kihei after the fire encroaching on his Lahaina home forced him to take refuge along the seawall for 12 hours. “We just went through a nightmare, and we’re about to go through another nightmare trying to, basically, not stay homeless,” he told CNN’s Jessica Dean Sunday.

The Covid pandemic forced the island to effectively shut down its largest economic engine for months, and officials are anxious not to discourage visitors from visiting other parts of Maui.

“I hate to say it, but I think they should put a little hold on people coming to visit because we don’t have any places for locals to stay,” Cicchino said. “They’re going to need those hotel rooms. They’re going to need our Airbnbs, Vrbos.”

Can I get a refund on my Maui hotel booking?

As the tourism authority noted, West Maui hotels are temporarily suspending bookings.

Marriott told CNN Travel last week that three of the company’s properties in West Maui were temporarily closed: Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali; Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa; and The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua. The properties’ websites indicate that cancellation fees will be waived through August 31.

Hyatt has not directly responded to queries, but updates are posted on the websites of affected resorts. Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, for example, was closed to arrivals and not accepting guests through September 5, according to a website post on August 15. Deposits and prepayments on affected dates will be refunded, according to the post.

The Plantation Inn, an 18-room property in Lahaina, has been “irreparably damaged,” according to reports relayed to Outrigger Hospitality Group spokesperson Monica Salter.

Salter told CNN Travel on Friday that current guests of affected Outrigger properties “are being relocated as necessary within Outrigger’s properties across the Hawaiian Islands.”

Outrigger “will honor the same rate and room type, based on availability, at other Outrigger properties across O‘ahu, Kaua‘i or Hawai‘i Island.” Changes and cancellations can be made through August 31 without penalty.

Third-party booking site Expedia is waiving the cancellation policies for conventional lodging such as hotels.

Can I change my flights to and from Maui?

US airlines that fly into Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) have rolled out flexible rebooking policies for affected travelers. The US Department of Transportation has created a page linking to various US airline policies related to the fires.

Hawaiian Airllines, which added numerous flights to evacuate more than 17,000 people from the island, has created a Mālama Maui Desk to aid relief organiizatioins.

One runway of Kahului Airport, Maui’s largest airfield, is being set aside strictly for cargo operations in order to accommodate relief supplies coming onto the island, the Hawaii Department of Transportation announced Saturday. The closure will not affect commercial flights, which use the airport’s larger runway, the DOT said.

More broadly, what’s next for travel to Maui?

For now, it’s a wait-and-see situation for travel to affected areas after the end of August.

Scott Keyes, founder of travel site Going.com, said that “there’s no added benefit to canceling a trip a few weeks in advance versus a few days in advance.”

And canceling could have a big impact on the island.

“The potential loss of tourism revenue could be another devastating blow to the local community that relies on it,” travel adviser Jim Bendt said last week. Bendt owns Pique Travel Design in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Once officials have said it’s safe to travel back to Maui, the best thing people can do is not cancel their trips.”

CNN’s Forrest Brown, Cheri Mossburg, Stephanie Becker, Jamiel Lynch, Ross Levitt, Pete Muntean and Tori B. Powell contributed to this report.

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