On August 8th, the town of Lahaina in Maui, Hawai’i, suffered its deadliest wildfire in over a century. The grievous effects of this natural disaster took miles of lush land and the lives of an estimated one hundred and fourteen civilians.
Residents who were fortunate enough to not have lost their homes or lives in the fires have been volunteering around-the-clock to help survivors with food, supplies, and water. However, even with the aid of residents and officials, Maui is still suffering from the tremendous blow that left many without power for days, with unsafe drinking water, spoiled food, and no cell service to call for help. Others who had their homes engulfed by the deadly flames are asking nearby hotels and centers for shelter, and dozens are still desperately searching for missing family members.
The complete devastation that these fires left the people of Hawai’i in led many to reiterate what natives have been begging outsiders to do for a long time: stay out of their islands. The lands that have been dream honeymoon or vacation destinations for millions of Americans are now begging tourists to rethink their visiting of the islands, insisting that their stay will only fuel the various issues that Hawaiian natives have been enduring for various decades.
Homelessness in Hawaii has been an ongoing crisis that many natives feel will only worsen if tourists continue to visit the islands. Over half of Hawaii’s homeless population is made up of native Hawaiians. These numbers are even more shocking when one learns that native Hawaiins only make up 10 percent of the state’s population. Statistics such as these have been disproportionate towards the natives ever since the overthrowing of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, when the effects of imperialism and colonization caused many natives to be displaced from their communities or die from disease and starvation.
In an attempt to make amends, The United States Government has in the recent decades passed bills to help Hawaii’s displacement issue. Even with these so-called outdated reparation tactics, there is still much more that the American Government needs to do in order for homeless natives in Hawaii to stop facing the repercussions of colonialism.
However, it is not only the U.S. Government that is enabling the rise of homeless natives in Hawai’i: the tourism industry – including the industries that profit off of vacation rental units – are very much at fault as well. Vacation rental units such as AirBnB’s have gained extreme popularity in the last half of a decade. With the ever-growing “influencers” that run social media accounts as means to make profit, the promotion of certain locations and homes have reached more people than ever before, inspiring them to rent out a home for a few days and visit remote impoverished islands such as Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and many more.
This industry’s damage is extremely evident in counties such as Maui, where well over 50 percent of residential areas such as condos, apartments, and homes are being bought and sold to people who intend to rent it out to tourists, leaving native Hawaiians with great difficulty in finding homes. Even in the off chance that they are able to find one, because these vacation rental units directly contribute to the increase of housing costs, most are unable to afford the few homes that are available to them.
These crises are exhausting enough as it is, but add in the willing ignorance of the tourists that still choose to come to the islands and it should come as no surprise that Hawaiians are shedding tears of frustration on social media.
One resident from Maui could not believe that tourists were swimming in the same waters that residents had jumped in an attempt to escape the wildfire’s flames just a few days before. “That says alot about where their heart and mind is through all of this,” she tells BBC News. “[Hawaiin natives] are not having fun in this tragedy.”
So, while natives of their island are suffering the new results of this tragedy and an ongoing worsening homelessness and displacement crisis, tourists are turning a blind eye to their agony and choosing to relax in their condos that remain vacant nearly the entire year, snorkeling in waters rescue teams are still pulling dead bodies out of, and sipping tropical drinks from their resort balcony.
It is time that we realize the negative impact that tourism is giving to the natives of islands like Hawaii. These islands are full of bountiful natural resources, and mainlanders need to recognize that they are ridding the natives of their own riches when they choose to vacation there. So, instead of booking that upcoming summer 2024 trip to O’ahu, choose a destination that you know both you and the local residents of the area can equally enjoy.