MAUI -- I had mixed feelings about coming to Maui so shortly after wildfires decimated Lahaina.
On one hand, I heard voices on social media urging visitors to stay away as the island recovers from the tragic wildfires that struck last month. But on the other, voices in the travel industry were encouraging travel to unaffected areas of the island.
I'm glad I listened to the latter and came to Signature Travel Network's Owner's Meeting.
I'm writing this sitting on a balcony at the Grand Wailea, here, listening to koi quietly jumping in the pond just feet away from me. I've been on Maui for a little over a day, and I've heard nothing but gratitude from everyone I've encountered.
This hits close to home
I live on the Jersey Shore, in Manasquan. The town is a little over a mile square. We depend on tourism in the summer to keep our little town afloat year round.
In 2012, we took an almost direct hit from Superstorm Sandy.
At the time, I was working at the local newspaper. During the day, I worked harder than ever to ensure the news made it into the hands that so desperately needed it. After hours and on weekends, I helped family and friends muck out their storm-flooded homes and businesses.
I'm also a member of the volunteer tourism commission in my town. The next summer, 2013, our work became as important as it had when the commission was first formed to combat the negative associations with the beach brought by the "syringe tide" in the late 1980s, when medical waste was washing up regularly.
We had to get the word out: Manasquan was open and ready for business.
Now, the Valley Isle typically welcomes an amount of tourists that would more than overwhelm our town. But the message here is the same as it was in the wake of Sandy: We may have been battered, but we're here and ready to welcome visitors.
Don't shy away
After deplaning in Maui, I walked to exit the airport with my traveling companion, my mom. We were met by a representative of a local transportation company who confirmed that the weeks prior had been unusually quiet.
But she also thanked us more times than I could count for visiting the island, solidifying the notion that Maui, a tourism-dependent economy, needs visitors.
• Insight: Understanding the economic impact of the Maui fires
Right now, Maui needs tourism dollars more than ever. Outside of
affected areas, the island is well: travel advisors, don't discourage
your clients from visiting. Encourage them to travel here, responsibly,
outside of affected areas where recovery operations are ongoing.
Clients are probably hesitant to visit Maui right now. But it's up to the industry to redirect commercial traffic here. Please defer to local operators, who share the united voice that Maui is open for business. Help make it happen.