WAILEA, Maui — "There was no other choice than to show up and be here," Signature Travel Network president and CEO Alex Sharpe said on stage at the Grand Wailea here on Thursday.
A period of uncertainty about holding its annual Owner's Meeting in Maui followed the devastating wildfires that engulfed Lahaina last month, but Signature made the decision to go forward with it.
Some changes came with that decision. Funds raised during the event via silent auction and donations would all benefit local groups helping the recovery. Attendees were encouraged to pack needed supplies to donate. And, Signature made Saturday a day of service.
"Folks are so excited to have us here, so grateful, and it feels good," Sharpe said. "But the most important thing we can do is tell the story."
That story was loud and clear, he said: Maui is open and needs tourists.
Kalei Uwekoolani, cultural programming manager and leadership educator at the Grand Wailea said, "We love that you are here, and thank you so much for coming. We are so very grateful."
Reflecting on stage, Sharpe said he was approached by many who called the decision to go forward with the meeting a difficult one. But, he said, it wasn't.
"If you give anything enough time, it just reveals itself," he said.
It felt right to hold the meeting because of the local workers dependent on the tourism industry, Sharpe said. They said business has languished in recent weeks.
Looking back on other difficult times
Sharpe reflected on some other Owner's Meetings over the years held during difficult times.
For instance, one meeting was held days after 9/11. His predecessor, the late Michelle Morgan, mandated members attend. A meeting held shortly after Morgan's death was another.
Even last year's meeting in Nashville, when there was still uncertainty surrounding Covid, was held in difficult times, but the connections made were worthwhile, he said.
"These are defining moments, and this will be yet another one," Sharpe said.
While he went into the meeting with some Signature-focused goals, like sharing future plans with members, one of the main goals was raising money for and supporting Maui, he said.
He described the room holding donated supplies as "the Lisbon airport last summer," full of bags piled upon each other. Signature had hoped to bring 10,000 pounds of supplies, and Sharpe said he believed the network was close to that.
He also hopes that donations and the proceeds of a silent auction would top $300,000, and community service hours would top 1,000.
Also, local vendors were brought in to an evening event to sell their wares, which they have been unable to do since the fires.
"It's not just the folks who were impacted directly by the fire," Sharpe said. "Business has fallen off across the board."
Signature also plans to give a cash tip to every worker who assisted with the meeting, from servers to room stewards to the front desk.
Sharpe encouraged travel advisors at the meeting to spread the word that outside of the Lahaina area, Maui is open and ready to welcome tourists.
"We want them next year, but we want them next week and next month," he said. "We want them for festive [season]."