Is it safe to visit Hawaii

The island of Maui, Hawaii, has been devastated by a series of wildfires that have claimed the lives of at least 96 people and caused extensive damage to neighborhoods. The rapid spread of these fires led to the destruction of Lahaina, a popular resort town that typically draws two million tourists annually, accounting for 80 percent of the island’s visitors.

Dry weather conditions and strong winds have fueled three major wildfires on Maui, resulting in the evacuation of thousands of tourists and locals from affected areas. This marks Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster since a tsunami claimed 61 lives in 1960. While there are also wildfires occurring on some of Hawaii’s other islands, they are not as severe in comparison.

These events follow a summer marked by record-breaking temperatures and wildfires worldwide. In southern Europe, thousands of individuals were evacuated from Greece, Spain, and Portugal as they grappled with wildfires. Additionally, a series of fires in western Canada sent smoke clouds over vast regions of the United States.

For travelers with plans to visit Hawaii, there may be concerns about safety. Below is a summary of the current situation, along with the latest government travel guidance.

Where are the fires?

Fires have erupted on both Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. The most severe conditions are in western Maui, particularly in the town of Lahaina, but additional fires have also been reported in Kihei and Kula. As a result of the emergency situation, there have been reports of electricity shortages, and mobile phone service is unreliable.

Many of the evacuated individuals have sought refuge in safer areas of Maui or on the neighboring island of Oahu. According to Reuters, some tourists have been camping out at Kahului Airport, which is the primary airport on Maui, as they await flights to return home. Since last week, over 46,000 people have departed from this airport.

On the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), the Hawaii Department of Transportation has confirmed that Kahului Airport is open but has requested the public’s patience, stating that “all airlines are sending additional support to facilitate the departure of individuals from the island.”

Is it safe to travel to Hawaii?

As of now, the wildfires are confined to Maui and the Big Island, making the other islands in the Hawaiian archipelago safe for visitors. Local authorities are urging individuals with upcoming trips to Maui within the next week or so to consider canceling or rescheduling their plans. Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, Sylvia Luke, has issued an emergency proclamation that extends the state of emergency to cover all counties. This proclamation serves to discourage non-essential air travel to Maui and directs all relevant state agencies to provide assistance with the evacuation efforts.

Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke explained, “This proclamation is aimed at discouraging travel to the affected areas so that we can allocate our limited resources to assist Maui residents who are in urgent need of help.”

Over the past weekend, Jason Momoa, a native of Hawaii and a prominent Hollywood actor, took to Instagram to caution tourists against traveling to the island, emphasizing that “Maui is not the place to have your vacation right now.” He urged people not to convince themselves that their presence is necessary on an island experiencing such profound suffering.

Travel advisor Jim Bendt, the owner of Pique Travel Design, echoed this sentiment, advising individuals to reconsider their plans to visit Maui at this time in order to “help alleviate the strain on local infrastructure.”

Additionally, last week, two major US airlines, United and American, announced the cancellation of flights to Maui due to the wildfires. However, they are still operating outbound flights departing from the island.

What is the latest government travel advice?

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) last updated its advice for the US on August 10, specifically addressing the situation in Hawaii. The FCDO acknowledged that conditions in Hawaii can change rapidly and characterized the wildfires as “highly dangerous and unpredictable.” However, they have not issued a formal travel warning for the region.

The current advice from FCDO states: “If you are planning to travel to an area that could potentially be affected by wildfires, we recommend contacting your travel operator or accommodation provider before your trip to ensure that the area is not currently impacted. It’s essential to have appropriate travel insurance.”

For those already in or near wildfire-affected areas, FCDO advises following the instructions provided by local emergency services and calling 911 if in immediate danger.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has strongly discouraged non-essential travel to Maui at this time. Visitors who are on Maui for non-essential purposes have been asked to leave the island while rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing. However, travel to the island of Hawaii is currently still being welcomed. Visitors are encouraged to stay in contact with their hotel accommodations provider and airlines for any updates that might affect their stay on the island.

During a news conference on August 9, Hawaii’s State Department of Transportation director reiterated the strong discouragement of non-essential travel to Maui.

Will I be protected by travel insurance?

Insurance policies can differ, so it’s essential to verify the specifics of your coverage. Since the FCDO has not issued a formal travel advisory explicitly advising against travel, most insurance providers may not cover cancellation costs. However, if your trip is substantially impacted, for instance, if the wildfires prevent you from traveling or necessitate an early return home, you may be eligible for coverage.