The Only Way to Save Maui’s Economy

–  Chris Mentzel –

Maui faces an epochal choice between Wealth and Health. How will our leaders decide? Will they protect the health of our residents by keeping tourists out? Or will they restart tourism in order to protect the economy, which will bring back COVID?

This question is debated hotly these days, but it is the wrong choice. It is like the Woody Allen quote: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction.”

If Maui opens up to tourists, we will have never-ending outbreaks of COVID. Even with testing and precautions, there is no way around that. Based on numbers from a recent UHERO study, a full return to tourism with the most careful screening will miss 171 actively infected people every month. If things go wrong, Maui may become known as a death trap and tourists won’t come back for years. That’s not the path to wealth.

If Maui doesn’t let tourists in, we face continuing poverty with all the side-effects of the desperation that comes with it. Tens of thousands without a job, mortgages failing, suicides, the economy in ruins. That is not healthy.

We also have to come to terms with the truth that the worldwide pandemic is far from over. The virus has not magically disappeared in April, it won’t disappear in the summer and there are no breakthrough treatments. Worldwide lockdowns have temporarily flattened the curve, but the fundamental situation has not improved. But we are lucky. Thanks to wise decisions by Mayor Victorino and Governor Ige, Maui will have eradicated COVID by July.

Having eradicated COVID is Maui’s greatest asset

New Zealand has achieved eradication and life is back to normal with parties, sports events, no masks, and no fears. Maui could be there soon and attract visitors as the only COVID-safe destination.

This is a binary thing. Either there are zero cases on Maui or we are part of the pandemic. There is no margin of error, no safe amount of cases. If only one person is infected, life stops, and the masks go back on. That means there is no way around an even stricter 14-day quarantine for all arrivals. It will get shorter, as better tests become available.

Pivot towards long-term visitors

Affluent people from the mainland want to come and ride out the pandemic here. They can enjoy the island and live in a no-mask, no-fear luxury hotel while the ICUs on the mainland fill up.

Most Knowledge Workers (employees who work only via computer and phone) are working from home now. They will soon realize that they may just as well work from a no-mask, no-fear luxury hotel in paradise.

These are just two of many target markets that can fill our hotel within months, bringing the sorely missed tourist jobs back. Switching from 8-day luxury tourism to pandemic-fleeing visitors has a huge advantage. There is no competition. There are no other locations in the United States that can control their borders, which is a necessity for eradication. Meanwhile, foreign travel is largely blocked and feels unsafe.

Eradication brings Health

Going back to a mask-free, fear-free lifestyle will be a relief for the residents. Isolation has been hard on most people and many need kind support to reconnect and once again breathe deeply. And finally, our Kupunas can get out again without any fear.

Jobs will be coming back and a positive vision for the future will already bring relief. Like in every crisis, we will continue to see a lot of neighborly help.

Eradication brings a New Economy

Maui’s efforts towards developing a high-tech economy have been hampered by a lack of expertise and funding. With tens of thousands of knowledge workers and affluent people in our hotels that may just change. As they come to love Maui, some may start their own businesses. If it’s only 1% a year, that would be 300 new ventures. With a little direction from the County, they may even choose to invent technologies that help the island or solve world problems.

It’s not hard to do…

A managed quarantine needs to be organized. Hotels should develop their offerings around the needs of the new visitors. Stylish working tables for computers including fast Internet will help. Add social support for those who miss the far-away family. Marketing may move towards direct sales, increasing profits. The County should collect fees for its services.

What seemed like the biggest disaster for our economy in May 2020 with 35% unemployment may turn into the greatest opportunity ever. The “Sanctuary Maui”, a safe place in a turbulent world.

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