The Maui wildfires are the fifth deadliest in U.S. history, with a current death toll of 115 people, not including the hundreds who are still missing. Families all over Maui and Hawaii at large are facing the worst possible outcome: losing their homes and the lives they’ve built over decades. News media has a choice on what they share with the world about the wildfires. Unfortunately, the wrong choice has been made.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green called the wildfires the “largest natural disaster in Hawaii’s state history,” NPR reported. Maui residents have suffered immensely and news media is portraying the idea that tourism is still of the utmost importance, rather than focusing on what truly matters: the missing and lost lives. News media has the knowledge, power, and money to help Maui residents, but those resources are being put into reflecting the wrong ideas. For example, Khon 2 news outlet discussed the drop of economy in Hawaiian tourism, but did not cover the most dire issue: the lives and families torn apart.
What’s not being talked about enough are the hundreds of missing Hawaiian inhabitants, the lives lost, the memories gone, and the displaced families. Instead, media coverage is focused on what’s going to happen to tourists who have Hawaii trips planned. They are focusing on what will happen to tourist’s Hawaiian vacations, beach houses, and vacation rentals.
News media’s focus on the effects on tourism by non-Hawaiians, instead of the actual people impacted is nothing new. In The Harvard Business Review, Peter Vanderwicken, former journalist for Time, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal, writes, “The news media and the government have created a charade that serves their own interests but misleads the public.” It currently serves the interests of the media to prioritize tourism over the lives of Hawaiians.
Maui needs money. According to the University of Hawaii, it is estimated that it will cost $5.5 billion to rebuild Lahaina alone. Maui also needs attention, but not the kind it’s getting right now. Instead of focusing recovery resources on the people in need, re-incentivising tourism seems to be priority number one for many media corporations.
From visiting the Road to Hana in Maui, to the grassy trails of Na Pali State Park in Kauai, Hawaii has long been one of the most beloved tourist stops. Media outlets know this, and have gone for the low-hanging fruit: headlines that shout about how there will not be vacations to Maui anytime soon.
Native Hawaiians have been pleading to downsize tourism for decades. In Travel Noire’s latest piece on the wildfires, author Jasmine Osby writes, “For decades, native Hawaiians have struggled to maintain autonomy over their land and, due to a multitude of factors, have faced threats of homelessness since the state’s US acquisition. What current media is doing now by focusing still on this tourism instead of what needs to be talked about in order to help Hawaii citizens is just aggravating the issue at hand.”
“I am proud to stand against tourism, only because growing up on a small island, everyone knows everybody, and we are all hānai families,” said Akemi Tominaga, a sophomore undeclared major from Hawaii. “We are all in survival mode and have to take care of each other.”
Students can aid Maui by amplifying the search for the people that are still missing through social media, donating to Hawaii residents and relief funds, and refraining from vacationing in Hawaii. Let Maui residents get the care they need without tourism interfering.
Students who wish to donate to relief funds or learn more can do so at https://hicares.hawaii.gov/resources/hawaii-wildfire/.