Mixed Reactions In Pāʻia To Tourism As Visitors Return

Nov 16, 2020

It’s been a month since Hawaiʻi started its pre-travel testing program, slowly expanding the number of visitors in the islands. In some places, that shift has gotten a mixed reaction, even for communities that have come to depend on tourism dollars. Here's how this is playing out in the Maui beach town community of Pāʻia.

Mapuana Aarona, 74, also known as Aunty Mopsy, has held onto her family’s beachfront property in Pāʻia for 92 years. She worries economic pressure may force the community to cater more toward tourists than local residents.

Aunty Mopsy is the third-generation of her Kekahuna family to live and care for family home on the shoreline of Pa'ia.
Credit Aunty Mopsy

"There’s only four original families and two kanaka left here, that live on that shoreline and we will do everything in our power to hang on to that," says Aarona

She’s spearheading a new group called Hui Mālama Pāʻia to amplify the voices of concerned local residents trying to recover from the economic devastation brought by COVID-19.

"Be that voice and tell them, 'No, this cannot happen,'" says Aarona. "You cannot allow them to overpower us, to overrun us, to make us feel that we don’t belong."

An aerial view of the small beach town of Pa'ia, Maui.
Credit Paia Community Association

This charming beach town of about 2,400 residents on Maui’s north shore has become a tourist hotspot over the 20 years since the sugar operations left. Local businessman Michael Baskin says he has begun to see lines forming outside restaurants and shops since tourism has reopened.

"At least 30 percent of the town is still closed in terms of restaurants that are closed, uncertain as to whether theyʻll reopen," says Baskin. "Many of them are possibly going to reopen as something else or weʻll have to pivot at this time to something else."

Baskin and others in the business community recently formed the Pāʻia Community Association to help local businesses navigate the ever-changing list of COVID-19 restrictions and help rebuild a more sustainable Pāʻia economy, one that he says will need to include tourism.

"We just don’t have on Maui the kind of diversification that really enables us to not be friendly to tourism. And I think we still need to be friendly to the people that are coming and try to find that balance," says Baskin. "This is a real turning point in the economics of the future of Pāʻia."