In aftermath of fires, a Maui agency owner looks ahead

Kathy Takushi is the owner of the online agency Captivating Journeys who lives in Haiku, Hawaii, on Maui’s north shore — roughly an hour’s drive from Lahaina. She spoke last month with Travel Weekly’s Hawaii editor, Christine Hitt, about the effects of the Maui wildfires on her bookings to Hawaii and why this is probably the best time for clients to be thinking about a Maui vacation.

Q: Did the fires affect your business in any way?

A: Not a lot because I didn’t have any clients on the island. My last clients, inbound Hawaii clients, left before the fire. And then my colleague had some who were coming now. She had to rearrange, and they’re booking other islands because they were staying on the west side and putting them in Wailea was just too expensive. But as far as our local clients, it has not had an impact.

Q: I noticed you said that one of the clients had to go to another island because Wailea was too expensive. Are there other options similar to West Maui as far as pricing?

A: No. I have been saying this for a really long time. During Covid, Maui was super expensive. I mean, it still is. I kept saying it’s going to price itself out of the market. And then even before the fire and all this, I noticed that our requests have been not as much, that requests for Maui have been slowing down. And the ones we had been getting, it was just too expensive because they want to stay in a resort or hotel, but they didn’t have the budget.

So for people who didn’t want to spend $1,000 dollars a night — because that’s kind of what Wailea is starting at, you know — we would put them in Kaanapali.

Q: What about Kihei, just north of Wailea? Isn’t that more affordable?

A: Kihei’s more condos. [But clients] want the resort experience, and there’s really no other options there.

Q: Have you noticed a slowdown of bookings to Hawaii since last month?

A: Yes, at least 50%. Though I did get one yesterday for next summer, so that was a nice request. I think people will come back. People want to come to Hawaii. It’s still a bucket-list trip for many. 

Kathy and her husband Rex visit a waterfall on the Road to Hana.

Q: After the fires, some people were telling visitors not to come to Maui. Do you feel like they should be coming to the island now? 

A: Yes, I do. The economy has been hit. I drive through Paia Town (a normally tourist-heavy destination on Maui’s north shore), and every time I go through there now, it’s so quiet. Usually, you’re avoiding hitting people trying to dash across the road.

I’ve been wanting to go to Hana (on Maui’s east coast), and I haven’t been to Hana in years, and then after Covid, it was just crazy, you know, everybody wants to go to Hana. But a couple weeks ago, we drove to Hana, and there was nobody on the road. It was really quite nice. I would say, if you want to come to Maui and get a really good experience, without the overcrowding, now is the time to come.

Q: Has the packaging of your Maui vacations changed in any way?

A: I’m in a Facebook group for travel advisors who book Hawaii, and one of the agents was saying, “I want to book clients to Kaanapali in February,” and I responded, “February should be fine.” But she brought up a good point, which I hadn’t thought of. She said, “Well, do you think there’s going to be enough restaurants?” You know, because Kaanapali has Whaler’s Village and all the hotels, and there are some restaurants in Honokowai, but normally a lot of people would dine in Lahaina. They had tons of restaurants there, but they’re all gone. So if it’s really busy — February is usually pretty busy on Maui — that might be an issue, you know, not enough restaurants for everybody, so that is a consideration that I’m keeping in the back of my mind.

Q: Are there other things you think might be affected?

A: Maybe staffing, because a lot of the workers lost their homes. Right now, they’re staying in the hotels, but where are they going to go? I don’t know how that is going to work out, and I’ve heard some people have just left the island. 

Q: What would you tell those who are visiting Maui now or will be soon?

A:Come visit and support the island but — and I think a lot of people are doing this while they’re here — be mindful of the residents, even on the unaffected side of the island: Kihei, Wailea, Makawao. Everybody is affected in some way or another. We all know somebody who lost their home because it’s such a small island, you know, where everybody’s interconnected. Be mindful, be patient and just have respect for the residents of the island, but come and enjoy, because we do want them to come.

Q: Any last piece of advice for travel advisors booking Maui?

A: I have a lot of travel advisor friends on the mainland, and they have the same feeling and they have the love for Hawaii. They should reach out to the Maui Visitors Bureau if they have any questions, and they can always reach out to me. 

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