How the Events Industry Can Help the Maui Fire Recovery Effort

August 16, 2023

The devastating wildfires that tore through western Maui and destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina has been named the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a 100 years, and one of the top 10 deadliest wildfires since 1871, according to research from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 

Starting in the early morning hours of Aug. 8, the deadly blaze was the result of a perfect storm of drought conditions and strong winds from Hurricane Dora as it passed south of the islands.

More than 100 people have died, up to 1,000 people are still unaccounted for, approximately 2,200 structures have been damaged or destroyed, thousands of residents have been displaced and businesses have been demolished. Financial losses are approaching $6 billion, according to national news reports.

“This is the largest natural disaster [Hawai’i has] ever experienced,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said at a news conference on Aug. 12. “It’s going to also be a natural disaster that’s going to take an incredible amount of time to recover from.”

Known for its strength, resiliency and willingness to come together in times of tragedy and great need, the U.S. trade show and meetings industry, including the Hawai’i Convention Center (HCC) on the neighboring island of Oahu, is taking action to help and support the Maui recovery effort.

Corporate Event News had a chance to speak with HCC General Manager Teri Orton about what the venue is doing to help the Maui wildfire victims and how event industry professionals can lend a hand to help those in need in Lahaina. 

What is HCC doing to support the recovery effort in Lahaina?

Teri Orton   

Orton: HCC opened up as a temporary shelter for evacuees (visitors and residents) of Maui on Aug. 9. The ASM Global team at the Hawai’i Convention Center worked closely with the American Red Cross to ensure we had sleeping arrangements, food and beverage to house evacuees until they were able to find hotel accommodations on Oahu or a flight out of Honolulu to return home.   

Many of the hotels on Oahu were at more than 98% occupancy, so hotel accommodations were limited. Many stayed at Honolulu International Airport until they were able to get a flight out of Honolulu back home. HCC had an estimated 250+ evacuees that came to our center over the course of three days. Some stayed overnight and others just as a rest stop until they found a hotel.  

Hawai‘i Tourism Authority also provided resources for the evacuees to assist them with hotel reservations, flight information and mental health professionals to assist with counseling.

Travel to West Maui is being discouraged. Hotels are no longer taking future reservations and are being used for temporary housing for residents, Red Cross and others assisting with the rebuilding of Lahaina. However, the remaining resort areas of Maui are still open for business like Wailea. 

Why are these efforts so important to your convention center and how can event industry professionals lend a hand? 

Orton: It is important for the Hawai‘i Convention Center to be available for our community. Although we are on a neighboring island to Maui, it is vital for all islands to support the community of Maui, which has limited resources to assist visitors and residents during this tragic event.   

Event industry professionals can support by donating funds to the families/residents who have lost everything. There are many residents who have lost not only members of their family but also their home and place of employment. Many who lived in Lahaina also worked in Lahaina, with little to no warning or time to evacuate. Many fled with nothing and lost everything. Donations are being used to provide temporary housing, clothing and food for these families. Donations can be made to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Kākoʻo Maui Fund here.

Supporting the Recovery Effort 

According to John Reyes, senior vice president and chief MCI sales officer for Meet Hawai‘i, while non-essential travel to West Maui, including Lahaina, Nāpili, Kāʻanapali and Kapalua, is strongly discouraged through Oct. 17 per Governor Green’s sixth emergency proclamation, group business to all other parts of Maui, including Kahului, Wailuku, Kīhei, Wailea, Mākena, Pāʻia and Hāna, and other Hawaiian Islands are welcomed to help keep residents employed and the economy alive. 

“The Hawaiian Islands are open for business,” Reyes said. “Hotels in unaffected areas will continue to operate and welcome guests. To maintain vital business activity and keep residents employed, please maintain any business commitments in Maui/Hawaiʻi or even explore adding meetings or events in other islands, such as Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and Island of Hawaiʻi.”

Reyes explained that 70% of Maui’s economy is tourism-based, so hosting a meeting or event in areas of Maui that are open provides needed jobs and incomes to Maui residents now and in the future.

“Tourism is vital to Hawai‘i because it supports the local economy,” he said. “To help speed the recovery, the Meet Hawai‘i team is committed to encouraging group travel and further establishing awareness that Hawai‘i is open and safe outside Lahaina. [However], we are urging meeting attendees throughout Hawai‘i to be especially mindful and respectful as our community endures this extremely difficult time.”

Other Ways to Help

Due to the distance between Hawai’i and the U.S. mainland, the best way for event industry organizations and professionals to help the Maui fire recovery effort is through financial donations. Here are some options: 

  • Maui Strong Fund: Set up by the Hawai’i Community Foundation (HCF), the Maui Strong Fund is focused on rapid response and recovery, providing financial resources that can be deployed quickly. HCF will not be collecting a fee for donations and 100% of the funds will be distributed for community needs. To assist this effort, go here.
  • Maui United Way: Facilitated by the Maui branch of national nonprofit United Way, donations made to the Maui Fire Disaster Relief fund will provide direct relief to Maui fire victims. Make your donation here.
  • American Red Cross of Hawaii: The American Red Cross is caring for families 24/7 by providing them with a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support. Since the fires began, the local branch of the humanitarian organization and its partners have provided 4,000 overnight shelter stays in 11 emergency shelters, as well as more than 25,000 meals and snacks to people in need. Help this life-saving effort here. You can also Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • Maui Food Bank: Every dollar donated enables the Maui Food Bank to provide four meals for those affected by the fires. Help feed those in need by donating here.
  • Feeding America: The largest charity dedicated to ending hunger in the U.S. has set up a Hawai’i Wildfires Disaster Relief Donations page that will help it and its partners on the ground in Hawai’i provide support, food and supplies to those impacted by the fires, as well as assist in community recovery. Go here to donate.
  • Maui Humane Society: The Maui fires didn’t just displace humans, they displaced furry family members, too. To help the Maui Humane Society continue providing shelter for displaced pets and lifesaving medical treatments for animals injured by the fires, go to its Amazon Wishlist to donate supplies or make a monetary donation here

For more charitable donation opportunities in Maui, please visit the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau's Maui Charitable & Donation Centers page here.

Don’t miss any event-related news: Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter HERE, listen to our latest podcast HERE and engage with us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn!

Add new comment

Expert Profile
Partner Voices
One of the most iconic names on the Las Vegas Strip just got an upgrade. Mandalay Bay has everything that your business needs from a refreshed convention space designed to inspire productivity and creativity, to an impressive selection of world-class restaurants and amenities. If you're looking for a venue that's both inviting and innovative, you have to be here.   New Wave Experiences Mandalay Bay continues to invest in a new wave of enhancements both in the convention space and within the resort as a whole. New restaurant openings including Orla by Michael Mina, more