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Residents ‘take back the beach’ over frustrations with tourism

South Maui rep to hold talk today with hotel official, rally organizer

Maui Police Department officers patrol Wailea Beach on Saturday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILEA — Demonstrators gathered peacefully on Wailea Beach on Saturday to send a message to government and tourism officials that tourism management is sorely needed.

“Hotels and activity companies have been profiting from selling space on our beaches with no compensation to the county and state, no limits to the amount of equipment used and are taking over our beaches,” community activist Kai Nishiki said leading up to the “Take Back the Beach” event.

The rally drew scores of residents, along with Maui Police Department and state Department of Land and Natural Resources personnel, from 7 a.m. until sundown Saturday.

Nearby Maui Meadows resident Dorothy McCoy, who attended the rally, said she has seen the beach occupied by 200 to 300 umbrellas and/or chairs early in the morning.

“It was early in the morning and it didn’t seem right,” she said Sunday. “I thought, ‘OK, this is the beginning of the day and this belongs to us too.’ It seemed a little more possessive than I think hotels should be with beaches. I think we should be able to share them.”

Protest organizer Kai Nishiki (right) expresses concerns to Grand Wailea Maui Director of Recreation Laurie Cuellar (left) as county and state law enforcement officers observe Saturday.

In the wake of the community demonstration, a public meeting is slated today to address tourism management concerns such as “beach territory grabbing.”

South Maui Rep. Tina Wildberger will facilitate the community meeting at 4:30 p.m. today, which will include Four Seasons Resort Maui General Manager Marc Brumley and Nishiki. It will be livestreamed on Wildberger’s Facebook page.

“We will be talking about community and resorts sharing our public beaches in an equitable manner and tourism management for all of Hawaii,” Wildberger told The Maui News on Sunday afternoon.

Brumley said on Sunday that he is looking forward to connecting with the community during the meeting to address any questions or concerns.

“At Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, we support and are active members of our local community,” he said via email to The Maui News. “We firmly believe in right of individuals to peacefully assemble in public spaces. Like all beaches on Maui, Wailea Beach is public, and we responsibly share access with our guests, visitors and locals alike, following all county regulations.”

Visitor Michael Rossi of San Diego talks with protest organizer Kai Nishiki Saturday morning on the beach fronting the Grand Wailea.

Residents also have expressed frustrations with other hotels, alleging the Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, sets up vacant chairs and umbrellas to hold spots for visitors, effectively displacing residents, on the popular Wailea Beach.

Officials at Grand Wailea did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Wildberger said a Grand Wailea representative will not be at today’s meeting but added that she is working with the Wailea Community Association to gather area hotels to discuss issues over sharing the beach.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea; Grand Wailea Maui; Wailea Beach Villas: Destination Residences Hawaii; and Wailea Beach Resort, Marriott Maui are among the resorts flanking Wailea Beach coastline.

On Saturday, DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Lt. John Yamamoto addressed a crowd that included Nishiki, along with Grand Wailea’s Managing Director John Paul Oliver and Director of Recreation Laurie Cuellar.

Kihei resident Dorothy McCoy (foreground) gives Grand Wailea and DLNR staffers her opinion Saturday.

“The bottom line is this beach is first-come, first-serve,” he said. “The beach is for everybody to use. Everybody has a right to be here. There are no exclusive rights.”

Some Wailea Beach visitors Saturday said the rally made them feel “unwelcome” and that they will not return to Maui. Another visitor, Michael Rossi, of San Diego, said he is a frequent visitor to Maui and always tries to be respectful of local ways and people. He added that tourism is what drives Maui’s economy and that he hopes there is a compromise.

Maui residents have decried tourism’s double standards in the pandemic era, alleging that government officials turn a blind eye to visitors gathering in large crowds and refusing to wear masks. Meanwhile, local businesses must operate at reduced capacities, high school sports are shut down and graduations have had to go virtual.

After months of travel and businesses largely shut down, the state’s Safe Travels program launched Oct. 15, opening the door to a resurgence in tourism by allowing travelers to bypass quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test. Since then, Maui’s monthly visitor numbers have rivaled Oahu totals, which were typically double Maui’s numbers prior to the pandemic.

Grassroots organizers on Nishiki’s Facebook said they are planning another “Take Back the Beach” demonstration in Kaanapali, with details to be announced soon.

This sign is one of several posted on Wailea Beach during the “Take Back the Beach” rally Saturday.

McCoy, 92, said the Saturday demonstration was a “wonderful experience.”

“It was a grassroots protest,” she said. “It was not hostile . . . There was nothing aggressive about it, or un-Hawaiian or un-aloha.”

“I was proud to be there,” McCoy added. “No matter what age, you can make a difference.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com. Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.

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