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Longing to travel

Wanderlust is old as humanity itself.

From the first Polynesian voyagers who landed on these islands some 1,500 years ago, to frequent flyers claiming bags today at Kahului Airport, the love of travel is undeniable. Mankind started roaming before the first nomads emerged from Africa and will probably keep going even after it reaches the far edge of the universe.

As a world-class destination, Maui has reaped considerable economic benefit from this longing. Some visitors save for a lifetime to come here once. Jet-setters pop in several times a year. Offering great natural beauty and outstanding hospitality, Maui is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top places to visit.

All that came to a screeching halt a year ago. Suddenly, 20,000 idled rental cars jammed fields around the airport and the few passenger jets servicing Maui were flying nearly empty. We have come a long way since then, particularly in learning how to navigate a pandemic.

About 2.7 million people visited Hawaii in 2020, down from 10.4 million in 2019. The Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism predicts arrivals will increase to 6.2 million this year, 7.7 million in 2022 and 8.8 million in 2023. It also predicted that, as tourism returns, so will jobs.

We don’t own a crystal ball, but anecdotal evidence gleaned from driving around this island and talking to folks says we may see a faster rebound than predicted. Assuming a powerful new COVID-19 variant doesn’t knock everybody back to square one, and that the vaccine rollout continues to grow exponentially, Maui could have traffic jams and overemployment before we know it.

While the pandemic has caused grave economic hardship for some, others have done quite well financially. A year of canceled trips, home-cooked meals and empty social calendars has built a pent-up desire for travel, as well as the reserves to scratch that itch.

Our remote location and willingness to adopt safety protocols helped spare us the severity of outbreaks seen elsewhere. Maui’s low infection rate makes it all the more attractive to visit.

One of these days, we’re going to be driving to Lahaina and hit the tail end of a line of cars in Maalaea. It won’t be a fire or traffic accident tying things up, just thousands of vehicles heading back to the resorts after a day cruising the island.

Wanderlust is a two-way street. It is about travel, sure, but also about welcoming travelers. The pandemic forced Mauians to take a break from both in 2020. We ended up having the island to ourselves for an enlightening few months before guests began to trickle back. Recent lines outside restaurants, busier roads and crowds on beaches say, even at the height of a pandemic, visitors long to come here.

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