With wildfires tearing through Maui on Wednesday, travel companies with customers affected by the disaster are facing logistical challenges in trying to assist them.
Pleasant Holidays CEO Jack Richards said the company is trying to relocate guests who are currently in Maui, particularly in Lahaina where the wildfires are the most severe. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday that "much of Lahaina has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced."
As a result, cell phone and internet service are down, so Pleasant Holidays has been unable to communicate with hotel partners and guests, Richards said.
"We really can't get a lot of on-site reporting yet because we can't go into the area and talk to anybody," Richards said.
Another problem: Some boats in Lahaina that Pleasant Holidays uses for excursions have burned in the fire, so they are no longer an option for transferring customers to other places. "That's another issue we're dealing with," Richards said.
Travel alerts posted on the websites for Pleasant Holidays and Journese say that guests who have travel plans to Hawaii within the next week should expect extremely high call volume and long call hold times.
Maui is the most popular destination in Hawaii for Pleasant Holidays and sister luxury brand Journese, Richards said.
"The impact on us is significant," Richards said. "We have about 1,400 travelers scheduled to go to Maui in August. We have a little over 400 guests that are in the destination right now, plus we have employees that live there and operate the Pleasant activities and destination experiences."
Richards said several guests were on their way to Hawaii on Wednesday, with those scheduled to arrive in Maui being flown to other islands.
Maui hotel updates
The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas, as well as much of the surrounding Maui coast, is without power, the property posted on its website.
The resort is currently under a shelter-in-place order, with Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas management preparing for a potential mandatory evacuation. The property confirmed that active evacuations have already been ordered in the North and South Kohala, Kula and Lahaina areas.
"Due to the threats posed by high winds and wildfires, we are advising incoming owners and guests to evaluate flying into Maui over the next few days until more information is available," added the property, which is part of the Westin Vacation Club portfolio. "We encourage you to actively monitor the current situation before you depart and check your flight status through your airline."
A spokesperson at the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, located further south on Maui, reported that the property remains open.
The Lahaina Shores Beach Resort, located on Front Street within the hard-hit downtown Lahaina area, posted a Facebook update on Wednesday advising visitors with plans to arrive over the next few days to rearrange their travels.
Although the property did not provide an update on its current status, the resort said it is in contact with owners and guests via email, as cell service has been intermittent in some areas.
"As soon as we know more, we'll share," said the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort in its statement. "Prayers are appreciated."
The airline situation
Lahaina Shores Beach Resort also said Southwest Airlines was helping people leave Maui, adding two flights (a total of 350 seats) to Las Vegas on Thursday with a $174 fare, plus 350 extra seats on Wednesday for flights from Maui to Honolulu with a $19 fare.
American Airlines and United announced the cancellation of all inbound flights to Maui's Kahului Airport Wednesday afternoon.
Hawaiian Airlines is allowing customers to rebook Maui arrivals and departures through Friday without paying any fare differential. New travel plans must be booked on the same city pair by Aug. 18 for travel commencing or recommencing by Sept. 1.
United and Southwest are also waiving fare differentials for rebookings of Maui arrivals and departures, though only for flights scheduled through Thursday. Rebooking deadlines differ.
With most Maui airline waivers expiring before the end of this week, clients scheduled to fly soon after the expirations are in limbo.
Travel advisor Margie Hand, an Andavo Travel affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., has clients scheduled to go to Ka'anapali on Sunday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, she said, waivers for changes or cancellations were only being offered through Saturday. If she made changes to their Southwest flight Wednesday, they would be subject to penalties (though she believed the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, her clients' destination, would be flexible).
"I am kind of in limbo waiting to see if the waivers are extended or trying to move my clients to another island," Hand said.
Robert Silk and Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.