‘Look Them in the Eye.’ As Maui Rebuilds, Returning Tourists Need to Be Mindful of the Trauma, Says Cultural Advisor.
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‘Look Them in the Eye.’ As Maui Rebuilds, Returning Tourists Need to Be Mindful of the Trauma, Says Cultural Advisor.

By DANIELLE BERNABE
Tue, Mar 19, 2024 8:56amGrey Clock 6 min

There’s an opportunity for education as tourists return to Maui while it rebuilds from last summer’s devastating wildfire, says Kalikolehua Storer, a Lahaina resident and the area cultural and training advisor for Hyatt’s Maui resorts.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, the Lahaina Historic District—once a lush Hawaiian capital and retreat for Hawaiian monarchs—is beloved by residents, explored by tourists, and has a deep-rooted heritage. Storer was working on the opposite side of the island when the blaze started last August. She scrambled to connect with family and friends. And like so many others, she grappled with the utter chaos that rapidly destroyed her hometown.

Storer’s home was spared, but the fire ultimately claimed 115 lives and destroyed or damaged more than 2,300 structures, including culturally significant sites like the Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural and Research Center, which housed invaluable Hawaiian artefacts (books signed by kings, genealogy, maps, and more).

Kalikolehua Storer, a Lahaina resident and the area cultural and training advisor for Hyatt’s Maui resorts
Courtesy of Hyatt

Historically, Lahaina thrived from mauka to makai (mountain to ocean), with waterways nourishing native ecosystems and communities. However, years of water redirection and climate-related drought set the stage for such a disaster, and according to Storer, the fire underscored the erosion of Hawaiian control over land and natural resources, spotlighting issues like land degradation, water misappropriation, and tourism’s stronghold on Maui.

Tourism makes up a substantial part of Maui’s GDP. The wildfire led to a 51.4% drop in visitor arrivals between August and October 2023 compared to 2022, triggering a sharp 87.1% rise in unemployment, according to government statistics.

The sector’s dominance highlights the need for a more balanced and sustainable model. Moreover, the fire’s impact on tourism underscores the urgency to diversify Hawaii’s economy for greater growth and resilience. Lahaina’s water management issues, such as the historical diversion for sugar cane cultivation, have drastically altered local ecosystems.

With only 23% of water allocated for public use and the majority consumed by the private sector (resorts, golf courses, and some agriculture, for instance), the ecological imbalance has had severe consequences for indigenous environments. Storer said she believes the aftermath of the fires and the strain on Maui’s tourism highlight the interconnectedness of ecological health and economic stability.

In response to the crisis, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen formed a five-member advisory team to lead the recovery efforts, with Storer as a key participant. Storer also sits at the table of Maui’s Office of Recovery Natural and Cultural Resources, which helps to shine light on issues impacting air, water, and land. Storer collaborates with partners from federal, state, and county levels, along with Lahaina’s cultural practitioners, to facilitate Lahaina’s recovery post-wildfire.

Storer shared visions of Maui’s rebuild with  Penta , and the balance between tourism, ecology, and the road to sustainable solutions.

Penta: With such a huge road ahead, how are you embracing hope? And what is your ideal vision for Maui?

Kalikolehua Storer: I know that I can get caught up in the end result of what will or will not work, but in the moment, our community needs to be heard, and this is my part to lean into what they are sharing. People have envisioned Lahaina as a walking town with cultural sites, a cultural marketplace, and restoring Mokuʻula, the site of the private residence of King Kamehameha III from 1837-1845. It has since been buried under a baseball field.

We also need to diversify the economy. This is a big task, but with Hawaiian leaders in all sectors, I am confident that this can be accomplished. We have nowhere else to go but up, so all ideas are worth a conversation. My ideal Lahaina is to rebuild our historical sites, churches, and learning centres, and better care for the ocean, land, and air. To be better stewards, we need to educate and make it a priority. All of us, including visitors, need to know the importance. The issues we have about water and land need to be resolved.

Explain more about the land and water and how they are pivotal parts of recovery. 

The West Maui Mountains are home to the Pu’u Kukui Watershed and Mauna Kahalawai Watershed Partnership (caretakers of the mountain area directly above the impact zone), which used to flow through waterways and land divisions ( ahupua’a ) to enrich the ecosystems. However, when the sugar cane and pineapple industry arrived, that water was diverted and went straight to those farms. The water never went back to the way it was, and because of this, the indigenous ecologies have been drained. So, water needs to be returned to streams, and a greater percentage needs to be given for public use. This is a major issue and needs to be resolved. The waterways are there, but they need to be cleaned and prepared for water to flow. That has to start upland of the watershed. Looking at an aerial map of Kauaula Valley, most of the area is dry, but along the river where the Palakiko family lives is very lush. They prepared the stream area, and it came back. However, that took years because of private-sector control.

“Asking people how they are doing, looking them in the eye, and caring about them can make a huge difference,” Storer says.
Courtesy of Hyatt

Many people believe that tourism is the biggest problem. Is that true?

Right after the fire, many people encouraged tourists to stay away. And people listened. Our economy dropped because people stopped coming. Unemployment shot up, and the economy, as a whole, suffered. Our island is so dependent on tourism, and that is part of the problem. I believe we need to diversify the economy.

How can we educate tourists, and how can hotels be better stewards?

It truly is all about education and visitors engaging in cultural experiences and even conservancy programs, so that they have a better understanding of people and place when they visit. At Andaz and the other Hyatt hotels in Maui, I’ve developed very strong, culturally driven programs to engage our guests in authentic Hawaiian activities. Things like lei making, coconut weaving, hula lessons, celestial navigation, taro demonstrations, and Natural Cultural Resources programming with the Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve, Kipuka Olowalu, and the Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike at Mahele Farms.

At Andaz, the lūʻau experience is called the Feast at Mōkapu and focuses on the journey of the Polynesian ancestors arriving on Maui and settling in the ahupua’a where the resort sits. We don’t hold back in that storytelling. We dive into history that isn’t normally spotlighted at luau, and the uncomfortable truth of settlers to Hawaii is really important. After the fires, this education became even more important, and I encourage tourists to participate in experiences like this.

Hotels play a huge role in this and can provide cultural sensitivity sessions for their guests.

How can tourists play a role in the rebuilding?

It’s important now more than ever for visitors to consider what happened, and that their waiter, housekeeper, bartender, front desk attendant, dive instructor, store clerk, literally everyone was somehow impacted by this. Asking people how they are doing, looking them in the eye, and caring about them can make a huge difference. Also, if you choose to visit Maui, there are ways to volunteer and donate. We’re not just looking at physically rebuilding here, we’re looking at emotional wellness, history, and so much more that is going to take years. So, I would say donating to Maui Strong and taking a few hours of vacation time to volunteer can greatly help.

Allocation of funds and policies that help to financially sustain our agencies that do the work in the watersheds, waterways, farmers, and ocean agencies. The work they do today is the key to this turnaround. I believe that visitor taxes should be allocated for our Natural and Cultural Resources effort.

How can tourists be a “good tourist” and still visit in a conscientious way?

Be kind without being maha’oi (being forward in asking) and asking so many questions. A nice, genuine smile and encouraging words in passing can uplift someone. Also, those who own vacation rentals. We need help from that sector. We need to take a look at the things that got us into this crisis to begin with. Unfortunately, we are having to work through policies written years ago, not ever thinking we would be in this situation.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.



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Millennials Are Coming for Your Golf Communities

Living on golf courses has surged in popularity since the pandemic. Many courses have upgraded facilities and broadened amenities. Now the 40-year-olds want in too.

By JESSICA FLINT
Sun, Apr 21, 2024 8 min

Gabrielle Sloan, 30, and her husband, Brandon Sloan, 30, never thought they’d live on a golf course. Gabrielle doesn’t even play golf—yet, at least.

But in January 2020, the Sloans spent $660,000 to buy a three-bedroom, roughly 1,960-square-foot ranch house on approximately 0.25 acres that backs up to the course at Tequesta Country Club, a private golf club in Tequesta, Fla., a village on Palm Beach County’s northern border.

Gabrielle and Brandon Sloan with their son and dog at their house in Tequesta, Fla. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“We loved how family-friendly the neighbourhood is,” says Gabrielle, noting that the club is catering to a younger crowd. “That lifestyle is something we wanted.”

Across the U.S., millennials like the Sloans are moving to where the grass is greener: private golf communities. “Millennials are starting to solidify their lives,” says Cindy Scholz, a real-estate broker with Compass in New York City and the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island. “And they are strategically using real estate to shape their lifestyles.”

In Texas, about 10 miles west of downtown Austin is Barton Creek, a community where the Barton Creek Country Club is a selling point. “Before the pandemic, millennials were sporadically buying in Barton Creek,” says Stephanie Nick, a Douglas Elliman sales agent. “Now it’s a full-bore, ‘let’s get going on the country club lifestyle’ movement.”

In Barton Creek, Nick says millennial house hunters typically budget about $3 million to $4 million. In 2023, she sold a millennial a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house for $3.5 million. Recently, she showed a $5 million house to a young couple with one child.

Nick believes millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—are tired of paying more for less in the city. In Austin, $3 million might buy a roughly 3,000-square-foot house on a small parcel, she says, whereas that same price in Barton Creek might buy a 5,000-square-foot to 6,000-square-foot house on a half to one acre in a community with easy access to four 18-hole golf courses, tennis, workout facilities, swimming and more.

In Georgia, Mary Catherine Smith, a real estate agent with Corcoran Classic Living, says millennials are moving to Jennings Mill Country Club, less than five miles south of downtown Athens. In March, Smith listed a typical Jennings Mill property—a five bedroom, 4,984 square foot house on 1.07 acres—for $965,000.

One reason Smith thinks young homeowners gravitate to the club is for its social life. “Many Jennings Mills residents have golf carts,” she says. “They’ll trolley around together on the weekend.”

“There are millennials who have never picked up a golf club, and a country club neighbourhood is still the only place they want to be,” says Byron Wood, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty – Westlake Village Brokerage, about 10 miles from Los Angeles’s city limits.

Millennials moving to private golf communities is a trend that might have seemed unthinkable before the Covid pandemic, when such enclaves seemed destined for the rough due to waning interest in the sport, especially among young people.

Then an unlikely coincidence occurred.

A bucket of balls at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. PHOTO: OLIVIA ALONSO GOUGH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Golf play surged during the pandemic and continues to grow: In 2023, more golf rounds were played than any other year on record, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Meanwhile, since the Great Recession, there are private golf clubs that have been transforming themselves into amenity-rich lifestyle hubs, whose resort-style pools, sports facilities, fitness centres, dining and social programming have broad appeal, says Jason Becker, co-founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators, an online platform that connects golfers to golf clubs and golf communities across the U.S.

At the same time, during the pandemic, millennials started turning 40 years old. Research from Club Benchmarking, a private golf club business intelligence firm, shows that the average age of new private golf club joiners is early 40s, says Michael J. Timmerman, the company’s chief market intelligence officer.

That means at the same time golf and private golf clubs came back into style, the next generation of Muffys and Skips were primed to start their country club years.

Consequently, the NGF has seen a shift toward younger private golf club members on the heels of the pandemic. Since 2019, the number of golfers at private golf clubs has increased by approximately 25%, from just under 1.5 million to 1.9 million, according to the NGF. Adults under the age of 50 comprise 60% of those memberships, with young adults, ages 18 to 34, representing about 30%. The latter can include adult children of members, typically up to a certain age.

There is no one-size-fits-all U.S private golf club community. Some clubs have housing within their gates; other clubs are integrated within regular residential neighbourhoods. Roughly speaking, a top-tier club’s golf initiation fee could be $250,000 or much more, with annual dues in the mid-tens of thousands and up. However, there are also clubs with golf initiation fees and annual dues in the low thousands or less. Typically, there are lower-priced membership options that don’t include golf, such as social or pool- and tennis-only memberships.

In December 2021, Tyson Hawley, 37, and his wife, Maital Hawley, 40, paid $1.15 million for a turnkey four bedroom, 4,272 square foot house on 0.4 acres backing up to the golf course at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. It’s located in California’s greater Palm Springs area, which has more than 110 golf courses, of which more than half are private.

“I leave my house and I’m on my club’s first tee in two minutes,” Tyson Hawley says. Hawley is a real estate agent with Desert Sotheby’s International Realty. He says within a prestigious desert club’s gates, houses might be in the multi-millions. However, there are lower priced golf community options that work for his millennial buyers, who typically have house budgets of about $800,000 to $1.2 million, he says.

undefined “It is very possible to buy a house at $350 per square foot in a golf community and be super pumped about what you get for your membership,” he says. “There are clubs that understand that millennials are in a season of their lives where they can’t hang with the big dogs paying $250,000 for an initiation fee.”

Golf Life Navigators’s Jason Becker says some private clubs have invested in their amenities, golf course and branding, while others have not and rely upon their historic status. “Millennials are very cautious by nature in terms of their finances and investments,” Becker says. “Industry officials are seeing very in-depth questions coming from millennials pertaining to the club’s financial health and long-term plan to remain healthy.”

Becker says there are, of course, golf communities where there aren’t many younger members, specifically those in the U.S.’s Southeast or Southwest that are geared toward retirees or second-home owners. “There’s just so much demand from the baby boomers,” says Becker, noting that since the pandemic, generally speaking, membership wait lists are now lengthy, fees associated with being a member are up, attrition rates are down and tee time availability is compressed. He added that the cost of being a member at some clubs can be prohibitive for younger people, especially in an era when the average initiation fee at a private club has increased 50% to 70% since 2021. In the Sunbelt, the average age of private golf club searchers is between ages 55 to 57, according to Golf Life Navigators’s data.

That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. In the Phoenix area, Lisa Roberts is a real-estate agent with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She is working with a young millennial couple at McCormick Ranch Golf Club, in Scottsdale. They recently went into contract for $1.1 million on a three bedroom, 2,550 square foot house on 0.21 acre. “They plan to upgrade once they have children and a more established income,” Roberts says, “but this house lets them lay a foundation within the club’s gates now.”

Becker says whether younger people will be battling generational stereotypes hinges on the club’s culture, which sets the tone for all members. “It is up to the club’s board and management team to lead the way of established culture, such as playing music on the golf course or wearing a hat in the clubhouse,” Becker says. “For younger, new members, the club’s culture has to be understood or frustration will likely surface.”

Club Benchmarking’s Michael J. Timmerman says, “It really depends on how the club is designed, whether the club wants to focus on programming that will attract different members.” Timmerman adds that clubs catering to younger members and families will develop social programming specifically tailored to that age group.

Around the communities of Monterey and Carmel on California’s Central Coast, there are storied golf courses including the public Pebble Beach Golf Links and the private Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Nic Canning, managing partner at Canning Properties Group with Sotheby’s International Realty – Carmel Brokerage, says retirees and second-home owners typically live around these premiere courses, where he says properties can range from roughly $15 million to $35 million around Pebble Beach, and $3 million to $10 million around MPCC.

However, the area is rich with golf—there are roughly a dozen public courses and a half-dozen private clubs—and Canning has seen an influx of millennials buying in  family-friendly private golf communities such as the Club at Pasadera, Santa Lucia Preserve and Tehama Golf Club, and the semi-private Carmel Valley Ranch. He says since the pandemic, the area has particularly attracted tech workers migrating from Silicon Valley, with San Jose being only about 70 miles north.

At these clubs, Canning has recently sold millennials properties such as a three bedroom, 2,717-square-foot house on approximately 0.23 acres for $3.792 million, and a house with roughly similar specs for $2.7 million. Another house that has three bedrooms and 4,396 square feet on 13.3 acres just sold to a millennial for $4.42 million.

“Millennials are less driven by ocean views and care more about the community, the school district and access to things like restaurants, grocery shopping, trails and beaches,” Canning says.

Similarly, millennials want to equip their private golf-club houses a certain way. Kate O’Hara, CEO and creative director of O’Hara Interiors, which is based in Minneapolis and Austin, says the country club houses her firm works on might include everything from golf-simulator rooms and yoga studios, to outdoor-access showers and expanded mudrooms for equipment storage.

Back in Tequesta, Fla., the Sloans spent about $150,000 to optimise their house to fit their lifestyle, including adding durable furnishings and built-in cabinetry and jazzing up their outdoor entertaining area. They did so with the help of local interior designer Victoria Meadows Murphy, 35, who has a knack for taking the Bob Hope vibes out of country club homes without losing the martini spirit.

Meadows Murphy and her husband, Evan Murphy, 35, are building their own house, a project budgeted at $2.8 million, on a tear-down lot on the Sloans’s same golf course. “It’s exciting seeing the turnover of houses as young people are moving in,” Meadows Murphy says.

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