Over-Tourism on Maui Behaves Exactly Like Cancer in the Body.

Molly Jacobson
15 min readJun 2, 2021

We Must Take It Seriously and Get Into Treatment Immediately.

I think about and write about cancer every day in my business and personal life. I also think about and write about Maui every day in my business and personal life.

I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, and I am not born and raised on Maui. There are many people who speak more eloquently and with more wisdom than I about the historical and political situation here.

I do not speak for anyone but myself: a white lady born in Connecticut who moved here when she was 33, sixteen years ago. A business owner who has struggled with anti-business (pro-tourism) regulations.

A writer who knows she communicates better in paper than in person.

I am humble about my role in my adopted home. But I must speak because I think Maui has a serious problem.

Here’s what I want to tell you:

Cancer cells grow fast, don’t stop, refuse to die, replicate endlessly, steal resources, and spread to new areas. They are assisted by tiny genetic problems and chronic inflammation.

Tourism also grows fast, doesn’t stop itself, refuses to die a natural death, replicates endlessly, steals resources, and spreads to new areas. It is helped by tiny loopholes in the laws and the chronic irritation residents experience.

Maui has metastatic cancer. It’s called over-tourism. And unless we do something, now, there will be no normal cells left to save us.

The Six Hallmarks of Cancer and Over-Tourism

Biologists and oncologists and cancer researchers generally agree that there are six things cancer cells do that normal cells do not.

All six of these characteristics are in operation on Maui.

Cancer cells and over-tourism both exhibit the following deranged and damaging behaviors.

ONE: Self-sufficiency in growth signals … Pedal to the Metal

Cancer cells grow and never stop growing.

A good way to describe this is that their accelerator pedal is jammed to the floor and stuck there.

Cancer cells use fuel at unbelievable rates. They don’t even attempt to stop themselves, let alone go the speed limit.

Their goal is exponential growth.

They aren’t satisfied with a little tumor. They want a GINORMOUS tumor.

This is true in tourism as well.

Cancer and tourism both want extreme, neverending, exponential growth.

We are currently experiencing “extreme growth.”

We have known for decades that the checks on tourism don’t exist … or aren’t enforced. (Even travel writers get it.)

  • The tourism authorities keep getting more and more funding.
  • The developers keep building and building.
  • The commissions and planners keep approving hotels, condos, and short-term rentals.
  • The airlines keep adding flights.
  • And local businesses scramble to keep up.

One location? Those were the old days. Now you need your restaurant, surf shop, gift store, clothing boutique, or art gallery in three locations at least.

Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina.

That’s where the tourists are. Right?

For now.

Folks upcountry think they’re safe from tourism cancer.

But we’re getting squeezed tight, and Maui is a small island.

It’s just a matter of time before that speeding cancer of tourism decides it can climb the hill.

Or follow the road to Hana.

Why not? Pedal to the medal!

Two: Insensitivity to anti-growth signals ... Brakes Don’t Work

Cancer cells grow fast. They also disable their own brakes.

Even if they wanted to stop growing, they couldn’t.

(And they don’t want to stop.)

Imagine flying down the highway, pedal to the metal.

Uh oh — you see Taguma up ahead, standing in the middle of the Pi’ilani, laser gun pointed right. At. Your. Bumper.

Better slow down.

Yeah, right.

If you’re cancer, you don’t do that.

You can pump the brakes all you want … but you are not stopping.

Cancer doesn’t care about tickets. And if it hits Taguma as it flies by, cancer doesn’t care about him, either.

Cancer doesn’t worry about being caught or getting a ticket.

This is true in tourism, too.

Cancer and tourism both want to never stop growing.

Developers know that Taguma has nothing but that little laser gun.

He can’t actually stop them.

The laws are built to help them build more, not regulate them.

They fly by the regulators and barely even get a ticket.

They get permits for one kind of project and then build under another set of codes.

They “sell” their affordable housing requirements to another developer so the units are far from their pretty property.

The homeowner who sees the influx of Silicon Valley tech workers sells their home for well over the asking price.

Even though they know that person is probably only going to live in their home part-time, or maybe for a year or two.

Meanwhile, regular people try to pump the brakes.

Residents write letters and show up to commission meetings and committee meetings and council meetings.

They go to the beach and airport and wave signs.

But is anyone listening?

The regulators nod through testimony and smile tight little smiles. Then they do exactly what they planned to do all along.

The brakes don’t work.

THREE: Evading apoptosis … Not Committing Suicide to Prevent Harm

Cancer cells grow fast and don’t stop. They also refuse to die.

Normal cells are born, live a certain length of time … and then kill themselves naturally and quietly at the end of their natural lifespan.

They don’t live forever.

They know that if they did live forever, the body would die.

We can’t have too many cells.

Our cells die by the billions.

If you are an adult human, about fifty billion of your own cells are committing suicide TODAY.

Normal cells monitor their own health.

If they notice damage, they repair it.

If they can’t repair the damage, they kill themselves.

If they notice they’ve been deranged … their DNA has changed … they kill themselves.

But not cancer cells. Cancer cells tell the genes that kick in to commit suicide to look the other way.

Don’t see the pedal to the metal exponential growth.

Don’t see the way the brakes flap around, useless.

Just stay quiet and don’t kill me.

This is true in tourism, too.

Cancer and tourism both disable the natural instinct to kill yourself before harming others.

People who own businesses based in tourism worry that limiting tourism will limit their future.

So they keep quiet when tourists try to drown turtles.

Posted in the Maui Bound group on Facebook

Or cut fishing lines at Kamaole Beach II.

When tourists make fun of local culture or the Hawaiian language, they say nothing.

I get it. We don’t want to be rude in return.

But it’s not just in tourism businesses.

The construction industry says “tourism is good, development is good.”

They want 18 months of work from that hotel or the new condos. They want jobs, jobs, jobs.

If we’re not building forever, how will they make money to feed their families?

It’s not like the county or the state is paying them to build and repair infrastructure.

In other places, developers would never get to build a shopping center or a hotel or a condo without massive investment in the infrastructure.

You want to build a hotel? OK, build this overpass. Or create a park.

Elevate this road. Install high-speed internet for this entire area.

But requiring major commitments in infrastructure would kill off development.

Or at least, that’s the fear.

So we say “ok, restripe the road here, or install a stop sign there.”

We say “do a study and see if the pollution is too much.”

No matter what the results are, we look the other way and let it all just keep going.

We hope something will change someday, but for now … who can stop it?

We don’t kill off the cancer of over-tourism the natural, quiet, effective way .. by refusing permits.

And so cancer keeps growing. Because that’s what cancer does.

FOUR: Limitless replicative potential … Multiply an Infinite Number of Times

Cancer cells grow fast, don’t stop themselves, and never die. They also make new cancer cells.

They give birth over and over and over to new cancer cells. Exact replicas of themselves.

And those new cancer cells do the same thing their elders do.

They grow fast, don’t stop, refuse to die a natural death … and replicate.

So now there isn’t just one cancer cell. There are infinite cancer cells.

And those infinite cancer cells create another infinity of cancer cells.

Same in tourism.

Cancer and tourism both replicate to infinity.

If one condo is good, two is better.

If I have a hotel, I need another one, right next door.

Sea levels rising within 20 years?

Oh, well. I’ll think about that when the time comes.

Nonsensical growth in development is a hallmark of cancer and tourism.

Does this person want a short-term vacation rental permit? OK.

Now their neighbor does? OK.

In this other neighborhood, too? Sure.

Oh, you want to move to the mainland and get a permit to rent your home out to tourists?

You’ll come back when you retire, after you’ve made your money?

You raise the rent by 50% after your tenant’s lease is up?

I get it. It’s tempting. There is money to be made.

Tourism has replicated itself, and it’s showing up in every area of our life on Maui.

FIVE: Sustained angiogenesis … Demanding Food from Neighbors

Cancer cells grow fast, don’t stop, refuse to die, and replicate endlessly. They also steal food from neighboring cells.

They are so disgusting!

They make blood vessels that reach out like vacuum hoses to neighboring cells.

They attach to the cell, evading its defenses, and start siphoning off its blood supply!

So the normal cell is living its life, handing over all its food.

Meanwhile, it can’t feed itself.

It’s dying so the cancer cell can live.

Same is true in tourism.

Cancer and tourism both steal ALL the food from neighbors.

Short-term vacation rentals and encroaching hotel developments bring vacationers into residential neighborhoods.

Surf schools and boating outfits jam up beaches, cross private property, and load without permits.

They’re taking up space that fisherman and residents need to go about their business and feed their families.

They stay up late and party. They walk through areas that are off-limits.

They block the road so people can’t get to work, school, the hospital.

They park outside of designated parking areas. Their cars clog our streets. Including in our most important places:

Who cares?

They’re on vacation. They need an Instagram photo!

Sometimes they have to stop. But no one should have to leave work to do this:

This photo was taken in Ha’ena, Kauai in 2019. Over-tourism has been building for decades, long before Covid hit.

Meanwhile, our infrastructure is buckling.

We’re losing our roads, and we can’t keep repairing them with bandaid solutions.

Our bridges are crumbling with every extra car.

Our water table is disappearing.

Our outdated sewer system is spewing waste into the ocean.

Our landfill will be completely full in just a few years.

We have about two days worth of food on the shelves at any given time. And the extra tourists are buying it all.

And the beaches are so loud that the fish don’t come in close. So even those who fish for food can’t feed their families.

And hey — again — tourists cut the fishing lines!!!!

Do we have to draw out the analogy more?

Well, we can. It’s sad, but true. Tourism is cancerous in a sixth way, too.

SIX: Tissue invasion and metastasis … Spread to Other Organs and Tissues

Cancer cells grow fast, don’t stop, refuse to die, replicate endlessly and steal from neighbors. They also spread to other organs and tissues.

Cancer cells aren’t happy just where they are.

They want to be EVERYWHERE.

Once they’ve started stealing from neighboring cells, they have the extra jet fuel they need.

They fly to other areas and set up new homes.

A breast cancer cell goes to the brain or the lungs.

It’s breast cancer … but it’s in a brand new place.

A new place with plenty room and new food to steal.

The same is true with tourism.

Cancer and tourism both want to spread into new areas.

Tourism doesn’t want to stay on the beach in Kihei or Ka’anapali.

It wants the entire island.

Those who live in Kula or Haiku may feel like they’re in a bubble.

But as we run out of space down here, tourism is going to come to you.

It’s already there, in little pockets.

In cancer, we call that micrometastasis. In tourism, it’s called short-term vacation rentals.

If they were allowed to build in Haleakala crater, condos would be there by 2022.

And tourists would book them.

ASSISTANCE: How We Enable Cancer

Cancer cells grow fast, don’t stop, refuse to die, replicate endlessly, steal from neighbors, and spread to other organs and tissues.

And they do it with assistance from the environment in the body.

There are two things that, if present, help cancer to wreak havoc.

Genome instability … When Small Changes Mean Big Changes

Cancer cells are dividing all the time. To do that, they have to use certain “machines” built into cells and governed by DNA.

If those machines have little flaws in them, and they get used over and over, they can help cancer out.

If you are building a house it’s critical to get your lines level.

If you lay a concrete slab that is just a little off, everything built on it is off, too.

The house might look straight at first.

But ten, twenty, thirty years later, it’s listing.

Cracks in the foundation, drywall, roof.

It all comes from one little piece of concrete not being correctly laid.

When there is just one little problem in one little gene that helps cells divide, cancer is super happy.

That one little problem — gene instability — will allow cancer to hijack the entire system.

This is true in tourism too.

Cancer and tourism both want little tiny loopholes to exploit.

We have dozens and dozens of little loopholes tourism can use to grow, evade death, and steal resources.

A tax incentive that rewards commercial landlords for sitting empty — driving up the overhead for small business owners who could create non-tourism jobs.

A planning commission entirely appointed by the Mayor — allowing a pro-tourism executive to stack the commission with pro-development members.

A local newspaper that rents its office space from the County — which perhaps may make it less likely to publish tough stories about the negative effects of tourism.

A desire to enjoy island life and not worry too much on the part of recently retired residents — who don’t show up to testify.

High cost of living that just keeps climbing — keeping people working three jobs from having time to do anything other than work.

There are so many more.

These “little” things all assist cancer, and tourism.

Here’s another environmental assist for cancer and tourism.

Chronic Inflammation … Irritation Makes Everything Worse

Chronic, low-level inflammation helps cancer grow.

When tissues are irritated, warm, swollen and bloated, that’s our immune system trying to help.

It’s sending fluid to immobilize the injured area and bring food.

It’s causing heat to kill off bacteria and viruses.

But here’s what’s weird.

The cancer tumors see that inflammation and think “hey, that’s a lot of interesting activity.”

So they try even harder in that area of the body.

The process is complicated, but ultimately, inflammation rebounds. It encourages tumor blood vessel formation and metastasis.

In other words, chronic inflammation ends up helping tumors steal resources and spread to new areas.

This is why people who have chronic inflammation of one sort or another are more prone to cancer. (Diabetes, heart disease, etc.)

The same is true in tourism.

Cancer and tourism both use inflammation to metastasize.

When people get irritated because their road is blocked, they eventually start to snap.

They might flip someone off as they pass. Or worse.

Any existing irritations on the island will get worse when over-tourism arrives.

If you used to have a beautiful area all to yourself, and now folks are moving in next door, maybe you hold your tongue.

After all, they are your new neighbors.

But then when tourists come and traipse through your property to go to a waterfall … no.

No more. Your irritation gets inflamed, and you get angry.

It’s understandable, but it’s also helpful to tourism.

The pro-development, pro-tourism forces can dismiss you and say “oh, this is just locals yelling.”

Or “these are just Not In My Backyard types.”

Or “hey, haole, funny that you came here and ruined everything, and now you are the one wanting haoles to leave.”

(Yes, I’ve heard that. I know some people reading this are thinking this about me!)

And so we shut up. Because it seems like we will never be heard.

Those who say something get dismissed. And tourism grows because it’s using anger and irritation as fuel for its own efforts.

It’s impossible to win this fight with angry words, or even angry signs.

Getting angry at cancer doesn’t do a damn thing.

It doesn’t hurt over-tourism, either.

In fact, getting angry causes irritation and inflammation. So it’s helping cancer.

What Happens When You Get a Cancer Diagnosis

You know what happens when your doctor tells you that you have cells that are growing fast, refusing to stop or die, replicating endlessly, stealing food from normal cells, and spreading to new tissues?

Normal life STOPS.

You call in to work and say “I can’t come in for the rest of this week.”

You get someone to care for your children, your dog, your goldfish.

You go for second opinions.

You get test after test after test.

You find out what can be done.

You don’t sit back and say “oh well, it’s cancer.”

Your oncologist won’t let you. It’s urgent, it’s NOW that you have to deal with it.

Business as usual stops. And it never, ever comes back.

Because the way you were living before you had cancer didn’t work out.

And you need massive changes.

Everything stops while you wrap your head around your situation.

Even if you choose not to treat with conventional treatments, you still do everything you can to address the emergency.

I once heard a commissioner say “you don’t quit your job until you have a new one.”

She was trying to justify her voting to approve a permit for a hotel that had not planned well and did not meet the criteria for the Special Management Area (in my opinion and the opinion of others who are professionals in relevant fields).

Her words triggered my thinking. She made the connection for me between over-tourism and cancer.

Because she’s wrong. When you have cancer, yes, you quit your job.

If it’s killing you, you quit. Even if you don’t have another job lined up.

On Maui, we need to act like we have cancer.

Because guess what?

The tourists are noticing that our place isn’t so special anymore.

We’re killing the golden goose.

This was posted yesterday:

Maui will not be Maui much longer if we don’t do something.

Maui needs to get a second opinion. We need to have specialists come in and advise us.

We have to do our research.

How do other amazingly special areas handle tourism? What works, and what doesn’t?

We need to STOP the environmental assistance we give tourism.

We have to CLOSE all the loopholes.

We have to stop the irritation. Give residents what they need.

Enforce the existing laws. Don’t let tour companies jam up Mala.

Don’t let tourists get away with breaking the law. If you are trying to drown a turtle, you should PAY.

If residents can’t have more than two people attend high school graduation, but tourists gather in large crowds, it’s unfair.

If you can’t fish on the beach, it’s unconstitutional.

Stop the daily grind of irritation. Reserve parking spaces for residents. Reduce travel to Hana. DO the things you can do, NOW.

We don’t have the luxury of letting chronic inflammation continue.

And those residents who are speaking and being shamed? Painted as anti-business?

Breathe deeply and keep yourself calm. Channel that irritation into the kind of resolve that gets things done.

Because if enough of us have enough resolve, we can beat cancer.

It’s the only thing that ever has.