KAILUA-KONA — It appears not even Pele herself can put the brakes on Hawaii’s booming tourism industry.
Despite intense volcanic activity in the Puna District on Thursday and Friday,
Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said it was “business as usual” for 99 percent of the island.
“A couple airlines are getting out in front of the game, basically offering up assistance if necessary, but all in all there’s very little tourism affected,” Birch said Friday afternoon.
There are no specific plans or programs in place, he added, but companies such as Alaska Airlines have reached out to offer assistance should it be required.
“Really, the only tourism that would be affected is anyone that would be staying in that specific location,” Birch said.
No hotels are located in the area of Hawaii Island directly impacted by the lava flows and noxious gases that accompany them.
It’s likely there are some vacation rentals in the region, Birch said, but as there is no official county registry of such properties, the bureau is unaware of how many exist, where they might be located or if any guests are residing in such units in the area.
Aside from the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Friday afternoon, the most substantial impact of the fissures and temblors has been a flood of inquiries, mostly from the mainland and abroad as news about the events spreads around the world.
“About every 30 seconds, we’re getting calls,” Birch said. “Our telephones yesterday and today have been overwhelmed with questions from potential guests and future guests checking on the status.”
A news release from Hawaii Tourism Authority on Friday afternoon addressed the many concerns.
“No flights into airports anywhere in Hawaii are being impacted by Kilauea volcano and the area where the lava is coming to the surface is very far from resort areas throughout the Hawaiian Islands where visitor accommodations are located,” said George D. Szigeti, HTA president and chief executive officer.
“Travelers can enjoy their vacation experience in the Hawaiian Islands to the fullest, with the only word of caution being that they stay out of areas closed to the public for their own safety,” he continued.
A no-fly zone was implemented over Kilauea, which might impact some helicopter tours.
Hawaiian Airlines also is waiving reservation change fees for travelers to Hawaii Island airports through Sunday, according to a news release from the company. Stipulations include that the ticket was issued prior to May 3, that the travel was scheduled for between May 3 and 6 and that new flights are booked from the same departure point to the same arrival point in the same class of service before May 13.
The fee will be waived for ticket holders who book flights after May 13, “but applicable difference in fare will be collected,” the release read.
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