Businesses unite to try to attract visitors in the midst of Kilauea disruption

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Mayor Harry Kim speaks during the launch and press luncheon for Experience Volcano Hawaii at Volcano Garden Arts in Volcano Village.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Janey Coney of Kilauea Lodge speaks during the launch and press luncheon for Experience Volcano Hawaii at Volcano Garden Arts in Volcano Village.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Pua Norris of Lava Rock Cafe and Kilauea General Store shows an example of an Experience Volcano Hawaii brochure during the launch and press luncheon for Experience Volcano Hawaii at Volcano Garden Arts in Volcano Village.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Ira Ono, president of Experience Volcano Hawaii, and Kathleen Golden of Volcano Rainforest Retreat laugh together Monday during the launch and press luncheon for Experience Volcano Hawaii at Volcano Garden Arts in Volcano Village.

With the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park leading to a decline in visitors to Volcano Village, businesses there are uniting to find new ways to attract tourists.

Experience Volcano Hawaii, an organization intended to boost tourism to Volcano, launched Monday during a small event at local art gallery, cafe and cottage Volcano Garden Arts.

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Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts and president of Experience Volcano Hawaii, said his goal for the group is to educate potential visitors about the effects of the ongoing Kilauea eruption upon Volcano, as well as to highlight activities and attractions in the area that might otherwise go unnoticed.

“I’ve seen lots of changes since I’ve been here,” said Ono, who moved to Volcano in 1980. “This most recent change is a big one, but I’m an optimist.”

Others in the Volcano business community appear to share Ono’s optimism. More than 25 businesses came together to join Experience Volcano Hawaii and create a unified message for the area.

During Monday’s event, Ono and other members of the group shared common selling points for the area: “Volcano is authentic,” said Janet Coney, office manager at Kilauea Lodge. “Here you can see our native birds, you get cool weather, you get quiet, and of course you get our rain forests.”

“And if you want adventure, nothing beats earthquakes,” Coney added with a laugh.

Rather than ignore the ongoing Kilauea summit activity — which includes daily large collapse events at the summit caldera that are accompanied by localized tremors with seismicity comparable to a 5.4-magnitude earthquake — Experience Volcano Hawaii acknowledges it is part of the titular Volcano experience.

“It’s all part of being on an active volcano,” Coney said. “You get to experience everything Madame Pele has to offer here.”

Ono said Experience Volcano Hawaii will distribute brochures to visitor centers and rental services around the island to help get the word out. The brochures include descriptions of Volcano restaurants and attractions, as well as upcoming events in the area.

In addition, Monday’s event showcased a series of videos including a television spot extolling the virtues of the area, from the temperate weather, to the beautiful rain forests, to the community, to the town’s convenient location roughly equidistant from Hilo and Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach Park. Ono said the organization plans to air the spot on television, but did not have specifics.

Success for the organization is paramount for the continued prosperity of the village. Ono said he had to cut hours at Volcano Garden Arts in order to stay open, while other businesses closed temporarily — or, in the case of some bed-and-breakfasts, permanently.

Some businesses are amending their business models to attract new visitors. Pua Norris, hanai daughter of the owner of Lava Rock Cafe, said the cafe has undergone renovations to include a stage in the hopes of making Lava Rock Cafe into an entertainment destination in Volcano.

Kathleen Golden, co-owner of the Volcano Rainforest Retreat bed and breakfast, said she urges all outgoing guests to leave reviews online in order to spread the word that Volcano is neither unsafe nor empty. These reviews have left uniformly effusive praise, she said.

“I wake up every day and I look out my window and I think, ‘Oh my god, I live here?’” Golden said. “It saddens me to think people might choose to not visit and miss out on it.”

Also in attendance at Monday’s event were state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, and Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

“This is the first time since the eruption began that I feel good about Volcano, and that’s all because of you,” Kim told the assembled business owners. “All you business owners have united to become one big ohana.”

During the event, Kim said he received a call from his wife about guests.

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“I told her to tell them to go to Volcano,” he said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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