‘Everyone’s gearing up’: Businesses wait for reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Shelly Carvalho clears a table Tuesday in the newly renovated Lava Rock Cafe in Volcano.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald James and Amanda Pencek of Atlanta, Ga. finish up a bottle of Volcano Red while talking with Volcano resident Toni Hambaro Tuesday at the Volcano Winery.

With Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on track to reopen later this month, Volcano businesses are cautiously optimistic about a return to pre-eruption visitors.

Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts and president of tourism advocacy group Experience Volcano, said he is hopeful that the reopening of the park will see visitor rates improve in time for the winter season.

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“We’re all just thrilled, Ono said. “Everyone’s gearing up for the winter shift.”

The national park, which has been closed since the end of May, is scheduled to reopen on Sept. 22. Though many areas of the park will remain closed to the public, the reopening is seen as a potential boon to Volcano businesses, many of which saw the steady stream of visitors slow to a trickle during the height of Kilauea’s seismic activity.

“Hopefully it affects business dramatically, because it’s been terrible,” said Danny Fisher, whose wife Shannon Fisher manages the Aloha Crater Lodge bed and breakfast.

Kanoe Kistle, manager at Volcano Winery, said the winery typically received between 80 and 100 visitors to its nightly winery tours in the summer of 2017. Since the park’s closure, however, the tours have seen 40 guests at most.

“We’ve had considerably lower visitor numbers,” Kistle said. “Most of our guests are visitors to the park.”

Shannon Fisher said she had to take a second job as a Lyft driver in order to make up for the shortfall of guests. However, although long-term reservations for next year have not come in yet, her husband said he believes the park’s reopening will attract new visitors, particularly after the dramatic changes and expansion at Halema‘uma‘u Crater.

“I think we’re going to see some good results,” Shannon Fisher said. “It might not be as great as before though, because there’s no more red glow.”

However, some businesses that were forced to alter their practices to account for lower visitors will likely not return to normal operations anytime soon.

“All we can do is wait and see,” said Ola Tripp, owner of Volcano restaurant Lava Rock Cafe.

Kistle said the Winery has not laid off employees, but has had to cut back on employees’ hours.

“We’re still making wine, though,” Kistle said. “And if nobody else drinks it, we will.”

Tripp said he had to modify the Cafe’s schedule and cut back on working staff in order to stay in business. While he took the opportunity to make renovations to the cafe, he said the reopening of the park may not correspond with an immediate increase in customers.

“I think nobody on the mainland knows it will reopen,” said Tom Smith, owner of the Ohelo Cafe. “So it probably won’t have an immediate impact.”

Smith said he also had to change his restaurant’s operating hours after the park’s closure, and doesn’t know when he will be able to return to business as usual.

“For now, we’ll just go with what we got and try to hold on until things get better,” Smith said.

Tripp agreed that awareness of the reopening has likely not spread to the mainland, but was optimistic that the event will generate “buzz” that will spread quickly on social media.

“If people get hot after the park and need a cool drink, I hope they’ll come here,” Kistle said.

Regardless of the immediate impact of the reopening on the community, Ono was confident that Volcano’s economy will continue to improve. Experience Volcano is in the process of applying for nonprofit status, which will make it eligible for grants, which will in turn allow the organization to continue to drive traffic to Volcano.

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“People will see that we’re a destination, not a drive-thru,” Ono said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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