In the hope of bringing more tourists to the Big Island, Norwegian Cruise Line invited dozens of travel professionals and journalists to an event celebrating the culture and history of the island.
Ross Birch, director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, and NCL president and CEO Andy Stuart welcomed guests to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, where island foods and drinks were served alongside live Hawaiian music and hula demonstrations.
The purpose of the event, Stuart said, was to “spread the word” about the island’s potential as a tourist destination despite a shortfall in visitor numbers following the Kilauea eruption in lower Puna, which earlier this year destroyed more than 700 homes and became an international news story.
Stuart said NCL’s regular interisland cruises on the liner Pride of America contribute nearly $440 million to the state’s annual economy, with more than 111,000 visitors to the state arriving on that ship alone. Therefore, when NCL briefly suspended Big Island port calls during the summer, the impact to the island’s economy was substantial.
“When (NCL) stopped port calls on the island, that was a sign to people that something was wrong, even though nothing was wrong,” Birch said.
Even now, with the eruption seemingly paused for months, visitor numbers have been slow to recover, with the eruption remaining prominent in the public consciousness, Birch said.
For example, Birch explained, when ABC News published a story online about the visitors bureau’s recent “Pono Pledge” program, recommended related links on the page included videos of an incident where a “lava bomb” struck a tour boat and injured 23 people in July.
Birch said the year-to-date visitor numbers are still higher than last year’s numbers during the same time frame only because of very strong numbers in the first half of the year. Since July, there have been 20 percent fewer visitors than in 2017, as cancellations from earlier in the year make themselves felt.
However, Stuart asked his guests — travel agents and writers from throughout North America — to tell people the island is “open for business.”
To help encourage visitors, Stuart announced a new NCL promotion that would provide free or reduced airfare from 38 airports on the mainland, beginning Oct. 4 and continuing for a limited time.
Stuart said the promotion would get people to “lift their heads” and take notice of the Big Island again.
“And it’s not a hard sell,” Stuart said. “You look at this island, and its the easiest sell in the world.”
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