Steep decline in visitors to HVNP

  • Jessica Ferracane
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Visitors take in Halemaumau crater Sept. 22 after Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reopened after being closed during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

The number of visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was nearly halved last year, according to data from the National Park Service.

While more than 2 million visitors to the park spent $166 million on the island in 2017, only 1.1 million guests visited the park in 2018, spending $94 million in total.

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The sharp decline is unsurprising, as last year saw the park closed for a record-setting 134 days — more than one-third of the year.

Since the reopening of the park, visitor numbers gradually increased, but not to the level of 2017, said parks spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

“Right now, it’s closer to how we were in 2011,” Ferracane said. “Although we’re still trending upward.”

Ferracane pointed out that, unlike most national parks, where visitor rates tend to increase year by year, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s visitor rates are tied to the presence and activity of lava. In 2011, new volcanic vents opened near Pu‘u ‘O‘o, draining the lava lake at Kilauea’s summit for much of the year; similarly, after the conclusion of the eruption last year, no liquid lava exists on the Big Island’s surface, meaning lower visitor rates are to be expected.

Visitor spending on the Big Island accounted for less than a quarter of national parks visitor spending statewide. Throughout Hawaii, visitors to each of the state’s eight national parks spent $527 million, supporting 5,820 jobs.

Ferracane said Hawaii Volcanoes, which is usually the most-visited national park in the state and one of the state’s most popular attractions, was only the fifth-most-visited destination in the state last year.

“I think that’s still pretty good,” Ferracane said.

The Dole Plantation on Oahu was the most popular attraction, followed by the World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Diamond Head State Monument.

“We are still the top (destination) on the Big Island,” Ferracane added.

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While the drop from 2017 was dramatic, Ferracane said she thinks the future of the park is “sunny.” Much of the previously closed park infrastructure has reopened, with plans to open even more throughout the year.

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

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