Largest cruise ship to make port call on Kailua-Kona arrives Sunday

  • Justin Gali helps a customer at the Pearl Factory on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Zara Barawis stocks Crazy Shirts on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Rhonda Dallas helps a customer at Sunset Traders on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Businesses in Kailua-Kona will see a spike in visitors and maybe an increase in sales Sunday as Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, a ship with more than 4,000 passengers, will anchor in Kailua Bay.

The ship is the largest cruise ship to make port call on Kailua-Kona. The vessels that normally sail into the bay carry an average of 2,500 passengers or less.

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The ship will transport its passengers to Kailua Pier, and businesses along Alii Drive are now gearing up for the increase in visitors.

Kathleen Clark, manager of The Fish Hopper on Alii Drive, said the restaurant already schedules more employees on cruise ship days to prepare for the influx of customers, and that number will increase even more Sunday.

“I have plenty of staff working that day — servers, assistant servers, and management teams to assist them,” Clark said. “We’re overstaffed for that day.”

Clark said she’s looking forward to the additional revenue the passengers should bring not just to the restaurant, but to the town as well.

“It’s great for all the businesses in Kailua-Kona, and I expect this town to be super busy that day,” Clark said. “It should be a great day for Kona that day. It’s all positives.”

Several employees of businesses along Alii Drive voiced their frustration of the lack of spending from the customers that arrive via cruise ships as of late. They hope the larger ship Sunday will turn their luck around.

“We’re excited for the ship. We love it,” said Rhonda Dallas, an employee of the retail store Sunset Traders. “It’s been hit or miss lately. Sometimes business is good, and sometimes people spend their money on the ship and they don’t want to spend anymore when they get here.”

The arrival of the ship is also good news for the state of Hawaii as a whole, which has seen an increase in visitor numbers and visitor spending in 2019 compared to the previous year. Statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority on Thursday said visitors to the Hawaiian islands spent a total of $1.5 billion in August, a 6.3% increase compared to August 2018.

Visitor revenue was down last year due to concerns on the Big Island that included the Kilauea eruption and the threat of Hurricane Lane.

During the Kilauea eruption, the 2,000-plus passenger ship, the Pride of America, cancelled more than a month’s worth of weekly visits due to poor air quality. Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch estimated at the time that each skipped visit amounted to a loss of $175,000 in revenue for West Hawaii.

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Year-to-date through August, total Hawaii visitor arrivals increased +5.2% to 7,117,572, with 76,472 of those visitors arriving to the islands via cruise ships.

“Even if it’s a slow day, we do pretty well,” said Justin Gali, an employee of Pearl Factory, about the arrival of cruise ships. “Like Wednesdays, even when it’s slow for a cruise ship day, that’s the day we make money.”

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