Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Visitor industry 'standing by' as storm menaces East Coast

By Mary Vorsino


Hawaii's visitor industry is preparing for cancellations, flight disruptions and potentially stranded visitors as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast.

"Right now, it's just a wait and see," said Jessica Lani Rich, president and executive director of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii.

Rich said while the nonprofit, which helps visitors in crisis, hasn't gotten any calls yet from concerned travelers, "we are standing by."

She added, "If we do, we're prepared to help."

Along the Eastern Seaboard, officials are urging residents to prepare for the worst as Hurricane Sandy nears and threatens to merge with a powerful winter storm, creating a massive system that could cause widespread problems. Hurricane Sandy is forecast to make landfall as early as Monday.

Mike McCartney, president and chief executive officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, said the visitor industry will ensure that travelers affected by the storm are accommodated.

"It's part of our hospitality and tradition," he said.

McCartney advised visitors to check if their flight has been canceled before leaving for the airport.

He also said hotels are often the point of contact for visitors reporting problems or needing assistance.

"We may lose some business from this, but people's well-being comes first," he said. "If people are in need, we pull together to make sure the visitors are accommodated."

Hoteliers and airlines also said they were preparing for the possibility of cancellations and would step up to help affected visitors.

On Friday, Hawaiian Airlines announced it will waive reservation change fees and differences in fares for customers who need to change their travel plans because of Hurricane Sandy.

Hotels, too, said they would accommodate affected travelers.

"We always work with them," said Chris Tatum, Marriott International's area vice president for Hawaii.

Jerry Westenhaver, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, said while his hotel has not yet received any cancellations, he is ready if problems arise. He added if travelers are stranded because flights have been canceled, "we don't throw them out on the street."

At the same time, tourism officials said they weren't anticipating a significant number of cancellations.

In August, Hawaii saw nearly 144,000 visitors from the East Coast, compared with 307,000 visitors from the West Coast.

George Szigeti, president and chief executive officer of the Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association, said he doesn't expect a "big dent" in tourism from problems related to Hurricane Sandy, but added hotels are ready if problems crop up.

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