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Most of the Big Island is open for business, officials say

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    Tiffany Hunt, owner of Jeff Hunt Surfboards surf shop, stood inside the store on Friday in Puna.


    Amedeo Markoff, owner of Puna Gallery and Gift Emporium, stood inside his shop on Friday in Puna.

The steady stream of tourists to Pahoa had turned into barely a trickle Friday amid news the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii island was erupting and causing major earthquakes.

As news of the disaster spread, officials moved to assure visitors the danger was limited to a relatively small area of the Big Island and had not affected tourism to other parts of the island or other islands.

NBC’s “Today” show ran video Friday of hot-pink smoke billowing over Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Other media outlets showed fiery lava coming out of fissures in the Leilani Estates subdivision, whose residents have been forced to evacuate due to hazardous air quality and unstable lava conditions.

Get the latest Hawaii island updates:
Hawaii County Civil Defense:
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory:
Travelers planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands who have questions should call 1-800-GOHAWAII (1-800-464-2924).

“We have heard from people around the world concerned about Hawaii’s welfare and want to reassure everyone that this is limited to a remote region on the slopes of Kilauea volcano. Everywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands is not affected,” Gov. David Ige said in a media statement.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority issued a message Friday informing visitors that Hawaii island’s resort-heavy west side, where Kona and the Kohala Coast are located, is more than 100 miles from where lava is flowing. HTA said resorts on Oahu and Kauai and in Maui County are even greater distances from Kilauea.

George Szigeti, HTA’s president and CEO, emphasized to travelers that flights have not been affected.

“Travelers can enjoy their vacation experience in the Hawaiian Islands to the fullest, with the only word of caution being that they stay out of areas closed to the public for their own safety,” Szigeti said in a statement.

That’s an important message considering that misconceptions about last month’s flooding on the north shore of Kauai caused tourism downturns in communities as far away as Kapaa, Lihue and Poipu, said Theresa van Greunen, Aqua-Aston Hospitality spokeswoman.

The lava eruption can have both a negative and positive effect on tourism.

A magnitude 6.9 earthquake rocked East Hawaii Friday, causing closures, including all of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which attracted over 2 million visitors last year. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources closed Lava Tree State Monument and Mackenzie State Recreation Area.

Miles Yoshioka, executive officer for the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said tourism and business impacts have primarily been contained to the Puna community.

“It’s a small area that’s being affected, but it hits home for us. Being on the Hilo side, we have members out there. I had a bed-and-breakfast member who had to evacuate Leilani Estates,” Yoshioka said.

Increases in volcanic activity resulted in imposition of a 5-mile-radius no-fly zone over Kilauea, grounding air tours, a popular tourist activity. Helicopter companies normally see an uptick in lava-viewing bookings when eruptions occur, said Cal Dorn, chief executive officer of Paradise Helicopters.

“The limits are too robust. We’re getting calls from media outlets and we can’t get them in close enough to see,” Dorn said.

In other parts of Hawaii island, it was mostly business as usual, in some cases even better — at least temporarily.

Before the big quake hit on Friday, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the Volcano House hotel were reporting increased visitation. Later that day, park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane announced the park was closed and that 2,600 visitors were being evacuated. Guests at the hotel and Kilauea Military Camp also were relocated and all nonemergency park employees were sent home.

Outside of these areas, some visitor-industry businesses were thriving. Aston Kona by the Sea was sold out Friday, said van Greunen.

“After the eruption, we had a flurry of bookings,” van Greunen said. “When the floods came to Kauai, we saw a downturn from people who were worried about safety. But this is kind of the opposite; an active lava flow is something people will flock to see. It’s on their bucket list.”

Hilo Hawaiian Hotel reported that additional business from military and evacuees bolstered occupancy rates from the low 90s to the high 90s.


Travelers planning a trip to the Hawaiian islands can get more information by calling 1-800-GOHAWAII (1-800-464-2924).

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