The recent flood on Kauai and lava eruption on Hawaii island have exposed a weakness in Hawaii’s disaster preparations: who will assist visitors staying in the growing number of vacation rentals.
Statewide, the vast majority of visitors still stay in hotels, but Hawaii Tourism Authority data show that alternative accommodations are growing at a faster rate. And in remote areas, vacation rentals often are a big part of the lodging mix.
Airbnb alone lists more than 70 vacation rentals in Kauai’s flood-ravaged Wainiha and Haena. The company listed more than 15 vacation rentals in Leilani Estates, where lava is erupting on Hawaii island. The company lists hundreds more rentals near these hot spots.
The sheer volume of transient accommodations has caused some residents to fear that poor emergency preparedness planning by hosts and their guests could result in tourists competing with locals for limited food, water and other resources.
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. issued an executive order prohibiting the operation of transient vacation units in Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena through at least May 31. Those areas most affected by the flood need to concentrate on helping residents and can’t be distracted by arriving visitors.
Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director, said she’s hearing that some visitors, who are intent on keeping their reservations, have been sneaking into disaster areas by boat.
Displaced guests, hosts and community members:
>> Airbnb’s Open Homes program is available as a result of activating our local host community to open doors to those evacuating or those deploying to respond, go to www.airbnb.com/welcome/evacuees/bigisland.
>> For those who already have a booking now in the affected area, Airbnb has an extenuating circumstances policy that exists for this and similar natural disaster events and can be viewed at www.airbnb.com/help/article/1320/what-if-i-need-to-cancel- because-of-an-emergency-or-unavoidable-circumstance.
VACATION RENTAL USE ROSE DURING FIRST QUARTER 2018
ACCOMMODATION VISITORS % GAIN
Hotel 1.5 million 9%
House 239,560 25 %
Bed-and-breakfast homes 34,431 19%
Private room 39,433 26%
HTA President and CEO George Szigeti said Hawaii’s hotels and resorts take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring visitors’ safety and security throughout their stay, especially during an emergency, and visitors staying at alternative accommodations need to receive this same level of service.
Szigeti said reports from Kauai’s north shore and the Big Island’s east side “that many of these visitors are being left to their own devices points out a serious gap in our tourism industry’s brand of hospitality and aloha.”
Kellie Benz of Airbnb said the company “takes disaster response very seriously not only for our hosts and guests, but also for the affected communities.”
Airbnb said it has a dedicated disaster division and partners with Red Cross in Hawaii to teach hosts how to develop emergency preparedness plans. The company has provided free housing to emergency response workers grappling with the Hawaii island disaster. They’ve also issued updates to travelers as information is sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the County Civil Defense.
Still, Hawaii tourism officials say that they’ve heard recent disasters caught some vacation rental owners and operators flat-footed.
When Petra Wiesenbauer, owner of Hale Moana Bed & Breakfast, was forced to evacuate from her Leilani Estates neighborhood, she knew to pack up her family, her pets, her computer and printer, and random things like her favorite frying pan and books.
But she wasn’t sure how to deal with her vacation rental guests, who were mostly left on their own as lava from Kilauea Volcano descended into Lower Puna on Thursday afternoon, prompting the evacuation of some 1,800 residents. The bed-and-breakfast was only about 500 yards from where fissures opened and lava fountains shot up 230 feet.
“I had been very determined to stay in my home until I heard this roaring sound, and it was obviously a hole with pressurized steam coming out super loud like a turbine,” Wiesenbauer said. “I told the guests that were staying with me that they had to leave because it was a mandatory evacuation.”
Wiesenbauer, an 18-year veteran of the vacation rentals industry, said she was packing her vehicles when a new guest attempted to check in.
“She said, ‘Where will I go?’ I said, ‘Go to Hilo and look for a hotel room,’” Wiesenbauer said. “She said, ‘What if they don’t have anything?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m in the middle of an evacuation.’”