As Hurricane Lane strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane Tuesday, the state’s visitor industry prepared to care for 270,000 tourists in the islands.
“The industry takes pride in the fact that they are prepared,” said George Szigeti, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and chief executive officer. “It’s a high priority, and it’s something that they practice for over and over.”
At Castle Resorts and Hotels, with 23 properties in Hawaii, it was “all hands on deck” Tuesday, said Alan Mattson, president and CEO.
“We have ample supplies of food and water, and we are ready,” Mattson said. “We’ve been through this before. We feel very comfortable with the preparations that we’ve made. ”
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Many of the state’s visitors come from places where hurricanes aren’t the norm, and they don’t know how to prepare.
While residents jammed Oahu roadways and stores Tuesday, tourists on Waikiki Beach seemed to be enjoying the calm before the storm. Hoards of kids frolicked on ribbons of waves as their parents waved from the shore. Young couples cuddled under the warmth of the sun.
After 20 hours’ worth of flight time from Milan, Italy, Margherita Dimto and husband Paolo Mano said they weren’t about to let the coming hurricane stop them from enjoying a few precious rays. But the couple were at a loss about what to do later in the week.
“We don’t have these types of things in Italy,” Dimto said. “If it comes, we are planning on staying in the apartment that we rented. If it doesn’t come, I don’t know what we’ll do yet. It’s hard to plan for fun things when we are worried.”
Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association president and CEO, said the industry has visitors covered. With hurricane season coming every year, Hannemann said that the industry keeps up its emergency preparedness efforts year-round.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. David Ige said they were confident that the traditional visitor industry could handle Hurricane Lane, but were less sure about how to keep Hawaii’s growing alternate vacation rental industry in the loop. Ige said a lack of information or a census for alternate vacation rentals posed a “significant challenge” for emergency responders in Kauai’s flood-inundated north shore and in Hawaii island’s lower Puna district, which is at the center of the isle’s volcanic activity.
“With our traditional visitor industry, we know that they are reaching out to everyone,” Caldwell said. “This island has more than 10,000 vacation rentals, and only 800 of them are legal. We can’t tell them to watch out and be careful. We need legislation passed by the city and county that helps us manage and protect these visitors.”
Szigeti said HTA planned to reach out to some of the larger vacation rental platforms like Airbnb, Expedia and Homeaway so that they could join the industry’s planning efforts, which are well underway.
Jerry Dolak, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Visitor Industry Security Association (HHVISA), said the visitor industry was preparing for “very strong winds and heavy rain” at the very least. That’s why the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation put on hold its Thursday plans to induct four Hawaii athletes into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame. The $125-a-head fundraiser was supposed to raise money for the students, individuals and organizations that support the waterman community.
“Safety is our first priority, so we tend to err on the side of caution,” said Dolak, who is also Outrigger Enterprises Group’s director of safety and security. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
In addition to event cancellations, Dolak said some properties were already moving heavy outdoor furniture inside so that it can’t catch flight and injure someone. Others, especially those with shoreline frontage, planned to bolt Kevlar storm curtains from floor to ceiling in outdoor lobby areas to keep hurricane-force winds and flying debris at bay, he said.