The holiday rush has taken on another meaning on Kauai, where the state’s haste to complete road and bridge work along Kuhio Highway before an emergency proclamation expires has left some businesses short of shoppers.
The emergency proclamation signed by Gov.
David Ige on April 15, 2018, to provide relief following heavy rains and flooding was extended for the 11th time last month and given
a new Jan. 28 deadline.
The April 14 -18, 2018, storm closed a portion of Kuhio Highway for cleanup and repairs for more than a year, effectively cutting off the island’s north shore communities beyond Waikoko, including Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena. It also halted tourism to popular attractions such as Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Ha‘ena State Park, Kee Beach, Kalalau Trail, Haena Beach Park and Limahuli Garden and Preserve.
While Kuhio Highway officially reopened June 17, road and bridge work have continued.
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said temporary closures on Kuhio Highway at Hanalei Hill on Monday and the full nighttime closures of Kuhio at the Waikoko, Waipa and Waioli bridges Monday through Thursday were scheduled to meet the Jan. 28 expiration date.
Kunishige said the work was necessary since the state could not schedule night work on the three bridges during shearwater fledgling season, which ran from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15.
Lane closures will be restricted from today through Jan. 2, she said.
“With the work scheduled for this week and the second round of night work on the bridges in early January we anticipate completing these two projects, the slope stabilization and the improvements to the three bridges by the expiration of the proclamation,” she said.
Kunishige said the state received approximately half a dozen complaints related to helicopter lifts associated with the work at Hanalei Hill. But Wainiha resident Juliet Akana said the holiday construction has resulted in far more unhappy people.
“This is the busiest time of the year. They have absolutely no consideration for us at all,” Akana said.
A Hanalei business owner, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the holiday road work has brought several of the community’s businesses to the brink of closure.
“So many are just barely holding on,” said the owner. “We were all hoping that holiday business would help us survive.”
Michael Ching, general manager of Ching Young Village, a shopping center that has been in Hanalei since 1982, said businesses there were hard hit during the 2018 flood and most are still about 20% down from 2017.
While some Hanalei businesses took holiday hits during the Hanalei Hill work, Ching said the Dec. 21 to Jan. 2 restriction on lane closures, is a “gift from the state.”
Ching said most businesses need the holiday traffic, especially at a time when tourism has been lagging and businesses are still struggling to offset earlier losses.
Businesses could use assistance from state, county and tourism officials to help get the word out that the region is open, he said.
“I think visitors are afraid to take the risk,” Ching said.
Through the first 10 months
of the year, Hawaii Tourism Authority data show the number of visitors to Kauai dropped nearly 2% to just over 1.1 million and tourist spending fell nearly 6% to $1.6 billion. At the same time, Kauai hotels lost nearly 6 percentage points in hotel occupancy, which fell to 73.3% and hotel revenue fell more than 9% to nearly $282 million.
Visitation to Ha‘ena State Park is far below the 900-a-day cap set by the state when the park reopened. Prior to the flood, there were 2,000 or so daily visitors who frequented the park. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said over the last six months, not counting shuttle entries, the park has averaged 439 daily.
Sang Pil Kim, property manager for DLNR’s Division of State Parks, said “scheduled evening highway closures have a minimal impact on the number of entrants since the closure occurs after the park is closed and visitors can leave early.”
Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitors
Bureau executive director, said this year’s downturn was expected because it’s being compared to last year, when Kauai experienced strong tourism gains related to a flurry of last-minute bookings caused by eruptive activity on Hawaii island as well as hurricanes in Florida.
“Last year was an anomaly — we had the highest number of tourists come to Kauai ever,” Kanoho said. “A better comparison is 2017 and we are way ahead of that.”
However, Keith Vieira, principal of KV &Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said Kauai’s current downturn also could be related to ongoing access issues at Kauai’s North Shore and the drama that surrounded the reopening of Kuhio Highway.
Many business owners were glad in June when the highway
finally reopened, restoring access to popular tourist spots. But some residents, fearful that government officials were mishandling the return of thousands of tourists, blocked the cars of visitors in protest.
Protesters eventually turned to educating tourists on how to be good guests. The state successfully implemented a tourism management plan for Ha‘ena State Park, which has been credited with improving environmental conditions and the visitor experience there.
However, Vieira said those efforts aren’t enough to turn Kauai tourism’s slowing pace around, especially in the absence of additional investment.
“After the volcano, Hawaii island put millions of marketing money into the destination and it helped. We haven’t seen that on Kauai,” Vieira said. “The video clips of residents climbing onto visitors’ cars and the messaging that we are having visitors sign pledges isn’t welcoming. “
Kanoho said Kauai Visitors
Bureau will ask Hawaii Tourism Authority for relief if the decline gets too steep. However, she pointed out that the slippage, so far, hasn’t come near the double-digit declines experienced by Hawaii island last year.