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Hawaii News

Tourism officials monitoring Mauna Loa eruption

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  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2018
                                Past eruptions at Kilauea Volcano and Mauna Loa have sometimes dampened tourism or stimulated travel. Above, visitors vie for a photo opportunity of Halemaumau Crater at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2018

    Past eruptions at Kilauea Volcano and Mauna Loa have sometimes dampened tourism or stimulated travel. Above, visitors vie for a photo opportunity of Halemaumau Crater at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2018
                                Jerome Babuta and Lu Liu, from Seattle, check a map of the park.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2018

    Jerome Babuta and Lu Liu, from Seattle, check a map of the park.

Hawaii tourism officials spent most of Monday telling travelers not to alter their plans to come to Hawaii, saying it was too soon to know how the Mauna Loa Volcano eruption would affect demand.

“We’re just 24 hours in,” Hawaii Tourism Authority Public Affairs Officer Ilihia Gionson said. “We are appreciative that the flow is currently not headed toward any populated areas or resort areas.”

Past Hawaii island eruptions at Kilauea Volcano and Mauna Loa have sometimes dampened tourism while at other times stimulated travel. The key is whether visitors feel that they can safely watch nature’s show.

So far the Mauna Loa eruption is not anything like the groundbreaking fissures from the 2018 Kilauea eruption that created a molten lava river, temporarily closed the state’s top tourism attraction — Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park — and ultimately resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost visitor spending. Misinformation about that eruption even caused slowdowns on other islands because travelers didn’t understand Hawaii’s geography.

Mike White, general manager of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel on Maui, said the island didn’t experience much disruption during Kilauea’s 2018 eruption, although the island sometimes saw vog due to certain weather patterns.

“We expect to have the same thing with Mauna Loa. The good thing is that it is headed in a direction that is probably as good as we could hope for — it’s not currently threatening any residential areas or roads. It sounds like it is pretty much going in the same direction as the flow in 1984, which went down into some forest areas.”

White said Hawaii needs to get the word out that its volcanoes are not explosive and that safely witnessing an eruption is “one of the most amazing, impactful things that you can do.”

“I got to see the 1984 flow at Mauna Loa,” he said. “It was stunning to see these chunks of cooled lava the size of a school bus riding down the hill.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park issued a news release Monday saying that the new eruption, which is the first time Mauna Loa has erupted since 1984, is expected to draw an influx of visitors to the park who hope to see a rare dual eruption from both Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Park officials said viewing areas along Kilauea caldera before sunrise revealed a massive glow from Mauna Loa’s Mokuaweoweo caldera and a smaller lava lake within Halemaumau at the summit of Kilauea.

Visitors already had been coming to see Kilauea’s current eruption, which began Sept. 29, 2021, with lava confined to the summit lava lake.

Gionson, who was vacationing in San Diego when the latest Mauna Loa eruption started, said his flight to Kona on Monday was delayed about half an hour due to a volcanic ash advisory, which knocked a few trans-Pacific routes out of commission and created traffic in the sky.

“I was on Southwest, but it sounded like a general, anybody-flying-to-Hawaii kind of a deal,” he said. “They held our connecting flight to Kona waiting for some Hilo folks to jump on, but the hour that we spent at HNL didn’t seem chaotic. When we landed it was voggy, hazy. We’ll see when it gets darker what the glow looks like.”

Southwest Airlines suspended operations in Hilo on Monday, affecting 10 interisland departures just on the route between Honolulu and Hilo. Southwest has a scheduled 60 interisland flights daily and is the second-largest carrier of passengers within Hawaii.

However, Hawaiian Airlines’ trans-Pacific and interisland flights including service to and from Kona and Hilo remained intact. Hawaiian also added one extra flight Monday from Hilo to Honolulu to accommodate travelers whose plans may have changed.

Sean Dee, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for Outrigger Hospitality Group, said the resort chain hadn’t received any increase in call volume or significant changes in reservations, including at its Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa.

“Longer term, it will be interesting to see what impact if any occurs, as viewing volcanic activity is one of the most popular visitor activities on Hawaii island, while some of the unfortunate aftereffects, including volcanic ash and haze, could be deterrents,” Dee said. “We will continue to update our website and call centers with information from our partners at HTA and the other state agencies that monitor the situation.”

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