Hawaii: Open for Business

As news of volcanic activity taking place in Hawaii continues to make headlines around the
world, tourism officials have been scrambling to assure travelers that there is absolutely no reason at this time to change or alter your leisure or business plans.

Important Note: Despite images of rolling lava and smoke coming out of Hawaii this week, the volcanic eruptions from the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island will not be covered by the typical travel insurance provider. That’s because there have yet to be any reported travel disruptions from the events. To read more about that topic, click here.

The Hawaiian Islands span about 1,500 miles, and The Big Island, where the erupting Kilauea is located is about the size of Connecticut or more than 4,000 square miles. The volcanic activity and where lava has flowed is limited to an isolated area in lower Puna on the island’s east side.

“The nearest hotel to Kilauea is about 30 miles away,” said Ross Birch, executive director of Big Island Visitors Bureau, the island’s tourism board, but he doesn’t feel that message is getting out. “I’m not confident at all that the average traveler is aware of Hawaiian geography,” he said.

“The luxury resorts along the Kohala Coast are more than 100 miles away from Kilauea,” said Vicky Kometani, a spokesperson for the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island. “There is zero impact to any of us on the west side of the island. But given the media coverage — and tendency to sensationalize — we know people will cancel travel plans which is unfortunate,” said Kometani. “Visitors who have been to the Big Island before know where Mauna Kea Resort is, and are not canceling. Visitors unfamiliar with the island are calling and some are canceling.”

Kilauea, which has had a continuous lava flow for the past 35 years, erupted on May 3 and has caused nearly 2,000 residents to evacuate. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake was also recorded on May 4 and aftershocks from the eruption are ongoing. Some 35 structures, including 26 homes, had been destroyed as of Monday morning local time, according to Hawaii’s Civil Defense Agency.

Flights at the island’s two international airports were not impacted, for the most part. Hilo International Airport, about 30 miles from Kilauea, closed for a few hours last Friday after the earthquake so airport officials could inspect the runways and taxiways for damage, but it re-opened soon after. Travel to the State’s other islands has not been affected in any way.

Lava flow tapered off as of Monday morning,  “From a tourism standpoint, this lava flow is causing less of an impact to air quality,” Birch said. “Last year’s lava flow hit the ocean and that was more of a danger to air quality. This time around it’s a less dangerous situation unless you’re standing in the exact area.

Perhaps travelers are remembering when thousands of transatlantic flights were canceled after Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. That was a much larger event, with a gigantic dust cloud which affected flights thousands of miles away in North American and European destinations.

Ironically, volcanoes are a top motivation for why many travelers visit the Hawaiian Islands. “We have almost 30,000 visitors per month to the national park and that number spikes immensely when things like this are going on,” said Birch. “The volcano has been kind of a double edge sword for us.”

(Skift, Hawaii Tourism Authority)

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