Volcano’s toll on tourism prompts Hawaii governor to speak up

Lava flow from Kilauea. Photo Credit: U.S. Geologocal Survey

Eye-popping images of the Kilauea volcano’s destruction on the Big Island have been shown across the world for weeks, and that has had a negative effect on tourism throughout Hawaii, even though the damage is confined to a small portion of the Big Island.

Therefore, Hawaii Gov. David Ige and the Hawaii Tourism Authority have a joint message: Hawaii is safe and open to visitors.

"All of Hawaii is open for business and welcoming visitors with the hospitality, aloha, warmth and picturesque settings visitors seek in our islands," Ige said. "This includes Hilo, Pahoa and the Kona and Kohala coasts on the island of Hawaii."

The most affected area is in the eastern tip of the island, the Lower Puna region including the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions and visitors should stay clear of the area. Anyone with plans to stay there should make alternative arrangements, and those with plans to visit the Puna region in general should check accessibility ahead of time.

Flights to and from the island of Hawaii have been operating normally, but airlines are setting up programs for concerned travelers. Hawaiian Airlines is currently allowing anyone booked on a flight to Hilo or Kona through May 31 to change their flight at no cost. United, American and Alaska are all currently offering waivers on change fees for all flights to Kona or Hilo through May 25.

Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will be closed until further notice. The Park’s Kahuku Unit, which includes a 9-mile scenic drive and a handful of hiking options, is open during its normal hours, Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Businesses and accommodations in Volcano Village just outside of the park entrance are largely operating as normal, but conditions are in flux. Accommodations and activities in Hilo are unaffected by the volcanic activity.

The area restricted from visitors encompasses Highway 132 from Leilani Estates to Kapoho, Highway 137 from Kapoho to Kalapana, and Highway 130 from Pahoa to Pohoiki, including Black Sands Beach subdivision. As of May 12, all vacation rentals in those areas have been suspended.

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