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Kilauea’s danger creates challenges for Hawaii tourism

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — With Kilauea volcano threatening to erupt, Hawaii tourism officials say it has been nearly impossible to predict revenue generated from visitors.

Numbers released last week by the Hawaii Tourism Authority show the state saw a 13.4 percent increase in visitor spending in April, West Hawaii Today reported . But the volcano has forced the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Island’s biggest tourist attraction, and tourists have grown leery of lava and apprehensive about air quality.

Despite that, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization is not yet projecting a significant economic downturn statewide.

The organization released its county economic forecast Friday, and Carl Bonham, executive director of the organization, said “the Big Island will weather this.” That is unless it suffers the possible 50 percent loss of business Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, is projecting.

Birch’s figure is based on a survey he conducted of several lodging and activity companies that said bookings on Hawaii Island from June through the end of August appeared as though they could drop by half.

Several tour companies have had to change their itineraries and some that are particularly reliant on Kilauea have already been forced into layoffs, Birch said.

But because of how massive expected growth was, the impact from Kilauea may be minimal, officials said.

Some early numbers show U.S. market arrivals to Hawaii didn’t drop in May, but kept pace with the 25 percent year-over-year growth also witnessed in April, West Hawaii Today reported.

However, Birch said that doesn’t account for missed ports from companies like Norwegian Cruise Line, which announced Saturday it planned to remove indefinitely both Hilo and Kailua-Kona from the itinerary for its ship, Pride of America, “until the situation is back to normal.”

Birch has estimated that each missed port in Kailua-Kona costs West Hawaii around $175,000 in visitor spending.

Bonham said air travel to Hawaii in general, though, is holding up well.

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