Visitor cancellations turn normally vibrant Volcano into a ghost town

VOLCANO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The roads leading into Volcano village look deserted. The same goes for the town's more than 70 restaurants, galleries and lodges.

Kilauea Lodge didn't have a single guest Friday. Not one.

Janet Coney has been working at the 16-room lodge for nearly three decades and she's never seen anything like it. "We have 16 accommodations and all 16 rooms were open last night," she said.

Normally, the lodge is full. But over the past three weeks, more than 160 guests have cancelled their stay. And that's a common story across the Big Island.

As the lava spews from the ground in the lower east rift zone, destroying livelihoods and homes, the eruption is doing devastation of a different kind miles away — in Volcano.

Since Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed May 11, Volcano has turned into a virtual ghost town, forcing businesses to cut hours and lay off employees.

Businesses in Volcano say the message they want out is simple: Please come visit. It's perfectly safe.

If you're concerned about ash or air quality, they say, it's really no different than it was before the activity started.

But getting that message out has been tough.

At Thai Thai Bistro Bar on Friday, there wasn't a customer in sight.  Many of the town's restaurants are so slow they're limiting hours and even laying off staff.

"This place is normally completely packed, line out the door with people," said Eric Clough," of Thai Thai Bistro. "You can't pay out if you're not getting pay in."

Last year, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hosted more two million visitors — who spent a total of $166 million during their stay on Hawaii Island.

Early estimates put the loss of the closure to the local economy at $7 million so far.

Although much of the decline in tourism is because the park is closed, business owners say people are also scared to visit.

"There is a lot of misinformation. They really feel the whole island is up in flames," said Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts. "The air quality here is quite good actually."

Coney, of Kilauea Lodge, added that there are lots of things to do in Volcano other than visiting the park.

"We have a winery. We have an orchid farm we have art galleries," she said. "They can do all that still."

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