Coronavirus cases prompt event cancellations and economic worries

Updated: Mar. 6, 2020 at 4:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The cancellation of the Honolulu Festival and the postponement of the Festival of the Pacific Arts & Culture is prompting growing concerns about the potential economic impact of the coronavirus on Hawaii’s no. 1 industry.

Economist Paul Brewbaker said the economic fallout on tourism could be more severe than than the SARS scare of early 2003 if the outbreak becomes more widespread and continues to affects visitor arrivals throughout the year.

“SARS was a $350 million or $400 million cost to Hawaii tourism in today’s dollars. This is probably going to be larger," said Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics.

Here’s a list of some events that have already been canceled or postponed because of coronavirus outbreak concerns:

  • The Honolulu Festival
  • Festival of the Pacific Arts & Culture (FESTPAC)
  • Maui Matsuri Festival
  • Noodle Fest at Victoria Ward Park
  • Mariah Carey concert at the Blaisdell Arena

Major mainland events are being impacted by closures as well: city officials in Austin, Texas have announced that the popular South by Southwest arts and musical festival had been canceled, and at least one division one NCAA basketball team said it was preparing to host March Madness games in front of an empty area.

And many flights to and from Hawaii are being either suspended or scaled back as the risk of infection forces some to decide not to travel. Already, some popular visitor attractions like Kualoa Ranch are feeling some effects.

“We’ve noticed some group cancellations. So we do a lot of Japanese school group bookings. Those are all the ones in the short term. We get a lot of them in March. They’ve cancelled. It’s understandable,” said John Morgan, the ranch’s president.

As a comparison, experts cite previous economic shocks like SARS ― when tourism initially plunged before recovering within months.

Former tourism industry official Tony Vericella believes consumer confidence will rebound once travelers get a better handle of the risks of the coronavirus and once authorities are better able prevent the disease from spreading.

“Once the tide turns and (travelers) feel confident in our public officials ... then I think people will start living their lives again," he said.

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