Big Island businesses face layoffs, losses as visitor cancellations mount

Big Island businesses face layoffs, big losses as visitor cancellations mount
Published: May. 15, 2018 at 8:35 PM HST|Updated: May. 15, 2018 at 11:14 PM HST
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KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Big Island is already grappling with a natural disaster.

And now, the ongoing eruptions in lower Puna and the threat of an eruption at Kilauea's summit are threatening to become an economic disaster.

Businesses on the Big Island say they're already being hit hard as customers cancel their plans. Some of the cancellations, officials say, are due to confusion — visitors don't know that the eruptions are happening an a rural and relatively isolated part of the island.

Cancellations are also coming in, though, because the volcanic activity has forced the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

One thing is certain: The drop in tourism is already being felt.

The head of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau says some tourist attractions have had to close their doors or layoff employees because of the drop in business.

And some of companies along the Kona and Kohala Coasts, which is more than 100 miles away from the volcanic activity, the spike in cancellations was sudden and unexpected.

"We're fielding phone calls constantly every day about people who are concerned and considering cancelling their vacations or have already decided to cancel their vacation," said Jason Cohn, of Hawaii Forest and Trail and Kohala Zipline.

The company is looking at a 30 percent loss in revenue for the month of May.

"An event like this can affect an entire community, whether you're in the tourism industry or not," he said. "It'll have a downstream effect everywhere as people begin to loss hours, lose jobs, they're going to stop spending money."

Industry leaders concede many of the national and global media headlines about the volcanic activity are misleading.

"It's extremely frustrating to get across to individuals how large the island is," said Ross Birch, of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. "There's a couple activities that have actually closed their doors because their business is typically around the entire volcano."

Norwegian Cruise Line's decision to divert the Pride of America away from Hilo and Kona this week was another shock.

The company issued this statement:

"The safety and security of our guests and crew is our top priority. We have been closely monitoring the adverse conditions impacting the Big Island of Hawaii and are modifying the itinerary of Pride of America to ensure our guests have the best vacation experience possible."

Linda Zabolski, of Captain Zodiac, a rafting company, said the decision is a "big blow to the community."

"The merchants and all the businesses rely heavily on these cruise ship visits so it's devastating when they decide to do something like this," she said.

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