Those promoting tourism in Hawaii are facing a difficult balancing act.
First, Kauai was hit with biblical flooding in mid-April that destroyed homes, vehicles and roads. It left people homeless, claimed the lives of animals and damaged businesses and homes. The North Shore is bouncing back but faces a long recovery.
Then, Kilauea volcano began erupting and sending lava flows that destroyed homes, vehicles and roads. It spewed ash plumes and dangerous fumes into the air. Add in rat lungworm cases and the beginning of hurricane season, there is the potential for a big downturn in tourism.
Such things are not what motivates a person to want to visit here. While many may believe that’s a good thing and will help ease the traffic problems on Kauai, others point out this island’s economy hinges on tourism. If people stopped coming here and spending money, it would eventually lead to lost jobs, and the impact would ripple through the community. Leave no doubt, tourism is key to how many of us survive.
So, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has been facing a dilemma. If it doesn’t continue to do its job, mainly to entice people to travel here, then the economy could suffer. If it continues to urge people to come here, despite the volcano dangers on the Big Island, and even the inability to access some of Kauai’s North Shore, it can appear insensitive to those who have been impacted by the flooding and volcano. It can come across that to HTA, money is what matters.
Now, we know tourism is hurting. That’s to be expected considering all that has happened and is happening now. But as many people like to say, now is not the time to panic. Remain calm. Take a breath.
That’s why a recent HTA press release made us cringe, a little. A few quotes from it attributed to Gov. David Ige:
“Travel is safe to the Hawaiian Islands.”
“Visitors can book their trips comfortable in the knowledge that their vacation experience will provide all the enjoyment they expect when coming to our beautiful islands.”
“Visitors to Hawaii can be assured that the volcanic activity is having no effect whatsoever on the other islands.”
“All of Hawaii is open for business and welcoming visitors with the hospitality, aloha, warmth and picturesque settings visitors seek in our islands.”
We’re not saying these statements are not accurate. We are saying HTA doesn’t need to try so hard, right now, to boost tourism. It has done its job well over the years. People on the Mainland are well aware of Hawaii and all it has to offer, thanks to HTA’s efforts.
While again, we are well aware of tourism’s importance to Hawaii’s economic success, this might be a time to notch things back a bit rather than sending out press releases stating that all is mostly well in Hawaii and there are almost no reasons not to still come here. People planning vacations usually do their own homework before heading out. If anyone was planning to cancel a trip here due to volcano activity, it’s unlikely they’ll change their mind because our governor assured them they’ll be safe and have a good time. And it’s even more unlikely someone would come to Hawaii after being assured there’s nothing to worry about. It might make them suspicious or even raise more concerns.
One could also argue that despite the best of intentions and the best of research and the best of scientists, trying to predict what a volcano is going to do is difficult, to put it nicely. Kilauea has been an active volcano since 1983 and is one of Hawaii’s most popular attractions. That there is a volcano is not surprising. That it’s spewing out so much lava is. We all knew this could happen. And we should certainly plan and prepare, do our best to be ready for the natural disasters that come our way, such as these latest eruptions
So, we can all agree that our concerns are for the residents in the affected communities. Let’s give them all the support they need. If our friends on the Mainland are concerned about what’s happening in Hawaii and don’t come here, that’s OK. We’ll survive. Remember, Hawaii is the land of resilient people. And tourism, too, will bounce back. People love Hawaii. They will come here. If not tomorrow, then soon. We know they will be back. They will keep coming. Hawaii is too beautiful, too energizing, for people to stay away.