Big Island: Back in Business

Nov 30, 2018

Kohala coast at the Big Island of Hawaii from the air. 2009.
Credit George / Wikimedia Commons

Vivid images of volcanic eruptions captured the world’s attention this year, but frightened off visitors. 

The nine resorts of the Kohala Coast Resort Association are a nearly 100-mile-drive from where the eruptions of Kilauea were smothering homes and roads. However, sensational television news images and reporting created the impression that the entire island was in jeopardy and these resorts saw people cancelling their stays as soon as the eruptions began in May. For example, Business Insider had a headline stating, “Deadly lava is tearing through Hawaii and hurling ‘bombs’ at people.”

Year-over-year occupancy in Big Island hotels had been booming, then dropped slightly in May, then by 6 percent in June and nearly 9 percent in September.

In response, the member resorts shifted immediately from competition to collaboration. They teamed up with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau to get the word out that the Big Island is, well, “Bigger than you know,” as they called their campaign.

The resorts hosted 20 reporters from around the world, did a media blitz in person to Los Angeles and worked social media to share photos and videos of an island that was very much safe to visit. These activities and more, supported with $2 million in funding from HTA, may be the only thing telling people outside of Hawaii that the eruptions have actually stopped. That’s a part of the story national media hasn’t reported on.

With six months of visitation data in hand now, HTA estimates that the Big Island will have lost out on as many as 206,000 arrivals and $360 million in visitor spending.