Big Island, Hawaii, Recovers from Lava Scare

By Matt Swenson, May 17, 2019

When lava flowed out of Kilauea’s mighty spout on Hawaii’s Big Island, the images were frightening. That perception, ultimately, was scarier than the reality. While Connect held a springtime meeting on the island as scheduled last May, that was an exception. More than $25 million of projected revenue was lost.

In the aftermath, the Kohala Coast Resort Association banded together to promote a destination that usually sells itself. The group is clearing the air about the Big Island. The volcano has been dormant for months and the destination is back to normal. Connect spoke to Stephanie Donoho, administrative director of the Kohala Coast Resort Association, about playing damage control on the Big Island.

What was the reality vs. the perception during the eruption?

I think there may have been a disconnect between the sensationalized perception that Hawaii Island had been overtaken by the Kilauea volcanic eruption. The reality is that the lava flow and eruptive activity was contained to a relatively small area, within Leilani Estates in lower Puna, and in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeast part of the island. As the island covers more than 4,000 square miles, and is almost twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined, it really is much bigger than most people, even those who have already been here, know.

How did that perception affect any business along the Big Island, particularly last summer?

Many tourism businesses were impacted because people are not as familiar with the geography and distance on the island. Even the Kohala Coast, which is located about 100 miles away, and continued to remain safe and open for business during the activity, saw significant losses—$25 million during the first two months.

It was during the summer that the 10 resorts and hotels that make up the Kohala Coast Resort Association banded together to proactively promote our destination. That has had wonderful benefits bringing us closer together as a destination, as sales and public relations directors who may have competed for the same business in the past have come together as collaborators as a result of this challenge.

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