It’s been a big year for Hawaii’s largest island.
Despite the headlines, many sensationalized and inaccurate—“The Hawaiian Islands Are Covered in Molten Lava,” to cite one—all is well in this dynamic destination. Following three months of unprecedented seismic activity at Kilauea volcano that began in May 2018, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island’s top attraction, reopened Sept. 22, 2018, after it was confirmed the lava flow had stopped.
While sadly, the black lava that flowed over 10 square miles prompted evacuations and destroyed 700 homes, the Island of Hawaii’s tourism infrastructure was unaffected.
Today, Island of Hawaii tourism officials are sending a clear message to planners, attendees and travelers: It’s business as usual in the destination, it’s safe, and all is open for visitors to enjoy.
“A portion of our landscape has changed, literally, but it’s a small pin drop of our island,” said Debbie Hogan, senior director of sales for the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, referring to the 10 affected square miles of the 4,028-square-mile island. “We understand there will be concerns, and we want to have the opportunity to show folks it’s as good as ever here, and our hotels and activity partners are behind our groups, ensuring they have a great experience.”
Hogan said during the three months of volcanic activity and lava flow, there were few cancellations from the groups that had already booked, since most realized the vast distance between the volcanic activity and the destination’s major tourism areas. But the bureau is now aiming to educate prospective planners and decision makers who may be unaware that the lava flow has stopped and that it never affected tourism activity outside the park.
Pololu Valley Lookout at Sunrise, North Kohala | Credit: Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) Tyler Schmitt
The bureau is offering hosted site inspections on an individual basis through the end of the year for qualified planners. Those interested can contact their Hawaiian Island sales representative, Meet Hawaii or Hogan (email@example.com) to inquire.
One of the good things that has come out of the situation is that groups are reaching out to the bureau to ask how they can give back to the community in the Puna area where the damage occurred, according to Hogan.
“It’s really awesome to see them wanting to lend a hand,” Hogan said. “We’re researching now and determining where help is needed, possibly to assist in rebuilding a Hawaiian charter school that was lost, for example, or in rebuilding homes that were destroyed.”
Business As (Un)usual in Paradise
Meanwhile, the destination is as ready as ever to welcome groups with its anything-but-ordinary cultural and adventure experiences.
“From an activities standpoint, we offer groups exciting outings such as helicopter rides, ziplining and swimming with manta rays, which is even offered directly through Mauna Kea Resort,” Hogan said. “Mauna Kea also now has Bee Mauna Kea.”
The program enables guests to tour the property’s hives with the resident beekeeper, pull honey that is ready to harvest from the hives and enjoy a raw honey tasting.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, September 22, 2018, reopening day | Credit: NPS PhotoJanice Wei
Hogan said one of the trends in the way groups are experiencing the destination is through programs aimed at giving back to the island, such as replanting initiatives.
“They helicopter groups to a mountain ridge where they plant their own koa trees,” she said. “It’s a sustainable venture for our island and a rewarding group experience.”
Another trend is working with tour companies that have partnerships with private owners who allow them access to areas not open to the public.
“One great option is an area that is a 45-minute drive from the Kohala Coast hotels on the northwest side of the island,” she said. “The views are incredible, and they assemble tents and cater the food. Groups can do a helicopter drop into the area and do ziplining, ATV rides and hiking, which makes for a great day.”
The east side of the island is also ideal for excursions to private areas, she added.
“One group of about 40 people recently helicoptered over to Umauma Falls and did a zipline adventure, then spent the day swimming in the pond before helicoptering out of Hilo,” she said.
The Lush Life
Hilo, the main town on the island’s east side, which receives more rainfall than the west side and is known for its verdant landscape, is gaining in popularity.
“Hilo is for smaller groups, since there are only two group hotels,” Hogan said, adding that one of the primary properties, Grand Naniloa Hotel, recently expanded and became a DoubleTree.
There are experiences unique to Hilo and the area, which make it attractive for groups, according to Hogan.
“You can create a nice group day activity incorporating waterfalls, agritourism and museums, for example,” Hogan said. “And then, of course, there’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.”
The entrance to the park is located about 40 minutes from Hilo.
Brandon Lee Of Kaunamano Farm, East Hawaii, And Visiting Chef | Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) Heather Goodman
Groups can take advantage of Hawaii Forest and Trail, which has partnered with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park certified guides to showcase the new, strikingly changed landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The new Volcano Unveiled tour is an in-depth experience that allows guests to learn about and witness the most recent changes to Halemaumau crater that have forever altered Kilauea caldera. An off-road adventure follows on private land to explore Kauhi Cavern with ceilings as high as 35 feet, golden walls (living microbial mats) and an “upside-down” forest of roots descending from the ceiling.
Meanwhile, hotel news on the Island of Hawaii includes the closure in September of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows. Following an extensive redesign and revitalization, the property will be reborn as Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, in late 2019.
Additionally, the former Hapuna Beach Prince Resort became the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort following an extensive multimillion-dollar renovation that reimagined its guest rooms and suites, introduced four new culinary concepts, and transformed the resort’s public spaces with an all-new adults-only pool and enhancements to the existing family pool area.
Big Island, Hawaii CVB Information
Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau