SIGN OF THE TIMES
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sewage from Ala Wai Canal has been pouring into the ocean in recent days, prompting health officials to close nearby beaches. Above, city workers put up signs yesterday on the beach in front of Ft. DeRussy, warning beachgoers not to go into the water. CLICK FOR LARGE
Sewage creates PR stink
News of the sewage spills has spread far and wide, worrying tourism officials
HAWAII'S recent run of heavy winter rains, sewage spills, floods and bursting dams has been making news all over the world, but so far it has not severely dampened visitor arrivals.
Call-center volume for tourists has tripled throughout the islands, but government and tourism officials are reassuring travelers they can book a vacation in Hawaii with confidence, said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"We really haven't had a whole lot of cancellations," Wienert said. "Most of our visitors have understood about the weather -- despite the fact that people have preconceived notions that it is always sunny and beautiful in Hawaii."
Although a few small groups switched their vacations from Kauai to Oahu, so far state visitor arrivals don't indicate serious declines, she said.
Once the rains are over, the state will launch a public relations campaign that will target the top 20 U.S. feeder markets to Hawaii. The campaign, which is expected to cost less than $100,000, will also seek spots on Good Morning America and the Today Show, said Sue Kanoho, the executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
"News reports on the sewage spill at the Ala Wai made it all the way to Chicago today," Kanoho said from the Windy City, where she is meeting with wholesalers to promote the destination.
Kanoho, who will also visit New York and San Francisco, said while wholesalers have had plenty of questions for her about the state of Hawaii's weather, few if any are indicating that bookings are softening.
"The good news is that since the first tragedy, we have gotten the word out quite well that it's safe to come to Hawaii and that there is plenty to do here besides the sun and sand," she said.
A dam break March 14, which killed seven and flooded a community with grief, made headlines around the world.
While most of the news coverage about Hawaii's unusually severe winter weather has focused on Kauai, the whole state needs to address visitor concerns, said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
"The impacts have been fairly local and isolated but its human nature to generalize," Haas said. "When people hear that the weather is bad in Kauai they may assume that the forecast is good for the entire state and change their travel plans."
Weekly arrival numbers are down slightly from this time last year, but it's not clear that the drop is due to the weather, Wienert said
"Our weekly arrival numbers have been a little lower but that could be due to the fact that spring break came earlier last year and boosted March arrivals," she said.
2005 was a record setting year for Hawaii's visitor industry, which welcomed 7.5 million arrivals and took in $11.5 billion in visitor spending.
"We really won't be able to tell if the weather had any impact on the visitor industry until we look at the April numbers," Wienert said.
Despite the heavy rains, which started Feb. 19, it's been mostly business as usual in Kauai, which has been the hardest hit by nature's fury.
"Kauai's airport, its harbor, and businesses are open and ready to accept our visitors in the same way they always have. Kauai's aloha spirit remains intact and the island is green and beautiful," said Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste.
Visitors who are booking a Kauai vacation in the weeks and months to come can do so with certainty knowing the island will be as beautiful as ever, Kanoho said.
Thus far, the only remaining effect of the storm is that a short section of Kuhio Highway near Kilauea is operating with a single lane, she said.
"Anyone driving this route to and from Kauai's north shore is advised to allow a little extra time," she said.
For updated information on Kauai, call the Kauai Visitor Bureau's toll-free information line at 1-800-262-1400 or visit online at www.kauaidiscovery.com|