Industry bigs try to help carrier’s customers, staff
Tourism executives and officials were reeling following yesterday's announcement that Aloha Airlines, after 61 years in Hawaii, plans to cease operations.
It is still too early to gauge the impact that this latest development will have on Hawaii's lead industry -- even if Aloha is allowed to follow through. Gov. Linda Lingle announced plans late yesterday afternoon to fight Aloha's shutdown, which would eliminate 1,900 jobs.
The potential for an Aloha closure, coming on the heels of an announcement earlier this year that Norwegian Cruise Line's U.S. unit is cutting its Hawaii fleet by two-thirds, has some members of the visitor industry worried about the big picture.
They voiced concern that reduced airline capacity could boost flight prices at a time when visitors, particularly from the U.S. markets that have been plagued by the subprime mortgage crisis, are at their most price-sensitive.
But yesterday, local tourism executives were busy scrambling with the shorter-term problems: ensuring that Aloha customers already in the islands can find a way to return home and that those still planning to come will find a way to get here.
"It's a sad day for Hawaii and for a company that's been in business for over 61 years," said Jack Richards, president and chief executive officer of California-based Pleasant Holidays LLC.
Hawaii's largest vacation wholesaler estimated that as many as 1,800 of its customers would be affected if Aloha closes.
"We're in the process of working to help move them -- it's really impossible to know how many will be stranded or find that they have to alter their travel plans," Richards said.
Various hotels statewide are offering special considerations to stranded passengers who need extended or emergency accommodations, said Barry Wallace, chairman of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association board.
"We're also looking at trying to provide job assistance to Aloha employees," said Wallace, who also serves as vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group. "However, there are so many that it's doubtful that the industry will be able to accommodate all of them."
Keith Vieira, senior vice president for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Hawaii and French Polynesia, said, "It's too early to tell if there's going to be a substantial impact, but it will definitely have an impact."
Since Aloha's March 20 bankruptcy filing, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, the governor's tourism liaison, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association have been coordinating with airlines and hotels to form contingency plans.
Hawaii's primary interisland carriers will expand daily schedules and add aircraft to compensate for the loss of seats resulting from Aloha's closure, said Rex Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The trans-Pacific carriers that serve Aloha's regional markets on the mainland should also be able to absorb the void left by Aloha, Johnson said.
"This is a very difficult time for Aloha Airlines, its employees and our state. HTA is committed to working with all stakeholders and involved parties and to provide assistance, when possible, as the situation continues to develop," Johnson said.
Many carriers are offering special rates, and several package companies, including Pleasant Holidays, are offering two-for-one fares, so it is unlikely that short-term airline costs will rise for consumers, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. In the long term, prices will be what the market will bear, Wienert said.
"When you pull capacity out of the market, prices tend to go up," Richards said. "And that's not good."
However, with the coming drop in ship arrivals, Hawaii's market might not feel the usual supply-and-demand pricing pressures, Wienert said.
Hawaiian Air, go! and hotels help travelers
Hawaii's travel industry responded promptly yesterday to the announcement of the imminent shutdown of Aloha Airlines' passenger service.
Hawaiian Airlines said it will try to accommodate Aloha Airlines passengers with 6,000 additional daily interisland seats and a special ticket price of $49 for all interisland seats through April 7, and go! is offering the same deal for 2,000 daily additional seats. Hawaiian and go! are also allowing free standby travel for Aloha Airlines ticket-holders on a first-come, space-available basis on some flights today and all flights tomorrow through Thursday. But Hawaiian warns that it cannot guarantee Aloha passengers a seat due to "high passenger volumes."
» For interisland passengers booked for tomorrow through Thursday, Hawaiian Air will accept Aloha Airlines tickets free of charge on a first-come, first-served standby basis for departure on that day only.
» For mainland passengers, Hawaiian Air will permit no-charge, standby, space available, day-of-original travel for some flights today and all flights tomorrow through Thursday.
To qualify for standby or space-available travel, passengers must provide a paper or electronic ticket confirmation and be present at the airport ticket counter on the date of travel shown on the ticket. More information is available at the Hawaiian Air Web site, www.hawaiianair.com.
Go! said it will increase its number of daily seats from 2,700 to 4,700 beginning tomorrow.
Aqua Hotels and Resorts said it will offer three free nights to Aloha Airlines trans-Pacific passengers stranded in Waikiki. The offer is based on space availability at Aqua's nine properties through next Monday.
Marriott Resorts Hawaii said it will offer stranded Aloha passengers currently at one of its nine Hawaii properties 50 percent off their current rate for up to three additional nights beyond their checkout date. Aloha passengers not currently at a Marriott will be offered the kamaaina rate.
Also, the hotel will charge no penalty fees for booked Aloha passengers who have a Marriott reservation but cannot make it.
Outrigger Hotels and Resorts is offering stranded guests discount rates at the chain's Ohana properties and 50-percent-off rates at Outrigger's condominium properties.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts has set up a help desk for guests who are being affected and is offering discounts and refunds to qualifying Aloha travelers.