Loss of ATA and Aloha could mar tourism
The loss of nearly 15 percent of the airline capacity to Hawaii this week with the abrupt closure of ATA Airlines and Aloha Airlines is sending shock waves through the state's visitor industry.
State tourism officials said other carriers' existing flights could have filled the void left by Aloha.
But the loss of ATA's seats could cause state visitor counts to fall by more than a half-million in the next nine months if new flights are not added, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"It could be devastating to our market," Wienert said. "My guess is that the other carriers don't have the capacity to absorb those passengers unless additional seats are put into the market -- and that depends on the availability of planes, crews and what kind of yield the airlines think that they can get."
The state must grapple with the immediate needs of some 9,600 stranded ATA passengers who will need additional hotel nights and services before they get home, Wienert said. Officials also are trying to assist passengers who had plans to come to Hawaii on ATA or Aloha, she said.
Some members of Hawaii's visitor industry have said that the ripple effects of both bankruptcies also could have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on the state's economy. They liken the events of this week to the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United strike in the 1990s or the DC-10 groundings in the 1980s.
"This is by far the worst airline impact that I've seen in years," said Jack Richards, president and chief executive officer of California-based Pleasant Holidays, Hawaii's largest tour wholesaler. "We had business booked on both of these carriers through January of 2009."
Hawaii's visitor industry is taking hits from both sides, said Mike Paulin, president and chief executive officer of Aqua Hotels and Resorts, the only Hawaii hotel chain to offer stranded visitors free rooms.
"We've had well over 150 cancellations, and we've given away about 150 to 200 room nights to stranded visitors. To put it in perspective, that's about the size of one of our hotels," Paulin said.
Hawaii's hoteliers, who were already experiencing cancellations in the aftermath of the Aloha closures, are bracing for more, Paulin said.
Package tour operators and travel agents have said that they might have to raise their rates for budget tours unless they can find other carriers willing to match ATA's low-cost fares.
That is already happening, said Craig Zelley, a branch retail manger for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, who paid significantly more to re-book his May 4 flight to Hawaii from Orlando, Fla.
"The second I checked prices, it had already gone up by $250," Zelley said. "With Aloha and ATA going away, it's taking away 15 percent of the seats from this market, and there's nowhere to go but up."
Pleasant Holidays has been able so far to re-book most of its customers. However, the company's decision to credit customers the price of their useless Aloha and ATA tickets will hurt company finances, Richards said.
Hawaii's activities and attractions market, which has worked hard in recent years to get advance bookings, also is likely to suffer if customers decide not to come to the islands because they cannot get seats or re-booking prices are too high.
"Both of these carriers flew primarily from our prime West Coast markets, and the passengers that they flew were often customers of large tour and travel companies," Paulin said.