The headline "Kilauea's toxic gas kills crops, sickens islanders," appeared on a CNN story last week. Bad publicity has spread through several of Hawaii's major tourism feeder markets on the mainland.
Isle officials keeping eye on vog’s effects on tourism
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Hawaii's visitor industry, still grappling with the shutdowns of two airlines, a down economy on the mainland and soaring ticket prices, has another potential cloud on the tourism horizon: vog.
So far, there are no signs that the haze is keeping visitors away, but industry officials are keeping an eye on how the situation is being summed up on the mainland. The headline "Kilauea's toxic gas kills crops, sickens islanders," appeared on one CNN story on the vog. Officials say that Kilauea remains more of a draw than a deterrent to tourism. But late last week, the Big Island Visitors Bureau launched a volcano awareness public relations campaign.
VOG VERSUS SMOG
The Big Island's air-quality levels remained comparable to some mainland cities yesterday.
Source: AIRNow.gov. *The AQI, which runs from 0 to 500, covers the five major air pollutants regulated by the federal Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution. An AQI of 50 represents good air quality, while a value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.
||Air Quality Index*
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| Mountain View
| Fresno, Calif.
| Sacramento, Calif.
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Even as vog over the Hawaiian Islands has gotten thick enough to obscure Diamond Head, the haze does not appear to have had a substantial impact on isle tourism, visitor industry leaders in Hawaii and on the mainland said yesterday.
Recent activity at Kilauea volcano has shrouded nearby Big Island communities, from South Hilo and Puna to Keaau and Volcano, with increased levels of sulfur dioxide. These regions remained in the yellow color code yesterday, meaning people in sensitive groups should stay indoors, the Hawaii County Civil Defense reported.
While there is no health warning for other Big Island regions or the rest of the state, residents and tourists with respiratory sensitivities should try to remain indoors until the air clears, according to Jean Evans, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of Hawaii.
This advice, while sound, is not exactly a selling point for Hawaii's visitor industry.
And while federal data indicate that even Big Island air-quality levels remain better than some California cities -- and Honolulu's remains better than most U.S. cities -- it is a rather different message that has spread alongside hazy pictures of prominent Hawaii landmarks in mainland tourism markets.
The headline "Kilauea's toxic gas kills crops, sickens islanders," appeared on a CNN story last week, for example.
"There's no question that any negative national news could impact visitor arrivals into our state," said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. "However, all the weather forecasters are saying that this will blow over, and I haven't heard any complaints from guests or potential visitors."
Thus far at least, the volcanic fog shrouding the Hawaiian Islands hasn't cast much of a pall over isle tourism -- at least not compared to other problems facing the industry, such as the shutdowns of Aloha and ATA airlines, a down economy on the mainland and soaring ticket prices.
So while visitor numbers are down across the state, tourism officials and visitor industry providers have been reluctant to blame it on the vog.
"Hawaii is an authentic place with authentic culture and nature; it's not an amusement park," said Jay Talwar, vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. "The vog is an example of Mother Nature at her purest and the volcano remains a big draw for the state."
Still, in recognition of the potential frailty of the state's top economic engine, the Big Island Visitors Bureau launched a volcano awareness public relations campaign last week to 6,000 members of the media.
"We heard that there was some negative publicity on the mainland and we wanted to make sure that people saw the whole story," said George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau.
Efforts appear to have stemmed vog-related visitor declines, Applegate said.
"I checked our call center today and we only had four volcano-related questions," he said.
California-based Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesaler, said the vog has been a non-issue for the travelers that it services.
"We have not received any vog-related complaints or cancellations at our call centers," said Jack Richards, president and chief executive officer of Pleasant Holidays LLC.
Richards, who visited Hawaii last week and this week, said the vog was not problem during his trip.
"The winds were blowing and I could smell it on Tuesday in Waikiki, but it wasn't an event," Richards said. "We're used to this. We have California wildfires."