Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Idle taxi cab drivers report a severe slump in fares in the
Waikiki area. Driver John Fong of Waikiki had yet to
pick up a fare by mid-afternoon yesterday.

Attacks hit harder
than Gulf War

Tourism drops off suddenly,
leaving Waikiki 'like a ghost town'
and Hawaii hotels half full

By Russ Lynch

Hawaii-based military personnel aren't getting out much to local restaurants and bars as the nation builds its readiness to deal with whatever it must do in the aftermath of last week's terrorist attack on the United States.

The immediate effect, restaurant operators say, is a loss of local business that compounds the tourism fall-off that resulted from the disruption of international travel.

Jack Law, leading partner in the ownership of Hula's Bar & Lei Stand on Kapahulu and the Wave Waikiki night club, said business this past weekend and since has been "terrible."

Right after the Sept. 11 disaster business wasn't so bad because tourists were in town -- the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau estimates 145,000 of them -- and couldn't go home. But now tourists have gone home and there are not enough replacements coming in.

To complicate matters, military personnel who also like to go out and enjoy Honolulu's night life are on alert and mostly stuck on-base, seriously affecting nightclubs like the Wave, Law said.

At Moose McGillycuddy's Pub & Grill on Lewers Street in the heart of Waikiki, business is somehow coming but there was a big drop-off because of the military absence in what is normally a pay period for the forces, said Cheryl Tracy, assistant general manager.

"At least everybody has to eat and drink now and then," she said. But she has seen a slowdown in Waikiki in general.

Her restaurant strung a giant U.S. flag right across Lewers Street to show support for the nation and, like others, hopes that things will get better before long.

Overall, tourist industry officials say, Hawaii is in a grimmer situation right now than it was when the Gulf War broke out in 1991, grinding international tourism to a near halt.

While they say it is too soon since last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington to say what the full effect might be, there is a definite slowdown right now.

Hawaii hotels are running about half empty, a lot worse than the normal downturn for the off-season month of September.

And taxi dispatchers wait for calls that don't come.

"Our dispatch calls are down at least by about 20 percent," said Howard Higa, owner of the company that runs Da Cab taxis.

Higa said to company gets more than 40,000 calls a month, or about 1,300 a day. A 20 percent drop means well over 200 rides drivers don't get to make on an average day.

Because his company has grown and has more than 30 taxi stands at major shopping centers and on military bases, it is not yet facing a survival issue, but smaller taxi businesses could be in real trouble, Higa said.

Dale Evans, general manager of Charley's Taxis, said business is "terrible." Waikiki is "like a ghost town," she said, and she has heard of drivers waiting as long as four hours to get a fare.

It's a chance to move drivers to get "local" experience at shopping centers and hospitals but that doesn't make it good, "because the pie is smaller," Evans said.

Hotels have seen cancellations that will hurt in the short term, but executives say many who are not coming now have said they will come later when tensions have cooled.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts' 10,000 rooms are a little over 40 percent occupied, according to a company spokesman, Jim Austin. "We're in the low 40s, about 43 percent, and holding," he said. The hotels have been getting some walk-in business from people extending their stay in Hawaii, he said.

Ernie Watari, chairman of hospitality-industry survey firm PKF Hawaii Inc., said he doesn't have specifics but hotels have told him they are running in the 50-60 percent occupancy range, low even for this post-summer time of the year.

"It looks like we're being hit, and we're going to be hit a little harder this time, possibly more than 1991 when the Gulf War joined forces with a turndown in both the U.S. and Japanese economies to hurt Hawaii tourism.

"I think it could hurt us big time," Watari said.

Businesses like the DFS Galleria are trimming hours.

The retail complex in Waikiki has cut its opening time and is operating from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. instead of its former 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., said Sharon Weiner, DFS Hawaii group vice president of administration.

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