Almost two weeks after it started sending menacing lava floes into nearby neighborhoods, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano is still threatening residents on the Big Island of Hawaii. But Hawaii tourism officials have consistently reminded travelers that the island chain is vast and most popular island destinations are several hundred miles from the geologic activity. And even on the island of Hawaii, most tourism areas are unaffected. Here’s what travelers considering trips to the islands need to know.
Should you go?
Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, wants travelers to know that they can land on the island and still enjoy their time despite the volcanic eruption happening at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Lava flows are a normal occurrence at the park, which houses two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
Birch says a lot of damage has been done, but that it has occurred in fewer than 10 square miles on an island that has around 4,028 square miles of coverage.
“It’s a severe impact to a very, very small part of the population,” he says.
The Big Island’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and so far hotels and airlines are reporting few cancellations. Helicopter flights over the lava flows — always a popular tourist trip — are largely booked up days in advance.
Authorities have ordered some vacation rentals near the lava flow to shutter indefinitely to stretch the community’s water supplies and reduce the number of potential evacuees. No hotels, restaurants or other attractions have closed as a result of the volcanic eruption.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority notes the impact is limited to a remote region on the east side of the island far from Hawaii’s five other islands. The closest resort areas, in Kona and the Kohala Coast on the island’s west side, are more than 100 miles away from the lava flow. Those tourist areas are shielded by the massive mountains of Maunakea and Maunaloa, the tourism authority said.
Other Hawaiian islands, including Oahu, Maui and Kauai, have not been affected, the authority says.
Airlines flying to Hawaii have not experienced any operational fallout from the eruption, with flight schedules across the state of Hawaii largely operating as normal. A number of airlines have waived change fees for flights to the state, a move that’s at least partially aimed at helping locals dealing with the effects of the eruption. Hawaiian, American, Delta, United and Alaska Airlines were among those with some sort of waiver for fliers booked on flights to certain Hawaii airports.
From an aviation perspective, the lava-heavy activity at Kilauea is unlike the ash-heavy eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano that forced thousands of flight cancellations and snarled European air traffic for weeks in 2010. Nevertheless, there are localized flight restrictions in close range of Kilauea.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to the erupting Kilauea volcano, had partially reopened May 6, but has since been closed again to visitors. The National Park Service warns “Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park has closed due to the possibility of an explosive steam event and ash fall at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano.” NPS says the only exception is a part of Highway 11 that runs through the park.
Follow its updates at nps.gov/havo
More: Volcanoes: 10 national parks with explosive origins
General consumer advice
Most popular destinations in Hawaii have been unaffected by the volcanic activity, and are unlikely to be even if predictions of more eruptions, lava flows or jettisoned rocks ensue.
In the event of a more cataclysmic event, airlines, hotels and tourism operators generally institute liberal change and cancellation policies, as they did during the Iceland volcano in 2010. Travel insurance also covers natural disasters that directly affect trips, but most will not cover, say, your upcoming trip to Maui because of what’s happening on a neighboring island. Travelers seeking that level of protection should buy “cancel for any reason” provisions.
Contributing: Trevor Hughes, Ben Mutzabaugh, Nancy Trejos
More: Travel insurance can save the day
People stock up on supplies as Hawaiian volcano smolders.
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