Big Island, Hawaii, Recovers from Lava Scare

Stephanie Donoho, administrative director of the Kohala Coast Resort Association dispels myths from the Big Island’s 2018 eruption.

big island hawaii

When lava flowed out of Kilauea’s mighty spout on Hawaii’s Big Island, the images were frightening. That perception, ultimately, was scarier than the reality. While Connect held a springtime meeting on the island as scheduled last May, that was an exception. More than $25 million of projected revenue was lost.

In the aftermath, the Kohala Coast Resort Association banded together to promote a destination that usually sells itself. The group is clearing the air about the Big Island. The volcano has been dormant for months and the destination is back to normal. Connect spoke to Stephanie Donoho, administrative director of the Kohala Coast Resort Association, about playing damage control on the Big Island.

What was the reality vs. the perception during the eruption?

I think there may have been a disconnect between the sensationalized perception that Hawaii Island had been overtaken by the Kilauea volcanic eruption. The reality is that the lava flow and eruptive activity was contained to a relatively small area, within Leilani Estates in lower Puna, and in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the southeast part of the island. As the island covers more than 4,000 square miles, and is almost twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined, it really is much bigger than most people, even those who have already been here, know.

How did that perception affect any business along the Big Island, particularly last summer?

Many tourism businesses were impacted because people are not as familiar with the geography and distance on the island. Even the Kohala Coast, which is located about 100 miles away, and continued to remain safe and open for business during the activity, saw significant losses—$25 million during the first two months.

It was during the summer that the 10 resorts and hotels that make up the Kohala Coast Resort Association banded together to proactively promote our destination. That has had wonderful benefits bringing us closer together as a destination, as sales and public relations directors who may have competed for the same business in the past have come together as collaborators as a result of this challenge.

Are you and your peers having to work harder to convince people to go?

When the volcano activity stopped in September along with the reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the perception that our island is unsafe began to change. We are seeing a new wave of natural curiosity and enthusiasm for return visits to the island to see the dramatic changes at the Kilauea crater. The county has also said that they’re hoping to partner on a lava viewing area at Fissure 8 in Leilani Estates, and we look forward to sharing that with our guests. When you figure in our gorgeous winter weather and the return of clear skies across the entire island, now may be the best time to come back or discover us for the first time.

Now let’s dispel any myths. What was affected by the volcano and are all venues back up and running?

Speaking for the Kohala Coast, all of our hotels and resorts remained open for business since the volcano activity started in May. Another one is air quality. Even during the active lava flow period, the air quality on the Kohala Coast was comparable to and often even better than that of major metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles. And since the lull in volcanic activity began in September, we have never had skies so clear. From the Kohala Coast you can regularly see all five mountains, including Haleakala on Maui!

Once people are on the Big Island, what surprises them the most?

People are always amazed at the diversity of our landscapes. On the Big Island, you can travel through all but two of the world’s different climate zones, ranging from wet tropical to polar tundra. The landscape is just as diverse, from the snow-capped heights of Maunakea and the lush valleys of the Hamakua Coast to the jet-black sands of Punaluu Beach and the black and rust-red lava rock fields of the Kohala Coast. Hawaii Island is an unrivaled expression of the beauty and power of nature that leaves those who visit it humbled and inspired.