The eruption of the Kilauea volcano has destroyed dozens of homes in Hawaii’s lower Puna District, where residents in the coastal area of Kapoho were evacuated from their homes in the early hours on Wednesday morning; and it’s also impacted vacation rentals across the state managed by real estate companies such as Elite Pacific Properties and Hawaii Life Vacations.
Guests with reservations for vacation homes in areas unaffected by the volcano have been canceling their travel plans because of a perceived threat portrayed on cable networks and the internet.
“The fear of the volcano and the lava has prompted guests to cancel quite a few reservations,” said Andrea Grigore, Elite Pacific Properties’ director of vacation rentals. “I don’t think it’s affecting just the Big Island; we’re seeing a slowdown in business across the board, mainly because of the Mainland media portraying Hawaii as engulfed in lava.”
Hawaii Life Vacations Broker-in-Charge Kahea Zietz said she has been spending a lot of time communicating with many of her company’s clients.
“Communicating with our homeowners has been 50 percent of our workload, getting owners to feel comfortable,” she said. “We’re protecting their investments. They’ve been extremely understanding and very appreciative of all our hard work.”
Hawaii Life Vacations evacuated guests from nearly two dozen homes around Kapoho, a tiny oceanfront subdivision known for its tidepools, in early May as lava began erupting from fissures in the Leilani Estates subdivision, about a week before county officials ordered all vacation rentals shut down to lessen the strain on emergency operations. Hawaii Life relocated those guests who wanted to stay in other areas of the Big Island, Zietz said.
Since then, the fissures that remained active have sent fast-moving lava toward the ocean, inundating neighborhoods, destroying dozens of homes and cutting off highway access.
One of the company’s properties in Leilani Estates was destroyed by lava early on, said Jeana Jones, Hawaii Life Vacations’ East Hawaii property manager. Another business, Hale Moana Bed & Breakfast, which closed down less than a week after the start of the eruption on May 3, was destroyed by the lava on Monday.
Elite Pacific had only one vacation rental property in Kapoho, and moved the guests staying there to another property on the Kona Coast as soon as the news about the eruption broke last month, Grigore said. Another property on the Hamakua Coast was damaged by the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that rocked the Big Island on May 4, she said.
Still, the company has seen a drop in revenue of about 25 percent from its Big Island operations since the eruption began, and a total of about $60,000 in cancellations.
Jessica Gauthier, a Hilo-based Realtor and property manager at Elite Pacific, said she’s seeing a 30 percent cancellation rate for vacation rentals. She and her husband have also been trying to help evacuees who’ve lost everything by creating a wishlist on Amazon.com for everything from gift cards to Petco, camping equipment, clothing and personal items that people can order and have shipped to relief efforts.
Businesses that depend on those rentals are also seeing a drop in business. For example, the housekeeping company that cleans vacation rentals for Elite Pacific.
“They take care of about 30 properties and nine of those properties are no longer able to be vacation rentals,” Gauthier said, because they have been destroyed by the lava. “That’s 30 percent of their business.”
Owners have been understanding about cancellations and most have waived their refund policies and returned deposits, she said.
The eruption followed another natural disaster on the other side of the state, the April floods on the North Shore of Kauai, where vacation homes were damaged or made inaccessible because of road closures.
“The combination of the flooding on Kauai and the eruption and the subsequent coverage is raising people’s awareness, but it’s concerning,” said Hawaii Life CEO Matt Beall. “You don’t want to be insensitive, people have lost their homes.
“At the same time, it’s a big state. A lot of businesses unfortunately are harmed by the overcooking and sensationalism of these events.”