Tourists Keep Coming, to Hawaii's Great Relief

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the full fury of Hurricane Iniki struck the island of Kauai, the storm's shock waves also swept through the Westlake Village headquarters of Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays.

Workers at the largest Hawaiian tour company have been showing up at 6 a.m. to find telephone switchboards already jammed with incoming calls from concerned Kauai-bound travelers, who now have no place to stay on the island. About 3,500 Pleasant Hawaiian customers were to visit Kauai this week.

Despite the scheduling nightmare, the company has been pleased to discover that only 5% of customers have canceled vacations. That "is making us very happy," spokesman Ken Phillips said.

To the relief of tourism officials, Hurricane Iniki has not resulted in a significant number of cancellations to Hawaii, which has been mired in a tourist slump for more than two years.

Travel and tour businesses have been trying to reschedule Kauai-bound visitors to other islands that suffered minor damage. They report few problems in finding alternative accommodations for the visitors.

"We have not had people shying away from their (Hawaiian) vacation," said Jim M. Roberts, president of Uniglobe Regency Travel in Rancho Cucamonga. "They are just making sure that it's safe to go to the other Hawaiian islands."

It may take months--if not years--before Kauai's 60 or so hotels and resorts have fully recovered from the hurricane's damage, travel officials said. Pleasant Hawaiian, for example, is not booking Kauai tours until further notice.

Travelers looking for alternatives to Kauai should have little trouble finding accommodations on nearby islands, tourist officials said.

The storm struck between the busy summer and Christmas seasons, and the tourism slump has left lots of hotel rooms vacant, tourism officials said.

"Where we may feel the pinch is maybe around Christmas time," said Thomas Nulty, president of Associated Travel Management, which reports just one Hawaii trip cancellation at its 20 walk-in offices in Southern California. "The Christmas season is pretty full. (Finding space is) going to be more difficult."

Most tour operators have been offering full refunds to Kauai visitors, travel agents said.

Travelers who have sent deposits for room reservations at the ocean-front Hyatt Regency Kauai, which has closed, can transfer to one of Hyatt's four other Hawaiian properties, said spokeswoman Carrie Reckert. Many of the guests are taking advantage of the offer.

United Airlines, which said its Hawaiian bookings have not suffered since the hurricane, is offering its Kauai passengers full refunds or letting them re-book flights to other islands. The airline's daily flight from Honolulu to Kauai has been suspended.

Lack of major cancellations to Hawaii is also good news to the travel and tourism industry on the mainland. For California travel agents, selling Hawaii tours is big business.

"It probably is our No. 1 destination," said Dianne LaPorte, vice president of operations at World Travel Bureau, an Orange County agency that sends more than 1,000 travelers a year to the Aloha State.

Hawaii tourism officials and travel companies have moved quickly to try to mitigate travelers' fears. In a presentation by the Hawaii Visitors Bureau broadcast via satellite on Tuesday, tourists were shown basking on Waikiki Beach on Monday to demonstrate how slight the damage was there.

Tour companies are faxing bulletins about the condition of Hawaiian hotels and flight availability to travel agencies across the nation.

Some top Hyatt executives have traveled to Kauai to consult with officials about rebuilding the island's heavily damaged roads and facilities. While the hotel is structurally sound, it will have a hard time attracting guests--who pay from $175 to $340 a day--until the surrounding area is repaired or rebuilt.

Unless the island's support structure is put back together, "it doesn't help us a lot," Hyatt's Reckert said.

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