Tsunami’s biggest hit in Hawaii: the economy


Hawaii officials estimate that the powerful tsunami generated from the Japan earthquake caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to ports, roads and homes in the state, and they expect tourism revenue to decline as Japanese travelers cancel vacations.

The tsunami swept through the islands before dawn on Friday, and though the waves were much smaller than those that hit Japan’s northeastern coast, they flooded some coastal businesses and hotel lobbies, sank boats and tore apart piers and infrastructure, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office said.

Abercrombie surveyed damaged areas Tuesday on the Big Island and Maui and has assigned Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to oversee recovery efforts.


Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction

After damage assessments are complete, Schatz will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure relief funds and recovery loans for businesses and residents.

“We’re fortunate that the damage was not extensive,” Schatz said. “Nothing catastrophic.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority had projected about $2 billion in revenue from Japanese visitors in 2011, a figure that is expected to take a significant hit, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the authority.

Travelers from Japan account for 17.6% of visitors to the islands. Typically, Japanese citizens do not travel immediately after a catastrophe out of respect for those who died, Uchiyama said.

In the month after the magnitude 6.8 Kobe earthquake in January 1995, Hawaii experienced a 12.4% drop in visitors. By the end of that year, tourism rebounded with a 12.6% total rise in visitors. But a similar recovery is not expected this year, Uchiyama said.


“We don’t expect that kind of bounce back again,” he said. “This is definitely a larger catastrophe.”

Last week, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, tourism arrivals dipped, but then recovered to forecasted levels over the weekend.

But this week, more cancellations, including some large corporate trips, began rolling in, prompting tourism officials to begin developing marketing campaigns to attract vacationers from other areas, Uchiyama said.

“The magnitude had not set in, but I think it’s starting to hit,” he said. “We anticipate that it will have a huge impact on Hawaii’s economy.”

Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction