Steve Bagwell and his family rose well before dawn on Friday morning to catch a tour van and head up Mauna Kea, a volcano on Hawaii Island. Mauna Kea is not that volcano, the one that’s erupting and wreaking havoc on parts of Hawai`i Island. The tallest of Hawaii’s volcanic mountains, Mauna Kea hasn’t erupted for 4,500 years—since about 2,482 B.C. “Driving up, we ran into the marine layer but once you get up above that, it was clear. The star gazing was great,” Bagwell, visiting from Oklahoma. “Then, it was a great sunrise with high clouds and low clouds and the sun coming between them.”
It’s the kind of story Hawaii tourism authorities are hoping to hear more of after devastating volcanic eruptions on the southeast side of the island at Kīlauea stalled Hawaii’s tourism business, the state’s number one economic driver, right as the busy summer season was expected to kick into gear. And it’s an industry the island critically needs. Hawaii reported record totals across numerous categories in the visitor industry in 2017. This year was on pace to top those numbers. Total visitor arrivals for the first quarter across the state notched up 9.4 percent to total 2,478,604 visitors. Now, Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau says the island’s wholesalers and hotel partners are reporting a slow-down of bookings—apparently due to fears of catastrophic volcanic destruction.