The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority plans to reallocate $2.5 million to market the Big Island to Mainland and Japan visitors following a sharp dropoff in tourists in the wake of last year's Kīlauea volcano eruption.
The three-month event ended on Aug. 6, but Hawaiʻi County has yet to fully recover economically. Concerns about the lava flow and air quality has kept many visitors away.
Visitor arrivals fell by 10.7 percent to 285,628 and visitor spending declined by 10.3 percent to $445.8 million in the first two months of this year compared to the same period last year.
The declines appear to be affecting employment on the island.
Unemployment claims for the Big Island jumped by 58 percent for the week ending March 30 compared to the same period last year, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism reported Thursday. Initial weekly claims rose to 337 from 213 a year ago.
"With this new marketing campaign, our goals are to help reverse this continuing decline and emphasize to travelers the positive message about the abundance and diversity of attractions, activities, and sites to see and enjoy on the beautiful island of Hawaiʻi," said Chris Tatum, HTA president and CEO, in a news release.
The money will go toward U.S. and Japan marketing, promotion, travel trade professionals and public relations efforts, including a bus tour with stops in West Coast cities to promote the Big Island.
Lawmakers also approved $60 million in emergency relief for areas in Puna affected by the eruption, funding that is pending the governor's signature.
"But money for infrastructure alone will not fix the damaged economy," said state Rep. Richard Onishi, chair of the House tourism committee who represents Hilo, Keaʻau, Kurtistown and Volcano. He said he was "gratified to learn that the HTA is stepping up to the plate" to help revive the island's economy.