There’s trouble in paradise

Associated Press

HONOLULU — Two hula dancers, the ukulele player and the musician on the electric guitar performed the usual free show for tourists in the mall courtyard near Honolulu Harbor. But the entertainers outnumbered their audience of three.

Shops and restaurants were empty, and so was the Japan Travel Bureau lounge, normally packed with Japanese tourists waiting to check in at Waikiki hotels.

Tourist spots around the country are losing thousands of visitors and millions of dollars since the terrorist attacks, and the loss is most acute in places that depend heavily on air traffic — islands like Hawaii and Caribbean resorts.

"Hawaii faces its greatest economic crisis ever," Gov. Ben Cayetano said after a strategy session with top business, labor and government leaders. "We are facing a statewide problem that impacts everyone in this state.

"As the tourist industry goes, so will the rest of Hawaii’s economy."

Hawaii is particularly hard hit because the state depends almost entirely on air traffic — no regular passenger boats ply island routes — and one-fourth of the state economy is tied to tourism.

Two Hawaii-based airlines, Aloha and Hawaiian, are cutting flights between the islands because of the reduced number of visitors.

The number of people soaking up the sun on Waikiki Beach in front of the Moana Surfrider Hotel has dropped 80 percent, said Karl Gonda, assistant manager at the hotel’s Beachside Cafe.

"We won’t survive if this lasts a few months," he said.

At the giant Sun Atlantis hotel in Nassau, Bahamas, few guests walked through the lobby. The hotel was just 17 percent filled, and two of the resort’s three towers were closed, spokesman Ed Fields said.

On the beach, vendors outnumbered tourists. "It feels like a ghost town," said Marianna Jordan of Boston.

Carl Sonntag, director of sales and marketing at Cancun Online, a Web site that handles online reservations for the Mexican resort area, said many travelers are canceling their reservations, and hotel occupancy rates are way down.

In Las Vegas and New Orleans, conventions have been canceled and estimates of losses already approach $100 million — $61 million in Las Vegas and $37 million in New Orleans.

Tourism is the second-largest industry in Louisiana, employing 120,000 people, but New Orleans’ famed French Quarter is virtually empty. There are few customers at restaurants and other tourist attractions, and some longtime residents say it is the quietest they have ever seen it.

Florida tourism leaders said they, too, have seen decreases in hotel occupancy, airline flights and attractions attendance.

"Florida has never in modern history found itself in a situation like this," said Frank "Bud" Nocera, Visit Florida’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. "We have a new reality."

Florida is considering new marketing efforts such as advertisements directed at drivers to counter the drop in air travel. More than half of Florida’s visitors arrived by plane in 1999, according to Visit Florida.

Most believe the fear will lessen with time. Terry Trippler, a travel analyst with in Minneapolis, said the Caribbean could recover next year.

"I think it’s going to hurt for a while," Trippler said. "When we had the Gulf War, there was a threat in terrorism at that time and there was a drop-off in air travel for 30 or 45 days. Now it’s actually happened, and they can expect a drop in travel over the next three to five months."

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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