Hawaii volcano eruption is scaring away tourists but local businessman says it shouldn't

Key Points
  • Gary Marrow, co-owner of Kapohokine Adventures, says 95 percent of Hawaii's Big Island is "completely safe and open for business."
  • "You do not need to alter, change or cancel your reservations for any reason. Nothing has really changed," he says.
  • His business is down about 30 percent since the eruption started.
Hawaii adventure tour operator on volcano-related cancellations

The eruption of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island will certainly hurt the island's economy – but it doesn't necessarily have to, one local business owner told CNBC on Wednesday.

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a popular tourist destination, has been shut down since the volcano began spewing lava and toxic gases earlier this month.

Gary Marrow, co-owner of Kapohokine Adventures, said the volcano has been erupting since 1983 and that's why many tourists come to the island — "to view this spectacular event."

A young resident keeps an eye on lava from a Kilauea volcano fissure erupting and flowing near her home on Hawaii's Big Island on May 19, 2018 in Kapoho, Hawaii.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

What's happening is that the lava flow has moved to a different area, which is affecting a small community, he said.

He said 95 percent of the island is "completely safe and open for business."

"You do not need to alter, change or cancel your reservations for any reason. Nothing has really changed," he said in a "Closing Bell" interview.

However, that's what many are doing.

In fact, Marrow disputes Hawaii Gov. David Ige's claim that visitor arrivals "are still strong" for the rest of the island.

"We've had a huge amount of cancellations from guests coming on the island," Marrow said, noting that his business is down about 30 percent.

Fortunately for Marrow, the adventure company does other tours on the island besides just the volcano. Others are not so lucky. For instance, EchoGuides saw its business ground to a halt when the conditions made it too dangerous to visit lava areas.

"We have a family to support so we hope that the national park will reopen again soon, otherwise this could have a serious impact on our life," owner Erik Storm recently told Reuters.

Meanwhile, summer bookings for hotels on the Big Island have fallen almost 50 percent since the eruptions started on May 3, according to tourism authorities.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park estimates it has lost about $6 million in visitor spending since the park closed.

There were also new warnings being issued this week from geologists. Lava is exploding as it enters the ocean and shooting rock fragments that are dangerous to boaters. Inland, there are methane explosions from molten rock and toxic gas is reaching some of the highest levels seen in recent times.

There are also frequent ash emissions, resulting in giant ash clouds, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

However, there was good news for Marrow and other businesses on the island. Norwegian Cruise Line announced it was resuming service next Wednesday to one port on the Big Island — Kona.

It will return to Hilo, which is closer to the volcano, as soon as conditions allow.

"Our top priority continues to be the safety and security of our guests and crew. We will continue to assess the situation carefully and will make changes to our planned itineraries if conditions warrant," the cruise line said in a statement.

— Reuters contributed to this report.