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Hawaii launches tourism campaign

State aims to keep visitors coming after October’s temblor

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HONOLULU — Sewage spills, flooding and now an earthquake and aftershocks — what a challenging year it's been for Hawaii and its tourism officials.

The state launched a new marketing campaign aimed at keeping tourists coming following a 6.7-magnitude temblor that shook the state.

Tourism is Hawaii's No. 1 industry, bringing 7.5 million people to the islands and generating $12 billion annually. Visitors during the earthquake found themselves in the dark — frightened and inconvenienced like everyone else. Some travelers planning to arrive soon are wondering whether they should cancel their trips.

"I'm certain there are cancellations that will occur because of this," Gov. Linda Lingle said. But the experts "don't expect a long-term impact and I don't either."

Preliminary damage estimates from the earthquake hit $73 million and President Bush declared a major disaster, ordering federal aid to help state and local recovery efforts.

TV images and newspaper coverage of stranded tourists sleeping on airport floors, damaged houses and cracked roadways have made the tourist industry here cringe.

Tourism officials are countering with a new video of "good pictures of Hawaii," such as tourists in the surf and playing with dolphins, said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.

The quake, which caused no deaths or serious injuries, resulted in power outages across Hawaii. Tourists attractions, restaurants and stores closed. Many departing flights were grounded. Hotels were evacuated.

Gale Jones, of Memphis, Tenn., spent Sunday night and all day Monday at Honolulu International Airport with her four sisters and a brother because their flight was canceled following the quake.

They were in Hawaii, celebrating her 50th birthday.

"I ain't never going to forget this birthday," Jones said.

Their luau was canceled and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor was closed because of the blackout.

Other tourists said they enjoyed their trip to paradise, despite being rattled.

"I was very, very scared for my life. I wanted to run for the hills in case of a tsunami," said Australian Carrie Prior, 38, who was visiting the Big Island. "But the trip gets a 10 out of 10. It's been awesome."

The state's emphasized that all hotels are operational, roadways are clear and Hawaii is open for business. Lingle said it's important for tourists to realize that Hawaii is safe to visit.

"They're going to have a great time," Lingle said. "Even when a unique disaster occurs, like a once-in-25-years-earthquake, we're able to get up and running."

In the spring, 40 days of heavy rains pounded the islands, contributing to a dam break that killed seven people on Kauai. The rain also caused a major sewer line to rupture, closing Waikiki beaches, and heavy flooding throughout Oahu.

But Hawaii has not seen any falloff in visitor numbers from the events. Americans, especially from the West Coast, are coming to Hawaii in record numbers.

Wienert noted Hawaii withstood the earlier events and there were no long-lasting effects on the economy or industry.

"We're hoping the same thing will happen with this one," she said.

On the net:

Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau: www.gohawaii.com