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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 8, 2006

Sun shines on outdoor companies

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Bike Hawaii guide points out Diamond Head to a group on Round Top. During the recent rainy spell, the company's bike tours and hikes remained popular but its snorkeling activities had to be canceled when the Ala Wai sewage spill contaminated beaches.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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After dealing with weeks of heavy rains, Hawai'i's outdoor activity companies welcomed this week's sunnier weather and are looking forward to the summer to help make up lost business.

Paradise Cove had to cancel its lu'au 10 times in February and March, controller Norman Kaneshige said. Cancellations typically total about eight for an entire year.

"The past six weeks have been terrible," he said. Paradise Cove's roughly 100 hourly service employees also took home less money during that time because a canceled lu'au meant no work for them.

But things are looking up now that the rain has cleared.

"The weather has been very good to us this week," Kaneshige said. "We're very happy with that. ... Right now all of our employees are happy. And I think the numbers are back to what it should be."

Hawaiian Escapades had to shut down some hiking and snorkeling tours the last several weeks because of weather conditions and sewage spills. The company, whose tours are on the North Shore and Windward O'ahu, consequently had to reduce hours for its guides, said Dave Palomares, vice president of marketing.

But now that the weather has improved, phones are ringing again.

"Just this week we've already noticed a jump in bookings, so that's a good thing," Palomares said. "We've been at capacity these past couple of days. People are catching up on their activities that they lost out on, although we haven't been taking them in the water yet, for obvious reasons.

"We have survived and we're hoping to make up for it this summer."

Bob Hampton, president of Waikiki Beach Activities, Ltd., estimated his revenue dropped about 35 percent last month. He temporarily reduced his staff of 30 during the rainy period.

"Although I gotta say there's been a fantastic rebound," Hampton said. "The guests are happy as clams right now. They can't wait to get back in the water, and they love our sunshine. I'm hoping that this is the end of winter. ... We're really looking forward to a great summer."

But even though the last few days have been sunny and warning signs have been removed along Waikiki beaches, Hampton said he's concerned about the perception future visitors might have of Hawai'i when they hear stories about the rain and the sewage spills. There's also the tragic story of a 34-year-old mortgage broker who died Thursday night following a battle with flesh-eating bacteria after landing in the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.

"That kind of bad news lumped on top of the other two stories can get out of hand," Hampton said.

Bike Hawaii saw just a slight dip in business, mostly because it had canceled snorkeling activities when the sewage spill in the Ala Wai contaminated beaches, said owner John Alford. But many people still wanted to go hiking, and the company's biking tours remained at full capacity.

Kayak Kauai has tightened its budget and is operating on a "skeleton crew" because of a slowdown in business the past several weeks, said owner Micco Godinez. The lane closures following the tragic Kaloko Reservoir dam failure last month also affected business.

"I'm sorry I don't have a book business like Borders where people can sit down and drink espresso and read a book," he said. "Yeah, it's affected us big-time. ... I'm glad we have a line of credit.

"I'm encouraged now because we're getting some beautiful weather. We're doing tours and it's more like what we should be getting, but my gut (reaction) is people may still have this perception of the island being kind of soggy."

X-Treme Parasail closed down a couple of days late last month because of the rain, manager Nathaniel Hasegawa said.

"We do water sports, so having the sun out is pretty much key for our business," Hasegawa said. "A lot of people called to reschedule and ... then come to find out it's still raining and they'd have to reschedule again."

While some visitors didn't care that it was raining, others wound up going home without parasailing or jetskiing because the bad weather didn't let up, he said.

"But the past couple of days have been very beautiful. Summer's coming around the corner, so we should be fine," he said.

Aloha Beach Services in front of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider shut down 11 days last month because of the rain and the sewage spill in the Ala Wai Canal, said owner Didi Robello. He said he closed down soon after the spill days before warning signs were posted on beaches and didn't fully reopen and offer surfing lessons until yesterday.

At least the sewage spill happened while business was down from the rain and not during the busy summer season, Robello said.

"If that sewer broke in the middle of August we'd be in big trouble," he said.

Robello tells visitors: "Do the beach activities first. They can do the shopping and stuff at night because you never know with the weather. ... The weather might be nice today and real bad tomorrow. Don't wait until your last day to do all this stuff. Do the beach first."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.