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Virus impacting Hawaii economy through events, tourism

HONOLULU — A spate of cancelled events and falling visitor numbers from abroad indicate the economic impact Hawaii is experiencing due to the spread of the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19.

Major public events like the Honolulu Festival and the Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture have been cancelled or postponed, Hawaii Public Radio reported Wednesday.

The cancellations have come despite the absence of reported cases of the virus in the state.

Pop star Mariah Carey cancelled her March concert in Honolulu, citing global travel restrictions in the wake of the virus outbreak. The promoter confirmed Carey will return in November.

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism released its latest twice-weekly count of airline passengers, showing a nearly 23% drop in international arrivals compared to the same week in 2019.

The decline is similar for visitors from Japan, Hawaii’s most important foreign market for tourism and the third most significant source of both visitor arrivals and visitor spending.

So far, officials said, the decline has been limited to international travellers. Two-thirds of visitor spending in Hawaii comes from U.S. visitors and the U.S. Travel Association said domestic travel is still on a growth path.

The global spread of the virus began in Wuhan, China, and one of the first places in Hawaii to feel the effects of the global disruption was Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Chu Lan Shubert Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business & Community Association, said customer traffic to merchants in Chinatown is down 30% to 50%.

“We already had four or five big association events cancel. In some business, like restaurants, when we go, they’re empty,” Shubert Kwock said.

State Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English said lawmakers are looking for ways to minimize the potential economic disruption while also addressing health concerns.

“That’s a delicate balance: the economy versus people’s health," English said. “I choose people’s health.”

The Associated Press