Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Hawaii Forest & Trail, one of the most popular activity providers on the Big Island of Hawaii, has expanded its business to include tours departing from Hilo, counting on what company officials believe is growing demand on the destination’s east coast.


“Hilo is definitely on the rise,” said Jason Cohn, Hawaii Forest & Trail’s marketing manager, who noted that the company has been interested in launching new tour product from the historical town for some time.

“There just wasn’t quite the demand before,” he said. “But more recently, we just saw a couple of factors coming together, like the Naniloa and Volcano House changing hands.”

The 383-room Hilo Naniloa Hotel, now managed by Aqua Hospitality, is undergoing a major renovation that will cost an estimated $20 million, while the Volcano House reopened within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park after a $3 million refurbishment in 2013.

Nonstop service from the U.S. mainland to Hilo by United Airlines has also helped the region’s tourism totals, and Cohn said the town is currently enjoying more cruise business than Kona.

“Some of the ships are not making two stops anymore, and they’ve cut the Kona port out,” he explained. “Hilo is a much easier port for them without having to tender and being able to pull up right there at the pier.”

Looking to capitalize on the town’s lush tropical surroundings along with its proximity to both Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (the Big Island’s largest visitor attraction) and nearly 14,000-foot Mauna Kea (Hawaii’s tallest volcano), Hawaii Forest & Trail has added three new tour offerings departing from Hilo.

Although each of the recently launched and commissionable products offers Big Island visitors new guided opportunities to explore the destination’s extraordinary natural diversity, Cohn said his company’s new Mauna Kea Voyage option provides travel agents another way to sell one of the destination’s most popular attractions.

“The summit has been such a hot destination for people when they get here,” he reported, noting that Big Island officials have capped the number of tour goers who can be escorted to the Mauna Kea summit. “And during the busy seasons, we turn so many people away from booking our Sunset and Stars tour,” which is a trip up to Mauna Kea’s summit at dusk followed by a nighttime star show.

Hawaii Forest & Trail’s new daytime Mauna Kea Voyage product not only gives agents added capacity at the attraction when the nighttime option is booked solid, but it may also be a good fit for return visitors who really enjoyed their first trip to the top of Hawaii or for those who are genuine astronomy buffs.

“It’s definitely a different way to experience the summit,” Cohn said. “But it’s also a more in-depth look at the astronomy complexes up there. Plus you’re seeing other daytime things you wouldn’t experience otherwise, like views of the Kohala Mountains before they’re covered in clouds.”

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