By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Each time a cruise ship arrives at Hilo’s Pier 1, members of the group called Destination Hilo arrive to greet the passengers with a generous offering of aloha.
The private, non-profit tourist-promotion organization has provided entertainment, information and local-style hospitality to island visitors at the pier since 1986. But since March, renovations to the Pier 1 “shed,” which had housed the “Aloha Room” where volunteers danced the hula and helped visitors find their way around, have cramped their style.
Most of the Pier 1 shed’s roof is being removed and replaced, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter. Utilities are being upgraded and asbestos removed in a $5 million DOT renovation project.
Though called a “shed,” the building has 81,200 square feet of floor space. Sluyter said Beachside Roofing was awarded the project in August and is currently doing steel work to strengthen the roof and siding on about 60 percent of the structure. Sluyter said the project is on schedule to be completed in March 2013.
Destination Hilo, meanwhile, has found a way to continue greeting cruise ship arrivals in Hilo despite temporary limitations.
Previously cruise ship passengers entered the warehouse-like shed immediately upon leaving their ship to pass through security and link up with ground transportation and tour services. But since March, arriving passengers have gathered under covered walkways outside the shed where Destination Hilo now provides its services.
The group is still under the eaves but managing to continue its aloha greetings, said Dinnie Kysar, president of Destination Hilo.
“At first we didn’t know if the volunteers would be happy, Kysar said. “But we set up a table and four or five people dance hula,” she said. “It’s working very similar as in the past. There’s just not as much room and it can get crowded.”
The shed also provided ample space for multiple vendors to display their wares for visitors. “People liked the flower vendors, the jewelry vendors, they miss that,” Kysar said. Typical tourist comments about the Aloha Room include one written by a visitor from Los Angeles to the Tribune-Herald: “For independent travelers like ourselves, the Aloha Room is a wonderful idea, and we were so impressed by the helpfulness of the staff.”
Kysar is quick to praise the DOT Harbors Division and the County of Hawaii for their support of Destination Hilo, which is also supported by dozens of Hilo businesses and organizations.
Kysar said Doug Arnott of Arnott’s Lodge was instrumental in organizing the way passengers come off the ships and find their shuttle buses and tour vendors during the shed’s shutdown. “The (state Harbors Division) and the ships have done a terrific job of connecting with the small tours. It’s really organized well.” Arnott was unavailable for comment.
“Our job is to provide information and a smiling face,” Kysar said. (But) it’s a very busy place.”
And getting busier. Kysar said cruise ship arrivals are up 15 percent this year and expected to continue growing. “We’re looking at more than 300,000 passengers this fiscal year (July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013).”
The Aloha Room’s hula stage had to be taken out for the renovation project, so Kysar donated the lumber to Habitat for Humanity, which removed it with the help of a dozen brawny volunteer U.S. Marines. “We’re hoping to bring (Habitat) back to build a new stage,” Kysar said.
Destination Hilo volunteers greet every cruise ship regardless of when they arrive, and this year they will be arriving even on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
“And we’ll be there,” Kysar said.