Hawaii’s visitors relied on residents and workers to inform them of the alert.
So how did hotels handle the situation and will the mistake impact tourism?
“I saw a lot of people panicking. They had their suitcases ready to run with their suitcases,” George Ziden from Australia said.
“People were crying and everything and this guy yelled out let’s pray for five minutes and they all – it calmed everybody down,” the Wolken Family from California said.
It was a moment no visitor wanted to experience in paradise.
Officials in the tourism industry tell us hotels have emergency plans in place but Saturday’s false alarm was different.
“The way the info was initially transmitted, some folks got it some folks didn’t. It came from a cell phone so it was very difficult to get a sense of is this for real,” Mufi Hannemann of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association said.
“This is new for a lot of us so it’s kind of a world we live in right now,” said George Szigeti of Hawaii Tourism Authority.
When we talked to visitors, there were mixed reactions on how hotels handled the situation.
“Our hotel manager handled it very well,” the Wolken Family said.
“The information on where to go wasn’t real clear anywhere,” Toby Taylor of Oregon said.
Hannemann says best practice is to stay in and stay tuned.
“Many of them had cause of getting them inside make sure they were at the most secure part of the building. Some of them went into the basement, others went into ballrooms so we did what we had to do,” Hannemann said.
“My understanding – and they have video – they went through intercom, they had their TV channels, and they were very proactive getting the messages out to visitors in the hotels,” Szigeti said.
We’re told by a couple of hotel guests that some of the messages were translated in Japanese.
But industry leaders agree everyone can do better, and discussions are already on the table when it comes time to being more prepared for a ballistic missile threat.
“You going to see all the key leaders and decision makers come together have a serious dialogue of what our strengthens and weaknesses were,” Szigeti said.
Hannemann’s association plans on sending out a survey to industry leaders to gather more information and make better recommendations in the future.
“We also have a tourism public safety workshop conference coming up at the end of February,” Hannemann said. “Now we are going add this component and engage the emergency management personnel so we can be better informed.”
Experts say it’s too soon to tell if the false alarm has negatively affected tourism. But a lot of visitors we spoke to tell us they will be coming back to Hawaii despite what happened.