Riders on the ferry between Lahaina and Kaunakakai plunged 25 percent in April. Gift shop proprietor Maria Watanabe has had to lay off two of her five employees and says there’s been slower tourist traffic at her Kaluakoi and Kaunakakai stores.
One major factor in the slowdown is the ranch’s closure of the island’s only 18-hole golf course.
Darrel Borling, the resident manager of Ke Nani Kai condominium resort in Kaluakoi, says some visitors cut short their visit because there wasn’t a golf course.
‘‘They just picked up and left,’’ Borling said.
Borling said the true impact of the ranch closure will become known next winter, the tourism peak season. But he suspects it will be significant.
‘‘Now that the golf course is not here, they’re not going to want to come here,’’ he said.
Molokai Ranch, the island’s biggest employer, announced in March that it would shut down most of its operations at the end of the month and lay off more than 120 staff over the next 60 days.
The company, which is owned by a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., blamed the move on community opposition to its plan to develop multimillion-dollar beachfront estates at Laau Point on Molokai.
The company has already closed, or plans to close, Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Tri-Plex theater and its cattle-rearing business.
Molokai, including the 60,000-acre ranch, has struggled economically since the isle’s pineapple plantations shut down in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Kaluakoi Resort in west Molokai was built in partnership with the ranch to develop tourism as an alternative industry.
But tourism-related businesses on Molokai have struggled to find a place in the competitive Hawaii market.
The number of hotel rooms has decreased on Molokai since the 1980s.
Some specialty businesses seem to be doing well despite the ranch closure.
Molokai Mule Ride manager Roy Horner said his tour business to Kalaupapa has increased as a result of the rising popularity of the late Father Damien, who appears to be close to being named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Molokai-based Coffees of Hawaii’s revenues have increased due to growing demand. The company’s Internet sales have tripled in the last year, said operations manager Maria Holmes.
The Kaluakoi Resort, now closed, was intended to boost tourism on Molokai after pineapple planting ended
The Maui News file photo