Local Folks In The Executive Suite

Sandi Kato-Klutke, general manager of the Aston Islander on the Beach in Kapaa and a native-born gem of the Garden Island’s hospitality industry. Photo courtesy of HLTA.

Since the inception of “Tourism Matters,” we have featured our “heroes,” the men and women who form the backbone of our visitor industry. Their stellar work performance, contributions to the industry and community, and embodiment of the aloha spirit have enabled tourism to thrive as Hawaii’s top industry.

But there’s another group of heroes whose achievements are many but whose names may not be familiar to those outside the visitor industry. These are the individuals who are the leaders of our industry, the men and women who provide the management, ideas and commitment to excellence that enable Hawaii to succeed against ever-increasing competition from other destinations.

Many of our industry leaders are island born and raised. They have gained valuable experience in the visitor industry overseas and in Hawaii, and are applying it here at home.

Kauai’s own is Sandi Kato-Klutke, who has spent most of her hotel industry career on the Garden Island. A graduate of Kapaa High and Intermediate School and Kapiolani Community College, Sandi spent her early career years on the Mainland and in other jobs before becoming general manager for the Aston Kauai Beach Villas in Lihue.

Sandi worked briefly at the Kanaloa at Kona before returning to Kauai to head ResortQuest at Poipu Kai in Koloa. She’s been general manager of the Aston Islander on the Beach in Kapaa since 2008.

She heads the Kauai chapter of the HLTA. Thanks to Sandi’s leadership, Kauai honors its tourism employees through the annual Malama Awards program organized by that chapter.

Ernest Nishizaki has been a mainstay of the Kyo-ya Company for more than 30 years, where he is the executive vice president. An alumnus of Leilehua High School and the University of Hawaii’s School of Travel Industry Management, Ernie got his start as an ITT Sheraton management trainee in Waikiki following graduation.

His work would take him to company posts at hotels in Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco before he returned to Hawaii in 1977 as general manager of Sheraton Waiakea Village in Hilo. His peripatetic career then led him to Kaanapali, Makaha and three Kauai properties before he came back to Honolulu in 1993 to become the first local-born manager of the famed The Royal Hawaiian.

He has since held executive responsibilities within the Kyo-ya Company and served in many industry and community capacities. Among his many awards, Ernie was inducted into the TIM School’s Alumni Hall of Honor and received the 2011 American Hotel and Lodging Association’s State Leadership Award for his support for the travel industry.

Another local person with the Kyo-ya Company is Kelly Hoen, general manager of The Royal Hawaiian. Kelly graduated from La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls then attended Stephens College in Missouri.

Kelly held executive positions all over Hawaii the Westin Kauai and Kauai Hilton, the Hyatt Regency Kauai, Kapalua Bay, and Princeville Resort before taking the reins at the Royal. Like colleague Nishizaki, Kelly is active in the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, serving as head of the Oahu chapter, and in various business and community activities.

She recently oversaw a massive, $60-million renovation of the Royal, introducing new features for the famed “Pink Palace” on Waikiki Beach.

On Maui is Michael White, general manager of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel since 1985. Mike was born on Oahu and attended Punahou School. He is another distinguished graduate of the UH’s TIM school.

Mike began his travel industry career as a busboy at the Halekulani Hotel. He then held managerial positions with the Hawaiian Regent, Mauna Kea Beach and Mauna Lani Bay before joining Kaanapali Beach.

In addition to his hotel responsibilities, Mike has worn two hats: first as a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and presently as a member of the Maui County Council, where he has become a leading voice for tourism as chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Recreation.

These are just a few of the outstanding men and women from Hawaii who are leading our visitor industry. They stand as proud examples of the exceptional caliber of business leadership found right here in our Islands.


Kehaulani Ching

Position: Housekeeping Manager
Location: Aston Islander on the Beach

Housekeeping manager Kehau Ching may be the youngest supervisor on the housekeeping team at the Aston Islander on the Beach, but that fact belies the experience and dedication she brings to the job.

She manages both the resort and condominium operations at the Aston, directing 17 employees for 158 owners and their units. She works unassisted, responsible for ordering supplies and staying on budget. She is prompt in responding to guests’ concerns, and never hesitates to assist the front desk and other departments. During last year’s tsunami alert, she left her second job dancing hula for Smith’s Tropical Gardens to return to work and assist with the evacuation. She was one of the last employees to leave.

Kehau Ching organizes the Aston’s annual Easter egg hunt for the children of guests and employees. She is a very active leader for the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, directing all the fundraising events on the property and welcoming walkers and cleaning up on the day of the event.