The Value Of Education Tourism

This week we have a mixed plate of noteworthy developments on the tourism front, each item contributing in its own way to the visitor industry: the first an anniversary of an island landmark and tourism icon, the second an initiative on the part of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, and the third the introduction of a program that plays to one of our unheralded strengths.

The Royal Hawaiian

Any history of old Hawaii, any sepia-toned photo of Waikiki Beach in the 1920s, any mention of tourism in the Islands today would have to include The Royal Hawaiian, which celebrated its 85th anniversary this year. I certainly have my share of chicken-skin memories of the Royal and its fabled Monarch Room.

The Royal Hawaiian, affectionately known as the “Pink Palace,” was constructed for the princely sum of $4 million at a time when our visitor industry was in its infancy. While improvements have been made over the years, owner Kyo-ya completed a major renovation in January 2009; the Royal Beach Tower was upgraded a year later.

Under the direction of general manager Kelly Hoen, who heads the Oahu chapter of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, the Royal continues to welcome visitors, both new and returning, with its distinctive oldHawaii charm and modern world-class hospitality and service.

Anyone familiar with the visitor industry and Hawaii landmarks would know that hotels have come and gone. But while the Waikiki skyline has undergone endless changes, one constant has been The Royal Hawaiian. That’s a remarkable achievement that points to its special place among visitors, the commitment of its owners, and the dedication and professionalism of its staff, past and present.

From Hawaii Island

While the Big Island hasn’t been the subject of past “Tourism Matters” columns, we’ll be hearing a lot more from that part of the state as the HLTA’s Hawaii Island chapter experiences a rebirth and steps up its activities. Given the vast expanse of that island, one of the chapter’s goals is bringing together the east and west sides under the HLTA’s umbrella to further strengthen the county’s top industry.

Under the leadership of chairman Chris Luedi, who is regional vice president and general manager of Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, and vice chairman Paul Horner, general manager of Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort, the group is busy at work on new initiatives and fulfilling HLTA goals.

That chapter will be using the model set by other county chapters, like the Kaua’i group under chairwoman Sandi Kato Klutke, general manager of Aston Islander on the Beach, and the Maui chapter, headed by executive director Carol Reimann and chairman Mike Jokovich, who’s the general manager of Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.

Sandi and the Kaua’i chapter have organized a number of major activities, and I know the Big Island colleagues will be inspired by their example.


I had the opportunity to participate in the dedication of the Gachon University language institute early this month. The school is located in South Korea’s Incheon, which I visited twice as mayor to solidify Honolulu’s sister city relationship with that municipality. Gachon, one of the top private universities in South Korea, is establishing this operation in Waikiki where it will help students learn English, enjoy cultural exchanges, and adjust at local schools, including the University of Hawaii. Called the Gachon Global Center, the school will have up to 500 students a year, following a familiar path used by students from Japan in past years.

We tend to overlook the contribution of educational tourism to our economy, but it does have an impact on our economy. The New York Times, quoting a statistic from the Institute of International Education, reported that foreign students in the United States contribute $21 billion to the national economy. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser added to that report by noting that the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific University, Brigham Young University-Hawaii and Chaminade University all have significant enrollments of foreign students.

Students we will welcome from Korea will make a similar contribution to our economy. And Gachon is making an important longterm investment in our community, as well as revitalizing some aging buildings in the heart of Waikiki.

Education and training attract people to the Hawaiian Islands, and we shouldn’t overlook their value to tourism and our economy.


Fran “Napua” Rita

Position: Rooms Control Agent
Location: Grand Hyatt Kaua’i

If you’ve every wondered how you were assigned your hotel room, it was probably done by someone like Fran Rita, the rooms control agent for Grand Hyatt Kaua’i.

Napua, as she’s known to the staff, has been with the Hyatt for 20 years and touches every reservation, assigning each room according to the guest’s request. Of course, the reality is often something quite different as guests have a different recollections of what was reserved, and Napua has to scramble to place them when the hotel is fully booked. Despite these challenges, this dedicated employee is always patient and accommodating, demonstrating the same care and concern for fellow workers as she does for guests. She is the front office’s chief problem-solver, and never hesitates to lend her kokua to the reservations, sales, catering and executive offices whenever called upon.

Napua Rita takes the success of Grand Hyatt Kaua’i personally, working nonstop throughout the day and often beyond to make certain guests and co-workers are happy.