Tourism Employees Are All Heroes

Brian Hunnings and Nancy Gorospe with the author

Lawton Sugihara of the Aston Islander on the Beach … Timmy Tin and Connie Villa of the Kauai Marriott … Hattie Obrero and Sterlin Bandmann of the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas … Hector Rubio and Ashley Sugahara, Saint Regis Princeville … Helene Kahaenaele-Akiona, Outrigger Lae Nani and Waipouli Beach … Vilma Landagora, Outrigger Waipouli … Janine Pagador, Lawai Beach Resort … Malaika El Saieh-Rowe, Grand Hyatt Kauai … Kyle Cremer, Marriott Waiohai Beach Club.

If these names sound familiar to you, it’s because we’ve featured them as “Tourism Heroes” in the pages of MidWeek Kaua’i. Maybe they’re members of your family. Maybe they’re your neighbors or former high school classmates. Or maybe they’ve greeted or helped you when you visited their workplaces.

These are the men and women who are the lifeblood of Hawaii’s economic engine, tourism. They are the heart and soul of the visitor industry, the people who make our hotels and lodgings hum, who serve and help guests, and who enable us to compete year after year against destinations across the globe.

For the past 21 years, the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, through its Na Poe Paahana (“the hard-working people”) awards program, has honored those individuals who’ve demonstrated the exceptional service, professionalism and aloha spirit that distinguish our industry.

Member organizations from throughout the Hawaiian Islands nominate employees in eight categories: (a) bell/valet person; (b) engineer/maintenance person; (c) food and beverage person; (d) front office person; (e) housekeeper; (f) manager; (g) security officer; and (h) outstanding lodging employee.

Nominations closed at the end of September and the Na Poe Paahana winners will be recognized at a gala awards luncheon on Jan. 13 at the Sheraton Waikiki.

In addition, for the past 14 years, the Kaua’i Chapter of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association has sponsored the Malama Awards to honor those individuals who’ve demonstrated exceptional work performance.Member organizations recognize employees in a number of categories:

(a) administrator/accountant; (b) bell person; (c) concierge; (d) engineering/maintenance; (e) food and beverage; (f) front office/reservations; (g) housekeeper; (h) security officer; (i) supervisor/manager; (j) outstanding lodging employee; (k) allied outstanding employee; and (l) allied outstanding manager.

Honorees are feted at a Garden Island luncheon.

The first-place winners in the Na Poe Paahana outstanding lodging employee and top manager are submitted for consideration for the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Stars of Industry program. Just so you know how exceptional Hawaii’s employees are, consider that Nancy Gorospe and Brian Hunnings, fountain dispenser and manager at the Moana Surfrider-A Westin Resort & Spa, respectively, were the nation’s top employees in the AHLA’s large property (301 rooms or more) category. This was the third consecutive year Hawaii produced the top employee; the 2010 recipient was Leticia Gamiao of the Aqua Waikiki Wave and the 2009 honoree was Buster Civerolo of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

We can have the best of everything: a beautiful tropical setting and hotels with the plushest of furnishings and every modern convenience. But all of this would be for naught if not for the thousands of dedicated workers who provide the service and share the aloha that bring visitors to our shores time and time again.

And that’s why we salute the best of the best each year and provide well-deserved recognition here in MidWeek.

If you were asked to name the leaders of Hawaii’s visitor industry, to identify the hoteliers who had the courage and vision to take the risks and make the investments in our future, whom would you choose?

Dr. Richard R. Kelley, without a doubt, comes to mind.

Known to friends and associates affectionately as “Doc” Kelley, he took over a family-owned hotel business founded by his parents, Roy and Estelle. The local-born Kelley was a graduate of Punahou School, Stanford University and Harvard Medical School, had established a medical practice and was teaching at the University of Hawaii. But he eventually found himself immersed in the hotel business, to the point that he joined the company full time in the early 1970s.

He excelled as a hotelier, strengthening the Outrigger holdings in Waikiki. And in collaboration with his son-in-law, David Carey, this local company moved into new Neighbor Island markets and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, all the while competing against the major international hotel chains. Carey, who succeeded Kelley as head of Outrigger, has built on that record through the continued growth of the company and new projects like Waikiki Beach Walk.

Outrigger has three properties on Kaua’i.

Despite his achievements, Kelley was not content to mind his own Outrigger business. He recognized that Hawaii’s visitor industry needed to compete, to evolve, to change, if it was to continue to contribute to the state’s economy.

He was a tireless marketer and promoter of Hawaii in new markets. Kelley was one of the earliest proponents of a convention center, staying the course over many years despite public opposition.

He coined the phrase, “Tourism Is Everybody’s Business,” capturing in those four words the impact and importance of the visitor industry to the state’s economic well-being. He pushed for more public support for destination marketing, led an effort by the World Travel & Tourism Council to study the impact of tourism on Hawaii’s economy, and continues to promote tourism and Hawaii in his role with that organization, to name just a handful of his innumerable accomplishments, which span not only tourism but in civic affairs as well.

Hawaii’s business community recently honored Kelley with a well-deserved lifetime achievement award, adding to a lengthy list of honors he has received over the years. Kudos in past years have come from the Sales and Marketing Executives International, American Marketing Association’s Hawaii Chapter, and University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management, to name just a few.

Others in the visitor industry recognized by the business community at the same time included Mike McCartney, president and CEO of Hawaii Tourism Authority, for his leadership; Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa, led by managing director Jerry Gibson, for its business model; Westin Maui Resort & Spa, headed by Gregg Lundberg, for its community service; and Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, headed by Jerry Westenhaver, also for its community service.

As we prepare to welcome the world’s leaders for the APEC summit in November, much of what we have today, our infrastructure, our people, and our ability to accept such a major challenge, can be attributed to people like the Kelley ohana, who helped create and build our modern visitor industry.