Hawaii Tourism Authority escapes “Draconian” budget cuts; new leadership appointed

HONOLULU, Hawaii – On the heels of the latest in a long series of “scathing” state audits of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), HTA Board Chair Rick Fried, a prominent Honolulu attorney, submitted his resignation after Governor David Ige withdrew Fried’s nomination to continue as board chairman of HTA. HTA is the state agency responsible for Hawaii’s tourism marketing. Fried became chair in 2015.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Fried’s “exit is another shakeup for HTA, which took a $13 million legislative budget cut Tuesday,” and over the last several months has dealt with the resignations of its second and third top executives. “At least” 11 HTA staff members in key positions, have left since 2015. This is considered “a high turnover rate” because HTA only has 20 full-time employees and 10 contract workers.

“The Senate did support new HTA board nominees Ben Rafter, David Arakawa, Micah Alameda and the return of Kyoko Kimura, who previously served on the board. They also voted for existing HTA board members George Kam and Fred Atkins.” This new board will elect a new chair and that election is expected to be closely watched. One name is rumored.

Recently appointed HTA board member Kelly Sanders recently left Marriott Hotels and Resorts and is now the vice president of Hawaii operations for Highgate, a New York-based real estate investment and hospitality management company. Sanders reportedly manages Highgate’s six Hawaii properties, including the rebranded Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach. Sanders is highly respected for his management and leadership skills.

Sanders was previously Marriott’s area general manager of five major properties in Hawaii including the Sheraton Waikiki, The legendary Royal Hawaiian Hotel, A Luxury Collection Resort, The Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and the Sheraton Maui. Previously, for over 21 years Sanders was the managing director for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Waikiki and was with the Starwood/Marriott brand.

It’s not know if Sanders could or would accept the unpaid position. Also, the election of a new HTA chair is a very complicated matter with many written caveats in the qualification formula now in place dealing with Neighbor Island, Hawaiian, and industry representation. Even with his proven track record of management successes, Sanders may not qualify under the stringent HTA board Chair guidelines.

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