Back before statehood, jets, interisland travel, rental cars, condotels and 7 million tourists a year coming to Hawaii, a small group of people saw the potential of an island visitor industry.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Travel and Industry Management and its alumni association have joined with the trustees of the newly formed Hawaii Hospitality Hall of Fame to honor creators of what has become a multibillion-dollar industry in the state.
Twenty-five charter inductees, all deceased, will be recognized at the “Celebrate a Legacy in Tourism,” dinner hosted by the TIM School at the Hawaii Convention Center on Nov. 20. The names of the inductees — R. Alex Anderson, Edward Barnet, Bick Bickson, Walter D. Child Sr., W. Dudley Child Jr., Hung Wo Ching, Webley Edwards, Mark Egan, Lyle Guslander, Grace Buscher Guslander, Ed Hastings Chris Hemmeter, Richard Holtzman, Chinn Ho, Bob Holden, Duke Kahanamoku, Henry Kaiser, Roy and Estelle Kelley, Stanley Kennedy Sr., Bob MacGregor, Jimmy MacKenzie, William Mullahey, Pat Patterson and Mary K. Robinson — will be enshrined on a Wall of Fame, adjacent to the center’s fourth floor ballroom.
“They are all long gone, but they all sacrificed to build the industry as we know it today,” said Robert Herkes, chair of the Hawaii Hospitality Hall of Fame board, who reflected on lessons learns as he and his contemporaries gathered to plan next month’s event. Herkes, who originally had planned to become an architect, said that he went to school in California with W. Dudley Child Jr. to study hospitality at the urging of Walter D. Child Sr.
“I was working in the hospitality industry when we became a state. We all knew that things would change, and when the first jets came to Hawaii, we knew that we were getting much closer to the rest of the world,” Herkes said.
Back before the big international brands arrived, Hawaii’s visitor industry was managed by mom-and-pop companies such as the Child family, which ran Inter-Island Resorts, and the Kelley family who established Outrigger Hotels & Resorts. Later, Holtzman brought in Sheraton and Hastings brought in Hilton.
Modern amenities were rare in Hawaii’s early days. The housekeeping staff was afraid of the Kauai Surf’s elevator when it opened in 1960, Herkes said.
“Some of the maids would carry the linen up 10 floors rather than get on the elevator,” he said.
While times have changed, certain aspects of Hawaii’s visitor industry remain, said Dr. Richard Kelley, son of honorees Roy and Estelle Kelley and chairman of the chain that they built. Outrigger has gained international recognition, but the personal touch that Kelley’s parents established is still key to the business, he said.
Roy Kelley shunned a private office, instead choosing to set up his desk next to front desk at the Edgewater Hotel and later the Outrigger Reef, Kelley said.
“He’d greet the guests, check them in and even carry their bags to their room,” he said. “My mother also wrote a personal response to guests who requested reservations.”
Personal service and cooperation built Hawaii’s tourism industry and is still sorely needed today, said Peter Fithian, founder of Greeters of Hawaii, a lei greeting company that will mark 50 years next month.
“The industry in my opinion has become more impersonal,” said Fithian, who is a contemporary of many of the Hall of Fame honorees. “We need more face-to-face communication.”
Despite intense competition, Hawaii’s early leaders assisted each other, he said.
“Folks from hotels would have coffee once a week to talk about the industry. They called themselves the ‘Martini Club,’ but they served coffee because it was a morning meeting,” Fithian said. “They didn’t worry about rivalries even though they were intense — particularly among the Child and the Guslander families.”
When it came to early challenges, the pioneers of Hawaii’s visitor industry didn’t worry much about obstacles, either, Herkes said, adding that one morning he and Roy Kelley single-handedly renumbered the Edgewater Hotel’s rooms. People were confused by the sudden change, but that didn’t faze Roy Kelley, he said.
“(Kelley) said, ‘If you want to do something in this life just do it,'” Herkes said. “I’ve remembered that all my life.”
Once, when there wasn’t enough room in Waikiki, Henry J. Kaiser opened rooms at his oceanfront hospital to handle the 200 or so guest overflow, Fithian said.
Priscilla Texeira, president of Pacific Marketing Corporation, said she’s grateful for the go-for-it-attitude exhibited by many of Hawaii’s tourism visionaries.
“As we share our stories, hopefully the new generation will feel the passion and get some of vision of these pioneers,” Texeira said.