Hawaii tourism

Hawaii Tourism Authority hires chef John De Fries amid budget cuts and tourism slump

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has hired its first Native Hawaiian president and CEO.

Tourism industry veteran John De Fries is expected to start on Wednesday. Under the terms of his contract, he will be paid roughly the same rate as his predecessor, Chris Tatum, who left the agency on August 31 to “spend more time with his family.”

De Fries’ three-year contract, which ends Sept. 15, 2023, matches Tatum’s base annual salary of $270,000 in the first year, with an automatic 5% increase for each subsequent year of the contract. Like Tatum, De Fries will not be allowed to join state retirement and pension systems. However, he will enjoy the same vacation, vacation, and time off as other state employees classified as “Excluded Exempt.”

He will also have access to a protocol fund, currently set at $15,000 per year, separate from his base salary and intended to cover disbursements “that are reasonably and necessarily incurred in the performance of his duties.”

De Fries’ contract does not include a $20,000 annual incentive payment that Tatum received to compensate him for his exit from private service to public service.

The HTA board agreed to the terms of Tatum’s contract and De Fries’ contract at a very different economic time for the state and for the agency. When Tatum joined HTA in December 2018, the visitor industry’s biggest problem was dealing with the surge in arrivals, which reached a record 10.4 million visitors in 2019. This period of strong growth has resulted in negative resident sentiment and pressure on infrastructure, culture and natural resources.

Under Tatum, the agency has made progress in transitioning from a primarily marketing agency to a primarily destination management agency.

Tourism today faces intense challenges amid the collapse of the visitor industry that followed COVID-19 fears and tourism lockdowns.

The state stopped HTA’s transitional lodging tax funding in April with no indication of when it would return. In July, 22,562 visitors traveled to Hawaii by air, compared to 995,210 visitors in the month of the previous year, a decrease of 97.7%.

HTA’s fiscal year 2020 budget was $86.7 million, but the agency has cut its budget for fiscal year 2021 to $48.6 million. It plans to reduce its brand budget to approximately $28.5 million from $51.5 million in fiscal 2020.

De Fries, who was born and raised in Waikiki, lives in Kona. He has worked in tourism since the 1970s. His experience includes tour operator operations, hotel sales and marketing, television sports marketing, resort operations, hotel resort construction, and the development of planned residential communities with amenities. resort class.

“Hawaii’s path to economic recovery and improved community well-being will require unprecedented levels of focus, collaboration, cooperation, coordination and unified executive leadership across all sectors,” said De Fries. in a statement Wednesday.

He said Hawaii faces a myriad of challenges, including the “reopening of our tourism industry at a time when immense and growing anxiety can be felt in our local communities.”

“The sparkle of hope, however, is found in the resilience and creativity of Hawaii’s leaders in the public and private sectors – aunts, uncles, parents, kupuna, youth, coaches, teachers, ministers, healthcare workers and essential workers who are diligently seeking solutions for their communities,” he said.

De Fries is currently President and Senior Advisor of Native Sun Business Group Inc., a business consulting and project management firm focused on the hospitality and real estate development sectors in Hawaii.

He also served as executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association and headed the Hawaii County Research and Development Department. His career includes stints as President and CEO of Hokuli’a, a luxury residential community on the island of Hawaii.

De Fries sits on numerous boards, including Kualoa Ranch, Bishop Museum, and the Keahole Center for Sustainability.

HTA President Rick Fried said De Fries was selected from 324 applicants.

“We at HTA are all excited to see John take the lead in Hawaii’s tourism industry. I was pleased to see that he has already committed to working on ways to reopen tourism safely while keeping COVID-19 under control,” Fried said in a statement.