Destinations

Hawaii Tourism Authority confirms new president and CEO

John De Fries has accepted the offer to become the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s new president and CEO.

The HTA’s board of directors unanimously agreed during a board meeting late last month to make an offer to De Fries, who will commence his new role on 16 September.

HTA received more than 300 applications for the position, with Honolulu-based executive search and staffing firm Bishop & Company assisting with the recruitment process.

A committee of six HTA board members and three community members reviewed the qualifications of the applicants before narrowing the list down to a group of nine finalists for interviews.

The full HTA board interviewed the final two candidates on 27 August before making an offer to De Fries.

Born and raised in Waikiki, and now living in Kona on Hawaii Island, De Fries was raised by family elders steeped in Hawaiian culture.

He has more than 40 years of professional experience in the tourism and resort development industries.

His recent visitor industry experience includes serving as executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.

De Fries is also president and principal advisor for Native Sun Business Group, a business consulting and project management firm focused on Hawaii’s hospitality and real estate development industries.

He previously led the Department of Research and Development for the County of Hawaii, a division responsible for stimulating economic growth in sectors including tourism, agriculture and renewable energy.

Prior to that, De Fries served as president and CEO of Hokulia, a luxury residential community on Hawaii Island.

De Fries is the first Native Hawaiian appointed as HTA’s president and CEO, and replaces Chris Tatum, who retired on 31 August. HTA’s chief administrative officer, Keith Regan, has been serving as interim president and CEO.

HTA chair Rick Fried said: “All of us at HTA are looking forward to having John take the helm of Hawaii’s visitor industry.

“I was pleased to see that he has already become involved with working on ways that we can safely reopen tourism while keeping COVID-19 under control.”

Commenting on his appointment, De Fries said: “Hawaii’s pathway to economic recovery and enhanced community wellbeing will require unprecedented levels of focus, collaboration, cooperation, coordination, and unified executive leadership throughout all sectors.

“I am grateful to have been chosen to lead the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Beset now by a global pandemic and economic collapse, Hawaii faces a myriad of daunting challenges – among them, the reopening of our tourism industry, at a time when immense and growing anxiety can be felt in our local communities.

“The radiance of hope, however, is found in the resilience and creativity of Hawaii’s leaders in both the public and private sectors – the aunties, uncles, parents, kupuna, youth, coaches, teachers, ministers, health care workers and essential workers who are diligently searching for solutions, for their communities.”

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