Saying Goodbye

After a 40-year run, a Hilton legend moves on

By: Marty Wentzel

Peter Schall makes no bones about the fact that he didn’t want to move to Hawaii.

“I was general manager of the Pasadena Hilton in 1986, when the Hilton Hawaiian Village general manager position opened up,” said the German native. “I couldn’t see myself living on an island.”

But he decided to take the job because the 2,860-room Waikiki hotel was undergoing a $100 million architectural renewal.

“I decided I would stay in Hawaii perhaps three years, reposition the hotel to a world-class resort, and then move on,” he said. “I thought it would look good on my resume.”

Nearly 20 years later, Schall’s resume has Hawaii written all over it.

“After I moved here, I fell in love with the islands and culture,” Schall, who will retire in July, said.

At the same time, he established a reputation as one of Hawaii’s most influential tourism leaders.

“Peter was brought to Hawaii because of his attention to detail,” said Jeanne Datz-Rice, Hilton’s brand communications director. “He put the Hilton Hawaiian Village at the forefront of Hawaii’s hospitality world.”

Following the renovation in 1988, Schall and his Hilton team realized that bricks and mortar don’t make a Hawaiian Village.

“We kept hearing that visitors were bypassing Waikiki for a more Hawaiian experience on the neighbor islands,” Datz-Rice said. “The plan was to bring even more Hawaiiana to the village, and this meant a new kind of attitude for our team members.”

Schall enlisted the services of local cultural expert George Kanahele to guide his staff and help them establish many of the employee committees that still exist today.

Schall’s love affair with the islands is evident throughout the 22-acre resort. Ancient artifacts and designs grace buildings, walls, rugs and displays; menus showcase locally grown products. The weekly King’s Jubilee regales clients with island music, song and dance.

The renovation and reinvention of the Hilton Hawaiian sounded the charge for the revitalization of Waikiki as a whole, said Christine Kemmer, former head of the Waikiki Improvement Association.

“I came to Waikiki to restore a Hawaiian sense of place, and Peter has always been dedicated to that,” she said. “He’s been a real mentor.”

In 2001, under Schall’s leadership, the Hilton Hawaiian Village opened its 453-room, $95 million Kalia Tower, Waikiki’s first major resort development in more than 10 years.

“I give Peter a lot of credit for pushing for the building of Kalia Tower at a time when numbers to Waikiki didn’t look so great,” said David Carey, president of Out-

rigger Enterprises. “Hilton could have spent its money on other projects, but Peter believed in the future of Waikiki. In retrospect, it was a brilliant decision.”

Schall and Carey also served on many community boards over the years.

“Anytime Peter got the floor, he passionately articulated his feelings about Waikiki’s potential,” Carey said, “whether the discussion was about footpaths and sidewalks or the big picture.”

Schall’s tenure hasn’t all been a bed of bougainvillea. For instance, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks came two days before the grand opening festivities for the Kalia Tower.

“We decided to hold the events but change their focus,” Schall said. “A luncheon for 1,000 guests became our chance to recognize the police officers and firefighters in Honolulu and honor those who lost their lives in New York. We turned a huge evening gala into a tribute to war heroes, celebrating their commitment to this nation. Surprisingly, there were very few, if any, cancellations to the events.”

Keith Vieira, Starwood’s senior vice president and director of Hawaii operations, said he and Schall have weathered their share of adversity together.

“Whether it was an airline strike or a hurricane, Peter always focused on growing the pie,” Vieira said. “He saw things not as what’s good for Hilton, but what’s good for Hawaii.”

Vieira also applauded Schall’s unwavering dedication to the meetings business.

“He has been a strong voice for the group market in a destination that hasn’t always been huge with groups,” he said. “Peter has made a point to know all the meeting planners. The banquet business has thrived under his direction.”

Armed with a thick German accent and ready smile, Schall is also touted as a great communicator.

“He makes a point of practicing hospitality at every event,” Kemmer said. “He shakes hands, says hello, sets an example for employees and does community building. As a result, the community has always supported the Hilton.”

While establishing ties in the industry and beyond, Schall has remained ever-faithful to his own hotel guests.

“Peter has been extremely customer-oriented no matter what it takes,” said Tim Irwin, president of Pleasant Holidays. “It takes a lot to make each customer happy, and he’s always willing to go the extra mile.”

Schall has also remained ever-faithful to the hotel.

“Peter is truly amazing in terms of his commitment,” said Ron Letterman, Classic Custom Vacations’ chairman. “He’s always personally available when I come with a sales group. It’s hard to manage a hotel of that size, and to keep it impeccable, but he’s constantly walking around and making sure it meets his standards. No wonder he’s ready to retire.”

As Schall steps down from his post, he hopes the Hawaii hotel industry will stay focused on its unique assets.

“Hawaii must continue to foster the host culture,” he said. “It needs to work diligently and stay ahead of the competition, like Mexico and the Caribbean, and provide value to the visitor.”

Tourism officials will do well to heed Schall’s advice, Vieira said.

“Peter has been a competitor and, at the same time, a friend,” he said. “We’ll miss him as a lightning rod for opinions. We’ll miss him as someone who always rallies for the destination. He’s someone that others inside and outside the hotel industry should emulate as a true leader.”

Despite his departure from Hilton, Schall is continuing to serve on the board of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and other committees. But after a 48-year career in the hotel industry, the past 40 of which have been with Hilton, Schall is ready to switch gears in his personal life.

“I have always had the goal to retire when I was 62,” he said. “While I feel good, I want to spend more time with my family and do things I still have a chance to do.”

One thing will never change, however, and that’s his place of residence.

“Hawaii is my home now,” he said. “I never want to leave.”


On July 31, Peter Schall is retiring after a 40-year run with Hilton. Most recently he served as managing director of the 2,860-room Hilton Hawaiian Village and senior vice president of Hilton’s Hawaii region, which also includes the 313-room Doubletree Alana Waikiki Hotel and the 1,240-room Hilton Waikoloa Village.

Replacing Schall is Gary Seibert, a 32-year Hilton veteran who comes to Hawaii from Chicago, where he was Hilton’s Midwest region vice president and general manager of Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. n
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