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Think of people who have helped shape the face of Hawaii tourism over the decades and one name always surfaces: Dr. Richard R. Kelley, board chairman emeritus of Outrigger Enterprises Group.
So it comes as no surprise that Kelley, 77, recently was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for his influence on Hawaii’s visitor industry.
Presented at the 2011 Business Leadership Hawaii event sponsored by Pacific Business News, the award honored Kelley’s many contributions not only to tourism but to the overall economic health of the Aloha State.
The Kelley name is synonymous with Hawaii hospitality. Kelley’s parents, Roy and Estelle, started building and running hotels in Waikiki in 1947, and they dubbed their chain Outrigger Hotels and Resorts in the early 1960s.
Kelley began his professional career as a practicing physician, but eventually he switched gears and joined his parents’ business, becoming the company’s president and chief executive officer in 1971.
Kelley served as Outrigger’s president until 1988, chief executive officer until 1993 and chairman of the board until August 2011, when he passed the reigns to his son Charles “Chuck” Kelley.
“I’m honored — and humbled — to take on the responsibilities of chairman,” said Chuck Kelley. “My dad is a tough act to follow, and I’m glad he’s planning to remain actively engaged for a long time to come.”
Even though Richard Kelley is no longer Outrigger’s board chairman, he clearly has no interest in scaling back his participation in the tourism industry.
He serves on the executive committee of the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council, and he has contributed insightful articles to business and trade publications. Members of the media frequently ask him to provide an expert’s perspective on the visitor industry, and he speaks regularly in local, national and international forums.
Over the years, Kelley has made his mark on island tourism in many ways, from serving as chairman of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to his participation on the Governor’s Economic Revitalization Task Force. He played a key role in bringing about the creation of the Hawaii Convention Center, which opened in 1998.
“Dr. Kelley has earned a legendary reputation in our company, in our community and in our industry,” said David Carey, Outrigger’s current president and chief executive officer. “I’m reassured to know he has no plans to slow down anytime soon. It’s impossible to overstate the value of the experience, wisdom and clarity of thought he brings to the leadership of our company.”
Hank Koppelman, a former Outrigger executive and now a consultant with the Southeast Tourism Society, said he was thrilled to see Kelley receive the award.
"RIchard has always been promoting Hawaii and travel in general," said Koppelman. "And he was able to take a mom-and-pop operation and turn it into a modern professionally-managed hotel company, without losing the basic philosophy of customer service and continuing to focus on employee recognition." Kelley is often associated with the message, “In Hawaii, tourism is everybody’s business,” a phrase that he coined and one that he hopes to pass down through the generations.
“I believe this message needs to be continually relearned and re-absorbed,” Kelley said. “Young people need to hear it for the first time. And those who make policy and those who influence public opinion need to really understand the fundamental truth behind it, deep down in their bones.”