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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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
Keith Vieira, Starwood’s senior vice president and director of
Hawaii operations, said he and Schall have weathered their share of
“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
“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
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
“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
“Hawaii is my home now,” he said. “I never want to leave.”