MW-COVER-032515

Walk With Us!

As Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association president and CEO, George D. Szigeti is committed to its tradition of working together for the common good

Community giving and being the voice of the hospitality industry have been part of Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association’s mission since its inception more than 60 years ago. That mission is something president/CEO George Szigeti, former president of Better Brands, plans to perpetuate.

mw-cover-032515

mw-cover-032515
Picture 1 of 6

Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association president and CEO George D. Szigeti, The Modern Honolulu GM Kelly Hoen and HLTA executive director Karen Wataru-Nakaoka are gearing up for the 2015 HLTA Visitor Industry Charity Walk | Nathalie Walker photo nwalker@midweek.com

He took over as HLTA head in 2012 and admits it’s been a steep learning curve.

“Who would have known,” he muses. “All I would do was sell Grey Goose and Jack Daniels, and now I get to represent the greatest industry in the state. It’s the driving force, it’s our economic engine.”

Over the years the organization has morphed into a new model that incorporates more than just traditional hotels.

“We’re also timeshares, we’re also condominiums, we’re also bed and breakfasts,” says Szigeti. “Whatever the visitor wants, we try to accommodate through our group. People really are committed to coming to Hawaii during good times or bad.”

It’s a common misnomer that the funds HLTA raises go out of state but, Szigeti says, nothing could be further from the truth.

“I don’t think people realize the community giving through not only our HLTA events, but just the hotels themselves and how much they give individually through donations,” he explains.

About four months ago, HLTA donated $100,000 to Institute for Human Services (IHS) to fund its Waikiki Homeless Outreach Program, and it has pledged another $100,000 for 2015. The organization also sponsors events like its Citizenship Awards, which benefit high school seniors in the form of scholarships.

The best example of HLTA’s community support, however, is its statewide Visitor Industry Charity Walk, which takes place on Oahu May 16, starting at McCoy Pavilion’s parking lot. It is the organization’s biggest annual event.

“It’s the largest one in terms of walkers,” says Kelly Hoen, who chaired last year’s walk, which drew 14,000 participants statewide and raised $1.88 million that went to 200 charities across the state. All of each island’s proceeds stay on that island.

For the past 37 years, the Charity Walk has raised significant monies for Hawaii organizations, to the tune of more than $27 million.

Maui is reigning champ in terms of funds raised each year, but in 2015 Oahu is hoping to make a comeback.

“Oahu vows that every year we’re going to try to bring it up,” says Hoen, general manager of The Modern Honolulu. “Maui just spanks us every year, but it’s a good thing.”

Last year, HLTA instituted the mayor’s challenge, which brought together the four Hawaii mayors to compete in raising the most funds.

“We had a very fair challenge,” notes Hoen. “It was a percentage increase.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi of Hawaii island won last year with an increase of more than 20 percent, but this year it’s really anyone’s game.

More changes are coming for this year’s race, as committee members have decided to shorten it from 6 to 4 miles — and it might not be for the reason you’re thinking.

“We noticed over the years that walkers would string out, and it didn’t create that end where everybody is together,” explains Hoen. “There was less camaraderie at the end of the walk.

“We feel strongly that this is going to bring everybody together at the end, where we then can celebrate our success.”

Those familiar with the walk will be happy to know that all checkpoints will still be in effect. For first-timers, each checkpoint on the trail throughout Waikiki represents a hotel or a company that typically produces a food element or giveaway.