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“But, really, this year our focus is to get the word out on connecting the dots between the funds that are raised and the charities that are receiving,” explains Hoen. “We are having a lot more involvement with the nonprofits that are potentially going to receive funds. And we’re putting together a formula on Oahu where a percentage of the funds that are raised from those nonprofits, they’ll actually get it back because they participated.”

As usual, a concert follows the walk, and this year’s emcee will be Gregg Hammer (HammerTime).


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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

“It’s a really vibrant event,” Szigeti adds. “It takes an army of people to put it together.”

He is quick to note that the Islands’ charity walks would-n’t be possible without the chairs leading the efforts: Jared Higashi (statewide Charity Walk coordinator), Ben Rafter (Oahu), Chris Luedi (Hawaii island), Marc Bennor (Kauai) and Declan McCarthy (Maui, Molokai and Lanai).

The Charity Walk and other community-giving projects are just one aspect of what HLTA aims to do. Another is working with policy makers. HLTA focuses heavily on government affairs in order to keep the cost to visitors down, ensuring a great experience for all who comes to Hawaii.

According to Szigeti, over the past couple of years, utility costs have gone up nearly 40 percent, as have labor costs.

But, really, this year our focus is to get the word out on connecting the dots between the funds that are raised and the charities that are receiving.
Kelly Hoen, General Manager, The Modern Honolulu

“Hotels have to absorb all that,” he explains. “So anything that raises the cost of doing business, as well as raise the cost to the visitor, is of concern to us.”

His goal is to provide the Legislature with good information, so it, in turn, can make good decisions.

“The Legislature, they’re really smart people, and all they want is information,” Szigeti says.

Beating one bad bill or winning one good one can save the industry millions of dollars. That’s why it makes sense for HLTA to build a partnership with policy makers.

Hoen feels that HLTA didn’t connect the dots as to what the impact (of passing/killing measures) would be, but adds that Szigeti is really good at creating that understanding with the Legislature.

“Some people think I’m crazy, but I really enjoy working with them down there, I really do,” Szigeti says. “I think that we have a good partnership, and I want them to know that we’re there for them, and want to do things together and work collaboratively.”

In the last year, HLTA also has had the privilege of welcoming to the organization a new committee: Women in Lodging & Tourism-Hawaii Chapter, which launched last summer with the goal of starting with 100 members.

“When we launched in August we had almost 200 members,” says HLTA executive director Karen Wataru-Nakaoka. Now the group stands 300 strong.

The goal of the committee, which is the state partner of the American Hotel & Lodging Association Women in Lodging program, is to help women develop personally and professionally.

“It’s an incredible networking platform for leadership,” adds Hoen, who has attended a number of Women in Lodging & Tourism events. “You’re just meeting extraordinary women in the industry who are wanting to grow in their careers.”

Through this form of networking, women are able to discuss some of the challenges that still exist within the industry.

“Surprisingly,” Hoen says, “but they’re there.”

Women in Lodging & Tourism has been a benefit for female HLTA members, and Wataru-Nakaoka has seen friendships, business partnerships and reconnections formed as a result of the networking and support opportunity.

“It’s really just been a fantastic opportunity for the women of the industry,” she adds.

There’s no doubt that a fascinating dynamic takes place within HLTA membership. Who knew that such a competitive industry could work together for a common good?

“They spend millions of dollars competing against each other,” Szigeti says, “but at the end of the day, when it comes to something important, whether it be giving back to the community or making sure visitors come or having a voice down at the Legislature, they come together.

“That’s refreshing. It does-n’t happen with a lot of organizations.”

And within that competitive industry, a lot of networking goes on.

“It opens up the door for possibilities that were never there before,” he says.

The organization has very diverse participants, but all members come together for the same goal.

“It’s to keep the hospitality industry healthy and to create a great experience for our visitors,” Wataru-Nakaoka notes.

It’s evident that HLTA works hard to promote Hawaii’s No. 1 industry, and it works just as hard to give back to organizations in the community. It does this through its charitable giving and community events that not only raise funds but also bring people together — like the Charity Walk.

To register for HLTA’s Charity Walk, visit charitywalkhawaii.org.