Page 14 - MidWeek - May 31, 2023
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  14 MIDWEEK MAY 31, 2023
        S T O R Y B Y Karen Iwamoto P H O T O B Y Lawrence Tabudlo
From a new hotel-condo to buzzworthy dining experiences,
big things are on the horizon for Hawai‘i’s hotel scene — and Khospitality industry veteran Kelly Sanders is at the forefront.
elly Sanders is a fa- the community during unprec- es back to his teenage years, miliar face in the vis- edented times. when he was a busboy at a ho- itor industry. Before “I think we generated over tel restaurant on the mainland.
joining hotel management firm $200,000 for those different From there, he was promoted
Highgate as executive vice president of Hawai‘i properties in 2018, he spent 21 years at Starwood/Marriott, where he oversaw several of its resorts in the Aloha State.
organizations,” Sanders says. ‘Alohilani is also part of the Hawaiian Legacy Refor- estation Initiative at Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore. Un- der the initiative, which is part of HTA’s Mālama Hawai‘i pro- gram, guests contribute a $5 tree fee that goes toward plant- ing native trees on Hawai‘i Is- land and Gunstock Ranch on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Guests may also opt to tour Gunstock Ranch and plant a tree them- selves. ‘Alohilani has commit- ted to adding 100,000 native
to the front desk. Working the graveyard shift helped him pay for college and when he graduated, he got a job in hotel management.
It was his idea to bring large-scale sand sculptures to the lobby of the Sheraton Waikīkī. The “Sandsational” displays continue to be a hit among visitors and locals alike.
Then, he says, he and a cou- ple of friends decided to open a restaurant in California. They were successful enough to expand to Texas and were planning to open a location in Utah when, through a series of unfortunate events, they lost all of the restaurants.
“And had I not signed an ex- clusive back then I would have it in (Highgate) hotels today,” he says. “It is spectacular and a great signature piece.”
trees at the forest.
Service is something Sand-
Sanders describes that pe- riod as one of the toughest in his life.
In 2014, former Gov. David Ige appointed Sanders to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority board. He served two terms before stepping down in 2020.
ers prioritizes in his personal life, too. He’s on the board of Diamond Head Theatre, chaired the board of the Amer- ican Heart Association and works with Adult Friends for Youth, Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i and March of Dimes, among others.
“Losing that business and the challenges we experienced at the time redefined me as a person,” he says.
During the pandemic, he and his team launched the “Love Hawai‘i” staycation promotion at the ‘Alohilani Resort Waikīkī — Highgate’s flagship property in the islands. Kama‘aina got a discount on their stay and $10 from each booking went to nonprofits such as Aloha United Way, Make-A-Wish Hawai‘i and other organizations supporting
It also led him back to a suc- cessful career in hotels.
In 2021, he shared his com- ing out story in a video for the Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foun- dation to support and inspire the next generation.
That journey continues. These days, he and his team are focused on the future. From renovations and rebrandings to new builds and partnerships, there’s a lot ahead for Highgate in Hawai‘i.
Sanders’ connection to the hotel industry actually stretch-
“It’s been an incredible jour- ney,” he says.

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