Hawaii Tourism Authority today offered its top job to John De Fries, who upon acceptance would become the organization’s first Native Hawaiian chief.
The HTA Board unanimously voted to offer De Fries the job of president and CEO during its Zoom meeting. De Fries hasn’t accepted the offer yet, so HTA was not immediately able to provide the Star-Advertiser with a copy of his contract.
De Fries, who was born and raised in Waikiki, has worked in tourism since the 1970s. His background includes tour company operations, hotel sales and marketing, television sports marketing, resort operations, hotel-resort construction and development of master-planned residential communities with resort-class amenities.
He’s currently president and principal adviser of Native Sun Business Group Inc., a business consulting and project management firm with a focus on Hawaii’s hospitality and real estate development industries.
He’s also been executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA). He’s led the Department of Research and Development for Hawaii County. He’s also served as president and CEO of Hokulia, a luxury residential community on Hawaii Island. De Fries serves on numerous boards, including Kualoa Ranch, Bishop Museum and the Keahole Center for Sustainability.
De Fries first made his desire for the job known in June when he turned down a proposed role as senior special assistant in the Office of Governor that would focus on identifying a Native Hawaiian reconciliation process; as well as Maunakea and TMT matters.
De Fries replaces HTA President and CEO Chris Tatum, who joined HTA in December 2018 and is retiring on Aug. 31 to “spend more time with family. “
HTA Chairman Rick Fried said De Fries was selected from a field of 324 candidates.
“The board felt John would do an excellent job as HTA’s new president and CEO having generational roots in Hawaii and given his vision for the future, which is so needed in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fried said.
The change in HTA leadership comes at a pivotal time for the agency, which is facing overwhelming pressure from a significant drop in travel demand from COVID-19 fears and lockdowns.