The Hawaii Tourism Authority has hired T. Ilihia Gionson, a longtime public affairs and community engagement professional from Hawaii island, as public affairs officer.
Gionson, who begins work Monday, assumes a job that was created as part of an HTA reorganization in early June that emphasized destination management.
As part of the reorganization, HTA eliminated jobs for veteran hospitality executive Pattie Herman and longtime television anchor Marisa Yamane. Herman had served as HTA vice president of marketing and product development since December 2019. Yamane, who left KHON2 to join HTA in May 2019, was director of communications and public relations.
HTA said the Hawaiian-language speaking Gionson has more than two decades of experience in developing and executing strategies for federal, state and municipal government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations. He most recently was the founder and principal of Hiehie Communications, where he worked with hospitality, renewable energy, and sustainable development clients. From 2018 to 2o20, he was the field representative and Hawaii communications director for U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard. He also served from 2011 to 2016 as executive assistant and communications director for the late Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi.
“The visitor industry is a part of the fabric of Hawaii’s society, amplifying our potential to help heal the world with the values that have guided us for generations,” said Gionson. “The industry has grown in ways that call upon us today to rebalance, realign and reprioritize. My hope is to continue the important work already taking place at HTA to build trust between the industry, the community, and our elected leaders through clear and responsive communication. At the end of the day, we are all neighbors and ohana in this home we love.”
In his newly created HTA position, Gionson will be responsible for “anticipating, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting opinions, attitudes, and issues that may affect the organization and its mission, Malama Kuu Home (caring for my beloved home) through the principles of regenerative tourism.”
HTA said Gionson will “work with the HTA Board of Directors, executives, and staff to formulate communications and disseminate information to HTA stakeholders and the public about how the organization’s activities will enhance community well-being. In addition, he will be responsible for HTA’s government relations, media communications, issue management, corporate and social responsibility programs, information dissemination, and strategic communications.”
John De Fries, HTA president and CEO, said in a statement, “Ilihia brings a strong background in community building and government relations to our HTA leadership team and we are excited to have him join as we continue to execute on our strategic plan.”
“Effective communication and engagement is a key part of building greater collaboration between tourism and the community,” De Fries said. “His working knowledge of the unique tapestry of Hawaii, as well as the Hawaiian culture, has made him an effective strategist and communicator throughout his career.”