The Travel Detective

A Look Inside Family Run Hotels in Hawaii

In Hawaii, you can find a number of seaside hotels that have been owned by the same family for decades. Several of them were founded by Hawaiian native Richard Kimi, who built his first thirty-room hotel in Hilo in 1956. Today, it’s still operated by the same family, along with additional locations in Maui and Kona. The Christensen family has owned the inn at Mama’s Fish House in Maui since the 1970s. In Waikiki, there’s the Royal Grove, which has been in the Fong family for two generations.

Then, there is also Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts in both Maui and Kona, which is owned and operated by the Hogans—a family that has a deep-rooted history in Hawaiian tourism. Ed and Lynn Hogan founded Pleasant Travel Services, which later became Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays in 1959. For nearly 40 years, they packaged trips to the islands until they sold the tour operation in 1998. But they kept the hotels.

Gary Hogan, the son of Ed and Lynn and CEO of Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts, explains his family business and what makes it so different, “A lot of the new hotels are coming in and they’re real fancy with big waterfalls and big pools and we just try to keep it simple. Kind of old Hawaii. So we market differently. We’re competing now with all the other hoteliers, which are all our friends. But it’s a different strategy for us.”

Unlike many other resorts, Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts doesn’t have the resort fee. “We have a sundry shop that we redid a couple of years ago and I sat down and said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to charge more money for water, beer, or wine than Costco does.’ Because, honestly, I see people coming in with crates of drinks and my poor bellmen have to take these things up to the rooms,” says Hogan. He wants to let his guests know that they already paid a good rate and will also add value with the food and stuff they buy in the sundry shop. Therefore, they don’t have to go to Costco to buy these things. He wants his resort to be fair and believes this is what’s going to bring his guests back.

In a world of developers and chains Hawaiian Hotels and Resorts managed to remain a family-owned and family-run hotel. In fact, some current employees have their kids and grandkids working for the resort. “So it’s pretty special. And we’re very proud of it. And again, we do a lot with associates and employees to make them feel important…make them feel like family,” reveals Hogan.

Such management strategy is obviously working. The hotels have a strong employee retention rate with workers like Darin Kaleleomoeaiu, who has been with the company for more than three decades and now works in the maintenance department. He says, “I feel very special working here actually, to be part of this team. I love it every day to wake up and just to be able to work here. It’s about the family, it’s about our goals of reaching a better place for all of us. I like that a lot.”

“Through the years, I’ve actually known families who keep emailing each other and I watch their families grow and stuff like that. Watch their kids grow. And then we’ve known each other on a first name basis. Every year when we see them it’s like family. It’s not like guests anymore. I like to share that island, Ohana feeling, with families that come in from the mainland. You know, to share that with them I think is real special,” explains Kaleleomoeaiu.

Then there are the employees, for whom working at the company runs in the family. Kayli Towler’s mom has worked here for nearly thirty years and now Kayli works here as the Wedding and Special Events Assistant Manager. “Ohana, or family, is a really big deal in Hawaii and working with owners, you know, that come to visit you on a regular basis and know you by name is a special thing. They’re really welcomed. Everybody knows their name because it’s a family run business. Everybody tends to stay longer. Everyone’s happier. And the guests really see that because employees demonstrate that family spirit as well. It’s really neat to be part of such a family knit organization” Kayli Towler shares.

That Ohana spirit seems to be working for everyone. Hogan agrees. “You know, we’re a family company and we treat our employees like family. I know everybody says that, but you know, I’m here all the time. I live here in Hawaii. I’ve been here thirty years. I love being with people. I love building a good team. You know, we have fun.”

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By the Peter Greenberg Worldwide team for