Updated: September 30, 2022
The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority today announced the selection of John De Fries as its new President and CEO. He replaces Chris Tatum who retired from the post on Aug. 31, 2020. Keith Regan, (formerly of Maui) HTA’s chief administrative officer, has been serving as interim president and CEO.
HTA received more than 300 applications for the position. A committee of six HTA board members and three community members reviewed the qualifications of the applicants before narrowing the list down to a group of nine finalists. The full HTA board interviewed the final two candidates on Aug. 27 when the meeting went into executive session.
De Fries is the first Native Hawaiian appointed as HTA’s president and CEO.
“Hawaiʻi’s pathway to economic recovery and enhanced community well-being will require unprecedented levels of focus, collaboration, cooperation, coordination, and unified executive leadership throughout all sectors. I am grateful to have been chosen to lead the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority,” De Fries said.
Born and raised in Waikīkī, now living in Kona on Hawaiʻi Island, De Fries was raised by family elders. He has more than 40 years of professional experience in the tourism and resort development industries. His recent visitor industry experience includes serving as executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. He is also president and principal advisor for Native Sun Business Group, a business consulting and project management firm focused on Hawaiʻi’s hospitality and real estate development industries.
De Fries previously led the Department of Research and Development for the County of Hawaiʻi, a division responsible for stimulating economic growth in sectors including tourism, agriculture and renewable energy. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Hokulia, a luxury residential community on Hawaiʻi Island.
De Fries serves as an advisor and board member to many organizations in the community, including the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, the Astronaut Ellison Onizuka Memorial Committee, Bishop Museum, Hawaiʻi Green Growth, Friends of the Future, the Keahole Center for Sustainability, and Kualoa Ranch.
“Beset now by a global pandemic and economic collapse, Hawaiʻi faces a myriad of daunting challenges
– among them, the reopening of our tourism industry, at a time when immense and growing anxiety can be felt in our local communities. The radiance of hope, however, is found in the resilience and creativity of Hawaiʻi’s leaders in both the public and private sectors – the aunties, uncles, parents, kupuna, youth, coaches, teachers, ministers, health care workers and essential workers who are diligently searching for solutions, for their communities,” De Fries said.
In recent years, De Fries has been a part of rare gatherings in Hawaiʻi that highlight opportunities for leadership in sustainable living, human rights, and embracing native intelligence. He has engaged with His Holiness the Dalai Lama; members of the Rapid Evaluation Team from Google X; Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female prime minister of Norway; Hina Jilani, a renowned lawyer, pro-democracy campaigner, and a leading activist in Pakistan’s women’s movement; Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa; and New Zealand’s Sir Sidney Moko Mead, Ph.D., who created the country’s first department of Maori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
“All of us at HTA are looking forward to having John take the helm of Hawaiʻi’s visitor industry. I was pleased to see that he has already become involved with working on ways that we can safely reopen tourism while keeping COVID-19 under control,” said HTA board chair Rick Fried.