John De Fries will step down as president and CEO of Hawaii Tourism Authority effective September 15. De Fries did not accept an invitation from the board to extend his three-year employment contract.
He became president and CEO in September 2020 amid the pandemic. He was the first native Hawaiian to lead the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Once in the position, he tried to put a greater emphasis on destination management in response to community dissatisfaction with tourism’s impact on the environment and resident quality of life.
The island’s tourism agency had missteps in its attempts to change course. It had a messy procurement process to award the multi-million contract to market the island to the mainland U.S.
Under De Fries’ time, the legislature stripped away the agency’s autonomy. Lawmakers removed its transient accommodation source and its state procurement exemption.
Hawaii’s lawmakers almost dissolved the agency in a recent legislative session. The agency came out of the session without a state budget and now has to submit funding requests to the governor, who will vet them with lawmakers.
De Fries was invited to extend his contract in the March board meeting. After the recent legislative session, he told the board on May 9 he would not extend his extension.