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Hawaii Tourism chief axed

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) board voted unanimously to fire its current President and CEO George Szigeti. The board voted today to fire him without cause.

Szigeti’s last day as chief of the HTA will be October 31, 2018. The following day, he will be paid 6 months of pay as a lump sum as part of his severance package.

The CEO’s annual salary is $297,675 plus a protocol fund in the amount of $15,000 plus use of a car for state business. His current contract was scheduled to run through the year 2020.

HTA Chairman Rick Fried said the board’s vote reflects the decision “to go in a new direction.” He said: “One of the major reasons that we are doing this is the difficulty in the current political climate and the difficulty in keeping our budget through the Senate. There also was some concern from some of the stakeholders in the broader tourism industry, although some were fine with him, about his institutional knowledge of tourism.”

When Szigeti was asked about the board’s decision to let him go, he said the decision was “mutual.” He said: “I’ll be taking a deep breath. I haven’t been able to do that in three years. This team has really accomplished a lot; 2016 and 2017 were supposed to be flat to down. Instead we hit all the numbers. The challenge for the next CEO will be how to balance the numbers with managing the destination.”

In May, Gov. David Ige withdrew his nomination to extend HTA Chairman Fried’s term, which expires July 1. Fried said it is his understanding that he can remain on the board until someone else is selected to replace him.

HTA has been hit left and right lately, recently taking a $13 million legislative budget cut in May. Also, second- and third-ranked executives have resigned over the past few months.

The Tourism Authority has selected a new Chief Operating Officer to replace Randy Baldemor, but must wait for him to make the cut through the state’s vetting process. HTA is reviewing resumes for candidates to fill the position of former Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Dance.

An HTA administrative committee, which includes Fried as well as Craig Nakamura and Kelly Sanderswill meet tomorrow to discuss finding a new CEO and President.

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