MPI Aloha Chapter Member of the Month: Kathy Clarke

Categories: MPI Community,MPI News

We had the opportunity to chat with Kathy recently about her years with MPI. Kathy has been a member for 12 years and has been involved in and supported the chapter in countless ways over the years. We were truly blessed to hear about earlier days in Hawaii when Kathy started in the DMC business in Hawaii!

We hope you enjoy hearing about her life and work in Hawaii as much as we did  . . . .

MPI: What prompted you to join MPI?

KC: It was certainly Adele Tasaka. Adele has always been an unstoppable force and once she invited me to join MPI, there was really no other option for me. I just sailed off in her wake!

MPI:  How long have you been a member?

KC:  I joined MPI in 2001 and attended my first WEC in Las Vegas that year. I served on the board for one term in 2005-2006.

MPI: What do you hope to gain or have you gained from being a long time Aloha Chapter member?

KC: The best part of being an MPI Aloha Chapter member is the opportunity to network with all our industry professionals.

MPI: How long have you been in this industry, what led you to this profession?

KC:  I started my industry career in February 1977 on Maui. The day after I arrived in Lahaina, I was on the Viajero, headed for an all-day sail to Lanai with a good looking deck hand. My first job was slinging Mai Tai’s on a dinner cruise boat in the evening and working in the office of Vida Mia-Viajero Cruises during the day. That was my introduction to Maui tourism.  In August 1978 I opened an activity desk at the newly built Wharf Shops across from the banyan tree in Lahaina. There were only two activity desk on Front St in those days. Tom Barefoot and myself.

One sunshiny day, a man came up to my booth and asked if I could bring my brochures up to the Maui Surf and sell my tours to his continuing education group. Back then hotel concierges did not sell tours! So I put a brochure assortment and vouchers in my little straw bag, put on my most colorful muu muu and clutching my blue Bank of Hawaii zippered cash bag of change, I headed for the Maui Surf. Other hotels heard I would come, at no charge, and sell tours to their groups. I think I became “value added”! Then someone asked if I could “do airports”. Having no clue whatsoever, I said yes, of course, and that was the beginning of “earn while you learn”.

My first large group was 1200 people at the new Hyatt Maui. My client was also enrolled in the “earn while you learn” program so, in our total naivety, we put all the bags in luggage trucks and sent them off to the airport. They were sorted by airline, but there was no flight organization and no plan. Imagine; 1200 people, at least 2000 pieces of luggage plus tons of golf bags! There was really no place to put them so the drivers and porters piled the bags six feet high against the entire lava rock wall. (Does anyone remember when Maui airport had a tree growing in the middle of it and you could see the entire airport from any one spot?). I was at the hotel, loading buses, and I had no idea my resourceful airport staff was performing feats of wonder with those bags and departures. To this day, I have no idea how they accomplished it but you can bet I did hear about it later!

In those days there were no greeter permits, no airport taxes and no one ever asked for a copy of your insurance. Clients called me, told me what they wanted and I booked it. No contracts, no pre-payments, no service orders or deposits to vendors. Nothing. I call my vendors and booked tour space over the phone. The groups arrived, were transferred in, went on tours and had a great time. I sent invoices to my clients after they left and a check appeared shortly after, then I paid my vendors. Life was so simple! By the way in 1980, there were no cell phones or computers. Only big corporations had fax machines (very expensive & inefficient) and answering machines were still viewed with skepticism. We had pay phones, walkie-talkies, typewriters and postage stamps. We seldom advanced tours, we just threw them on the bus! The vendor pool was small and everyone knew everyone else on Maui. We all did what we promised and made up for any rough spots with abundant, sincere and gracious Aloha.

In 1980, I officially began operating as a Destination Management Company (we were called Ground Handlers at the time). The industry was not large and 8 or 12 groups a year was a lot. Maui led the island pack and soon the incentive travel industry became an economic driver although completely unrecognized by Hawaii economists. It was not until the sugar cane and pineapple plantations began to decline in the late 70’s and early 80’s that Hawaii government “noticed” tourism and began to recognize it as a major part of our economy. It was easy to “fly under the radar” in those days.

In 1988, I moved to Waimea on the Big Island and expanded my operation to actively include programs on all islands. Incentive tourism on the Kohala Coast was just beginning to develop with the Hyatt Waikoloa (now the Hilton) and Ritz Carlton (now the Fairmont) under construction and the Hapuna Prince and Four Seasons not too far behind. The island was very much like Maui in the early 80’s and I was active in developing and “training up” vendors and suppliers based on Maui’s model.

MPI:  Tell us about you…Hobbies, Interests…your company.

KC: I garden, sew and read veraciously. I like to give back to my community and assist with community fund raising events by donating expertise, my time, my children’s time, linens, chairs, props and décor whenever possible. I served for 5 years on the Paniolo Preservation Society Board of Directors in Waimea and chaired a three year project celebrating Hawaii’s Paniolo in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2008. I am currently Treasurer for the Lahaina Town Action Committee which sponsors events in Lahaina. I am writing my memoirs and a book on Destination Management and Hawaii Tourism. I have seven beautiful, normal, well-adjusted and employed adult children, none of which live at home (thank goodness). I have two grandchildren who call me “Queenie” because I will never be the usual “grandma”. I am grateful and humbled by the universe that has made it possible for me to live and work in the Hawaii I love so much.