John De Fries is the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s new 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 steeped in Hawaiian culture. 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 Hawai‘i’s hospitality and real estate development industries.
De Fries previously led the Department of Research and Development for the County of Hawai‘i, 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 Hōkūli‘a, a luxury residential community on Hawai‘i 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 Keāhole 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, kūpuna, 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 Māori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
De Fries is the first Native Hawaiian appointed as HTA’s president and CEO.