The Kelley Girl
Bitsy Kelley, member of the first family in Hawaii’s hotel business, has worked in every department at Outrigger, and then some
To say that Bitsy Kelley knows the hotel business would be a bit of an understatement. Kelley, whose grandfather, Roy Kelley, founded Outrigger Hotels & Resorts more than 50 years ago, has really lived the hotel business. After school, during weekends, summers and Christmas breaks, the young Kelley could be found in or around one of the chain’s hotels. She’s sold coconuts in the lobby, folded towels for 25 cents an hour in the basement, cleaned rooms, worked the switchboard, wired lights in the garage and even repaired the air conditioning.
“There was no mercy,” says Kelley. “Being a family member didn’t help you one bit. For a while, I didn’t have any idea that other people’s lives weren’t like ours. You go to school, then you help out at the hotels.”
Once Kelley finished high school, she left the family fold and started a career in the restaurant business, working at such island institutions as Compadres, Yum Yum Tree and Buzz’s Steak House. In the meantime, she got married, had a child and continued her education at Chaminade University, where she earned her bachelor’s in business and later an M.B.A.
After eight years, Kelley learned that it was very difficult to make money in the restaurant business. So when her father asked if she would consider returning to the family business, Kelley didn’t hesitate. And just as she did as a youngster, Kelley helped out where the family needed her, this time in management. She eventually worked in every one of the hotel chain’s departments before serving as assistant to President and Chief Executive Officer David Carey. In late 1999, Kelley was put in charge of establishing Outrigger’s Ohana brand for its moderately priced accommodation in Hawaii and Guam.
“Outrigger has been around for a long time and as the company grew, we found that we had a real mixed bag,” says Kelley. “Some of our properties are on the beach, some are off the beach, some are resorts and some are budget hotels.”
This wide range of offerings (46 properties with a total of 12,000 rooms) led to confusion among Outrigger’s customers and many travel agents. According to Kelley, some customers heard about a great ocean-view room that their friend enjoyed and would unknowingly book a room at one of Outrigger’s budget hotels expecting the same.
“To clarify this type of confusion, we split the brand in two—Outrigger and Ohana,” says Kelley. “We took Outrigger up a level and made them four-star, full-service resorts on the beach. Our Ohana properties (17 in all) are three-star resorts primarily off the beach.”
The distinction between the brands also extends beyond price point and location. According to Kelley, the Ohana hotels are marketed with a lighter, fun attitude. The thinking being that the money the guest saves on the cost of the hotel room can be spent on shopping and activities.
The re-branding first centered on the chain’s Waikiki properties but has since been extended to its hotels on the Big Island and Maui as well as two properties on Guam.
Kelley says that it hasn’t been easy to re-brand a product that is more than a half-century old but, focus groups have been showing that consumers are catching on. And customer satisfaction has been up. The campaign has been so successful that Outrigger plans on extending the Ohana brand to its other Pacific properties.
Kelley doesn’t foresee returning to her towel-folding duties any time soon, but she says that her oldest daughter, now in college, has already had a slew of hotel jobs like her cousins and aunts and uncles before her. “No matter how big we are, we are still a family business,” says Kelley. “At how many hotel chains can you actually walk into one of the hotels and talk with the owner? Working in a family business is very different, but there is something to be said for that.”
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