20 for the Next 20: Kalani Ka‘anā‘anā, Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
As the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s chief brand officer, Ka‘anā‘anā oversees a sweeping strategic plan that supports natural resources, Hawaiian culture and community while enhancing Hawai‘i’s brand.
Chief Brand Officer, Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
Kalani Ka‘anā‘anā has helped steer HTA through one of its most tumultuous junctures.
“The pandemic pause inspired us to hit the drawing board again and really set a new foundation,” Ka‘anā‘anā says. “We sat together as a leadership team and said, ‘Where do we go from here? How do we respond to this crisis?’ ”
With community input, the HTA rolled out action plans designed to “mitigate the negative and amplify the positive,” such as reservation systems at parks and new partnerships aimed at funneling local students into well-paid management jobs in tourism.
Change had been building at the agency for years, says Ka‘anā‘anā. In 2016, shortly after he joined as director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs and Natural Resources, the focus shifted from marketing to destination management.
“Everything we were doing was about educating people about who we are and trying to dismantle some of the old tropes and kitschy tiki culture and the idea of Hawai‘i as just a place of sun, sand and surf.” Ka‘anā‘anā says he wants HTA’s changes to be transformative.
He was promoted to the newly created position of chief brand officer in July 2021 and charged with overseeing a sweeping strategic plan that supports natural resources, Hawaiian culture and community while enhancing Hawai‘i’s brand.
Ka‘anā‘anā brings many strengths to the task, not least his ability to “wade through chaos … and distill perspectives from multiple audiences and find common ground,” says Mahina Paishon-Duarte, CEO and co-founder of Waiwai Collective. She met Ka‘anā‘anā through their affiliated hālau, and they co-wrote the Aloha ‘Āina Economic Futures Declaration with 12 others. The document served as a counter vision to Gov. David Ige’s 2020 economic task force.
Born and raised in Kailua and a paddler since he was 8, Ka‘anā‘anā spent years in retail and customer service at Sunetric and other companies. He’s also handled outreach to Native Hawaiians for The Queen’s Health Systems and is a fluent ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i speaker, which he learned at UH Mānoa while majoring in both Hawaiian studies and language.
But tourism was an unexpected career detour that he has “fallen in love with.” He says his stint as a 2019 Omidyar fellow was a milestone in his personal growth and as a leader, and he’s optimistic the visitor industry can deliver economic benefits “without damaging us irreparably.”
“We believe in travel where there’s reciprocity and an exchange of ideas and learning. We’re trying to attract people who love this place as much as we do.”