- Associated Press - Friday, June 29, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) - The Hawaii Tourism Authority board fired the agency’s president and CEO George Szigeti.

The board decided “to go in a new direction,” authority Chairman Rick Fried 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,” Fried said. “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.”

The agency’s board agreed to pay Szigeti six months of pay after he leaves the job on Oct. 31.

The severance payment was outlined in Szigeti’s contract, which was to run through 2020. His annual salary is nearly $300,000.

The decision was “mutual,” Szigeti told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“I’ll be taking a deep breath. I haven’t been able to do that in three years,” Szigeti said. “This team has really accomplished a lot; 2016 and 2017 were supposed to be flat to down. Instead we hit all the numbers.”

Visitors to the state increased by 7 percent to 804,135 people last month compared with the prior May, according to numbers released Thursday by the agency. Spending increased by 11 percent to $1.4 billion.

“The challenge for the next CEO will be how to balance the numbers with managing the destination,” Szigeti said.

The state Legislature cut $13 million from the authority’s budget last month. Other authority executives have resigned in recent months, and Gov. David Ige withdrew his nomination to reappoint Fried to the role.

The authority’s administrative committee intends to start talks this week on finding a new agency leader, Fried said. They plan to form a selection committee that will include board members and stakeholders.

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