A true Hawaii tourism hero died earlier this month. His name was Richard Wassman Kimi. He did not do a specific heroic thing, but what he did lastingly affected Hawaii tourism.
Back in the mid-1950s, Kimi, who lived in Hilo on the Big Island, noticed that the tourists who came to the island arrived on large ships or airplanes. That meant they had money and could afford fine accommodations. But the then-29-year-old noticed that there were very few affordable places to stay for local residents and neighbor-island residents who wanted to visit Hilo for a day or two.
In 1956, even though friends and experts told him he was crazy, Kimi built the 30-room Hotel Hukilau in Hilo. It was a small hotel, one of the first along Banyan Drive, which now is lined with East Hawaii’s largest hotels such as the Naniloa and Hilo Hawaiian.
The Hotel Hukilau was consistently packed, mostly with people who lived in the islands. Soon, budget-conscious visitors discovered that the rooms were nicely-furnished and clean, and that the service at the hotel was excellent. Realizing that his concept was working, Kimi went on to build the Hukilau and Seaside hotels in Kona (on the other side of the Big Island), on Maui, and on Kaua’i, and he would also purchase the old Waikiki Biltmore Hotel, now the site of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.
Kimi never wanted to build large hotels. His objective was to serve local residents and budget-minded visitors. He was one of the first to put together air, room and car packages for residents, and he was a leader in taking reservations via fax machines and toll-free numbers.
He also enjoyed teaching and sharing his sales, marketing and business knowledge. One of his students was Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” books, who based his original “rich dad” on Kimi,.
Kimi, the visionary who pioneered the reasonably-priced “family” accommodations still available in Hawaii, died on December 19th in Honolulu. He was 83.