The Hawaiian Way

November 6, 2014 | By Allison Schaefers

Locally owned Outrigger Enterprises Group is rooted in the values of old Hawai‘i—its values-based process, Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a, shapes the way the company treats its employees and guests.

Walk into any large hotel chain in Hawai‘i and elements of the brand greet you.

Westin is known for health and wellness, Sheraton has the sweet sleeper bed, Hyatt typically offers upscale sophistication, and Hilton has the lion’s share of the group business market. All of these brands are well represented in Hawai‘i, where they have played an integral role in building the modern-day visitor plant. However, only one major hotelier, Outrigger Enterprises Group, can honestly say it is a locally owned company rooted in the values of old Hawai‘i.

Over the years, the family company, which began in the 1940s when Roy Kelley and his wife, Estelle, began renting a back bedroom to military folks, has morphed into one of the largest privately held hoteliers in the Pacific. Currently, Outrigger operates and/or has under development 44 properties with approximately 11,000 rooms located in Hawai‘i; Australia; Guam; Fiji; Thailand; Mauritius, Vietnam; and Hainan Island, China. However, the formulation of The Outrigger Way, or Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a in Hawaiian, a values-based process, has ensured that no matter how far that the company travels, its compass keeps it centered.

“We learned early on to treat our properties like how we treated our home,” says Bitsy Kelley, the founders’ granddaughter, who currently serves as Outrigger Enterprises Group’s vice president of corporate communications. “We grew up with a really open-door policy; our house was where everyone came. Every Sunday, my dad would crank up the grill, and everyone would go surfing and there would be people all over the place. That’s really translated over the decades into how we run our business and how we are with all of our employees. We are a very ‘ohana-style company. That has never changed.”

Kelley credits Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, for ensuring that global expansion enhanced rather than diluted the company’s core values. Since it’s inception, the Outrigger Way has touched more than 20,000 employees worldwide, she said.

“Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a helped us redefine and reaffirm the essential nature of our business; we are in the hospitality business, we are all hosts, and everything we do is directly or indirectly related to our being hospitable—welcoming everyone with warmth and generosity,” says Kaipo Ho, manager of cultural experiences for Outrigger Enterprises.

Ho said that ho‘okipa (hospitality), which recognizes the interactive bond between a host, a guest and the place visited, makes up one part of the foundation for Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a. The concept of kina‘ole (without flaw) provides the remaining base, he says.

“We do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason with right feeling, the first time,” he says. “That is our guide for achieving the highest standards.”

As a result, all Outrigger employees are hosts regardless of their position, Ho says. And, every member of the team also is expected to take care of each other and the place where they work.

“We feel if you have a happy employee then you’ll have a happy guest,” Kelley says. “We also believe strongly in honoring the culture and carrying on the traditions of our community. That’s why as part of our 20th anniversary celebration surrounding Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a we’re having all of our properties explore their stories.”

Over the years, Ho says Outrigger has learned that some of its properties and workers have “huge stories to tell.” For instance, the process revealed that the location of the Outrigger’s Ohana East sits on what was once the home of former Hawai‘i Governor Archibald Cleghorn and his wife Princess Miriam Likelike, who were the parents of the beloved Hawaiian Princess Ka‘iulani.

Ho says it was a chicken-skin moment, when Maile Okuma, an Outrigger employee who works at the Ohana East, discovered that one of her relatives was a caretaker within the Ainahau estate.

“The process gave our Ohana East employees an opportunity to take pride in their Hawaiian sense of place. Before you knew it, our happy employees were excitedly talking story with guests,” Kelley says. “We could hear them say, ‘Did you know that Princess Ka‘iulani used to live here and her peacocks were around.’ When you have a local person telling a great, unscripted story, that’s a wonderful experience for our guests.”

That kind of personalized experience plays out throughout the many cultures that Outrigger has touched, Ho says. Every time the chain opens a new property, its leaders are asked examine the company’s core values through their own cultural prism, he says.

“Here in Hawai‘i, we celebrate ‘ohana, or family, that extension of open arms everywhere,” Ho says. “Family is important in other cultures, too. But it might mean something different in Thailand or Fiji, and we like to understand what our corporate values look like in the context of their values.”

Kelley says the introduction of the Outrigger Way to Guam helped fuel resurgence in the culture of the Chamorro people.

“When we went into Guam, people said the Chamorro culture was dead. We looked for their art and music, and the enthusiasm spread like wildfire,” she says. “It turns out that caring is a universal concept.”

Kelley credits such Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a moments for keeping Outrigger at the top of its game in guest satisfaction. In the global Market Metrix survey, Outrigger recently scored a 97.8 percent for having a “can-do attitude,” she says.

“You don’t get that with a spreadsheet,” she says. “It comes with Ke ‘Ano Wa‘a. Going back to our roots has allowed us to move forward. Our employees are all part of our family, so they want to make guests happy and help the company to succeed.”

It’s good to know that as sun, sand and surf destinations proliferate throughout the world at least one local company has committed to preserving the culture that makes Hawai‘i hospitality unique and different. Mahalo, Outrigger, may you spread your deliberately authentic brand of aloha for many more years.

A three-time national award winning reporter, Allison Schaefers serves as the Waikiki Bureau Chief for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Based in Waikiki, she covers Hawai‘i tourism and Waikiki issues. Contact her at