Fiji Time: 11:52 PM on Tuesday 28 March

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'Welcome home'

Margaret Wise
Saturday, February 08, 2014

WITH 43 properties in seven countries around the Pacific, the Kelleys no doubt have a sharp mind for business.

But I know the exact moment I understood how this family-owned business became the cornerstone of Hawaii's tourism industry.

It was while 80-year-old Dr Richard Kelley was talking about staff turnover at the Outrigger Enterprises Group Inc.

In a few words he distinguished his company as a destination for the valued and talented.

"We have great stability in our staff," he shared.

"We have people that have been with us for 10, 20, 40 years.

"In fact there's one lady that started working with the company before I did and every time I introduce her, I say 'this is Mildred Courtney, she is the one person in the entire company that has an employee number less than mine.

"We have brothers and sisters working together, once we had five sisters."

In the Beginning

Born to Roy and Estelle Kelley, Dr Richard describes his parents as ordinary and poor.

But as history has shown, there was nothing ordinary in how architect Roy entered the hospitality industry.

He started off by renting out a room in the family home.

After World War II the couple found out that many of their friends wanted to visit Hawaii. They came up with the innovative idea to build economy hotels that would service middle-class Americans.

A frugal businessman, Roy cut costs in many areas to do with construction and passed on savings to customers who paid a fraction of the rates charged by other Waikiki hotels.

And so began the creation of one of Hawaii's biggest hotel company — Outrigger Enterprises Inc.

The Kelleys' Fiji connection

Outrigger Enterprises was part of the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji's ownership structure from the beginning, providing brand and management in 2000 following a partnership deal with former owner Geoffrey Shaw.

Dr Richard said he had a lot of confidence in what Mr Shaw had created — hence the recent outright purchase of Castaway and Outrigger Fiji.

"You have the most wonderful people," he said.

"When we arrived, they greeted us and said 'welcome home'. It really did feel like coming home — warm, sharing and a giving culture of people. That's what makes Fiji special.

"Geoff has created a wonderful operation, he has put his life, heart and soul into it and it's not something you can walk away from."

Mr Shaw will stay on as a consultant for five years.

"He is going to help us make sure that everything stays the same and has the same success going forward.

"I admire Geoff greatly for what he has done in both these properties, particularly, when you think about Castaway.

"After a cyclone literally destroyed the resort two years ago, he brought it back quickly, better than what it was before, with no employee laid off."

Continuing the Shaw tradition

The Kelley and Shaw family thinks the same. They both recognise their greatest asset are the very people that make the business work.

"The employees, we honour them and we support them," Dr Richard stressed.

"Castaway has the highest returnee rate in Fiji at 44 per cent. This is a testimony to both Mr Shaw's success and all the employees at the resort."

Son Dr Charles, who is chairman of the board, added the company had an open door policy.

"We work very hard at offering the best employment possible — in everything from the wages and benefits to making sure they are competitive," he said.

"It really is an open door policy meaning that anyone can walk into our offices at any time and ask a question."

Adding Fiji to a GLOBAL chain

Outrigger on the Lagoon rates very well when compared to the Kelleys' other properties. Its operations can only strengthen with all the resources the global chain can now bring to Fiji.

"Everywhere we go we look for destinations like the Outrigger on the Lagoon because we can target leisure travellers where families can come and enjoy a vacation," said Dr Charles.

"So it rates very well."

The Castaway name will remain because it is an established brand.

"Everywhere we go around the world, we want to showcase the local hospitality because that's why people travel. People travel to understand culture, they travel to meet employees and to talk to them personally.

"And we know that if we take good care of the employees, then they will take good care of the guests."

Future in good hands

With the groundwork laid out, the Kelleys are excited to be part of one of Fiji's most important industries.

They have already found favour with Malolo landowners with Tui Lawa Ratu Sevanaia Vatunitu Lalabalavu promising to continue the great relations he has had with previous owners.

"We know the value of tourism to us and to the future of our children," the chief said.

At a traditional ceremony of welcome at Solevu Village this week, Dr Charles also struck a chord and instant warming of hearts when he surprised all by speaking in a language understood and embedded in the beliefs of locals.

"We are honoured by this reception.

"It is meaningful beyond what most people understand.

"Both my father and I grew up in the Pacific, we appreciate what nature and God has provided us."

As murmurs of approval were heard, I knew this was also one of those moments.

Mr Shaw was indeed passing on the baton from one family to another.

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