New HVCB chief
is good fit - execs

Tourism leaders say Vericella knows
the isle business and the bureau

By Russ Lynch

Hawaii's slumping tourist industry faces serious challenges but Tony Vericella, who takes over Oct. 15 as president of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, is the right man to deal with them, tourism executives say.

Vericella, 44, who will get a salary of $200,000 and an opportunity to boost that to $300,000 if he exceeds goals set by the HVCB board of directors, was chosen by a majority vote of the board yesterday.

Some votes went to another candidate, former Pomare Ltd. President Tom Ocasek, but the board will unite behind Vericella, said Roy Tokujo, board chairman.

Tokujo said Vericella came to Hawaii in the early 1980s when tourism was booming and has seen it hit tougher times so he knows what's required. He said Vericella is already familiar with the HVCB, having served two consecutive terms as its board chairman starting in 1995.

"Tony understands, I think, where the bureau is. He understands the history of the bureau and he understands the history of tourism," said Tokujo, chief executive of Cove Marketing Inc.

"I think he has a lot of experience in the travel industry," said Don Takaki, chairman of Island Movers Inc., who has been filling in as a volunteer acting president of HVCB.

Vericella, a former airline executive who currently is Honolulu-based Asia/Pacific vice president and general manager of Budget Rent A Car Systems, will be able to improve the HVCB's position in the community and upgrade its services, Takaki said.

Richard Kelley, chairman of Outrigger Enterprises Inc., said Vericella's first big challenge will be to regroup the HVCB and get it on a solid footing after a period of uncertainty over its leadership.

"The bureau has taken a number of hits in the prolonged hiatus," Kelley said. It has been without a president since Paul Casey quit in March, after less than two years in the job, to become president and chief executive of Hawaiian Airlines Inc.

Vericella will also take the HVCB helm at a time when Hawaii's No. 1 industry has been struggling. Tourism numbers, which easily rose by double-digit percentages in the boom years of the 1970s and '80s, have been flat in the 1990s.

Tourism marketer Tom Kiely said that Vericella's experience as a working travel industry executive sets him up well for the HVCB job.

"Tony understands the distribution system," a complex relationship of travel retailers, wholesalers and airlines that is different in the Hawaii market from anywhere else, said Kiely, president of Television Events and Marketing Inc.

Vericella yesterday said he wants to build a strong coalition of the visitor industry, the rest of the business community, the public and government to move tourism and Hawaii forward.

He said he wants to "put Hawaii's positioning back as No. 1 in a number of markets where it needs to be."

Vericella got a management job with Western Airlines in Los Angeles 1976 and moved to Continental Airlines in 1980, the year he married Dana Mehau, daughter of prominent Big Island rancher Larry Mehau.

Vericella had three years with Continental, then based in Los Angeles, mostly in long-range planning. He left in 1983 to move to Hawaii where he became vice president for sales and market planning at Hawaiian Airlines.

He moved to American Express Travel Related Service's Honolulu offices in 1988, as vice president and general manager, and took the top local post at Budget Rent A Car in 1992.

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