The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has announced that it is terminating its contract with president and CEO George Szigeti. The announcement was made June 28, during an HTA board meeting. A spokesman for the authority said that Szigeti’s contract, which was supposed to last until June 2020, was terminated without cause. Szigeti’s last day will be Oct. 31, after which he will receive a severance package worth of six months of pay.
Apparently, the decision did not exactly come as a surprise to Szigeti, who told news outlets, “I’ve been in discussion with the board and that’s why we mutually agreed upon a termination without cause, and they made a decision today that they want to take another direction, and I respect the board.” he said.
He added, “It’s been a good three-year run with record arrivals, record spending, record tax revenue back to the state, record access back to the state with the seats going from 10.5 to 12 million with new airlines coming in, and the most important thing is record job creation for our local people.”
Another Side of the Story: Although the public statements of both Szigeti and the HTA board members were polite and civil, news accounts brought up the fact that a state audit had criticized spending by HTA executives. And last December, the state Ethics Commission fined several of the authority’s executives, including Szigeti, for failing to report free travel upgrades. He was fined $1,750 for getting courtesy upgrades to business class on Japan Airlines.
The tenure of Szigeti, who took over as head of HTA in May 2015, was filled with some bumpy spots. Within seven months, five positions were eliminated to meet a $1.3 million administrative cap and a brand manager resigned. He also fired the popular Keli’i Wilson, a native Hawaiian, from her position as director of cultural affairs. Wilson had been in the post for nearly 10 years.
Before joining HTA, Szigeti had served as president and CEO of the Hawaiian Lodging and Tourism Association. Previously, he was president and CEO of Hawaii-based Better Brands.