Gary Hogan’s Savvy Spirit Leads to the Launch of Hawaii’s First Resort-Owned Private Plane

GARY HOGAN’S SHINY NEW CESSNA CARAVAN – the cabin of which stood as the meeting ground for this interview – may have eight supple, cream-colored captain’s chairs that last cradled two of the most famous derrieres in America (those belonging to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie; Pitt flies the same model plane and opted for custom seats, selling these to Hogan). He could certainly testify that flying this ultra-modern aircraft, or his personal four-seater Cirrus to either of his two Hawaiian hotels (The Royal Lahaina on Maui and The Royal Kona Resort on The Big Island) is not only enjoyable, but good for business. And sure, a stopover on Lanai for dinner might not be considered “refueling” to someone who has followed the corporate structure and always “plays by the rules.”

But then again, Hogan, the 49-year-old president of Hawaiian Hotels & Resorts and the Royal Lahaina Development Group, has never been one to obey any such rule.

In true Sir Richard Branson form (whom Hogan cites as one of his heroes), Hogan is readying to launch Hawaii’s first hotel-affiliated private plane to shuttle guests between islands, hotels and activities.

“It’s the perfect plane for Hawaii,” Hogan smirks, noting that the turbo-propeller aircraft incorporates ultra-modern avionics technology, like the Garmin G-1000 with synthetic vision (a 3-D, video game-like pilot’s display for aeronautical laymen). “Most commercial airlines don’t even have this technology yet,” he adds.

There’s a distinct possibility his enthusiasm for flying came from his parents – the founders of Pleasant Holidays, one of the most successful inbound Hawaii tour packagers in history. Hogan started learning the ropes in 1980, eventually opening Pleasant Island Holidays. While catering to the company’s 400,000 annual inbound customers and managing a staff of 350, Hogan ran both businesses until 1998, when the family-owned business decided to sell to AAA Southern California. The Hogans retained their ownership of six hotel properties, which they slowly pared down until two remained.

“They were like blank canvases,” Hogan says. In 2004 Hogan was approached by a large national brand who wished to stamp the Royal Lahaina with its timeshare plans. The cash take for the Hogan’s stood to be … sizable. However, the corporation’s plans didn’t sit right with Hogan: He loathed the idea that his small, family-friendly resort – which was zoned for seven more 12-story towers – was going to be pushed to its limits by this eager Mainland giant.

“You know, we looked at the numbers, thought about what it would do to the coastline, to the value of the experience here in Kaanapali, and we decided against it,” Hogan admits. “It took a huge effort. But we had built a very successful tour and hotel company at this point. We weren’t desperate. We never felt the need to paint to the edges of the canvas simply for profit. This land deserves more than that.”

Instead, a $35 million renovation “to add value” to their tower and plans for the complete rebuild of 126 low-rise, ownership villas (that only use 44 percent of their allotted building space) came out of the in-house brainstorming session; the first phase is now complete.

“We built our business on value. We’re not a five-star hotel. We can look like one – and we now do – but delivering value is where we excel,” says Hogan, who changed the pricing structure at his sundries shop to reflect Costco’s.

Decisions like this are the reason Hogan now has a two-year, accredited business program named after him at Chaminade University, where he mentors promising entrepreneurs. Additionally, the national Hogan Family Foundation gives away $6 million per year to educational efforts.

On the horizon for Hogan – after launching his VIP air service – is integrating the two Gulfstream G-450 airplanes his parents maintain on the Mainland, in hopes of using them to shuttle guests from California to his two Hawaiian hotels. (In true entrepreneurial style, they are “riding out the economic storm” by servicing A-list actors and musicians as they tour through Europe, Asia and the U.S.) With feet firmly planted on terra firma, Hogan is a shining example of how things can go “right” with a little innovation, a bit of creative thinking and a lot of value.