KALAPAKI BEACH — Kilauea resident Doug Chang, new hotel manager at the Kaua’i Marriott Resort & Beach Club, at 40 is probably the youngest hotel manager on the island.
When he was 29 and general manager of Hanalei Bay Resort, he most definitely was the island’s youngest manager.
One of just a handful (five) of Hawai’i-born hotel managers on the island, and in a smaller minority of those managers who are Native Hawaiian (three), Chang is living proof that the island’s “best and brightest” don’t need to permanently leave the island to find good, high-paying jobs.
Chang has been a dishwasher, bartender, rooms cleaner, front-desk worker, and held various other positions in the visitor industry. All of these prepared him for the position he today holds.
“This is a viable career for the best and brightest,” said Chang. Among his goals is to raise awareness in the schools that the visitor industry offers fulfilling, high-paying career opportunities.
“Is it hard work? Yeah,” he says. “Do you have to pay your dues? Yeah. But it’s like that in every industry,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a front-desk clerk or a waiter, but there’s nothing wrong with those jobs.” Chang and others have worked their way up the career ladder at hotels without the benefit of college degrees. “In this business, a degree is important,” but he and others learned the complexities of the business while moving from department to department in positions of increasing responsibility.
“I don’t think a college degree ensures success.” Now he has a position with the ultimate responsibility of managing the day-to-day operations at the 356-room, 630-employee Marriott, one of the island’s largest hotels.
While he doesn’t often look back, he said if he had to do it again, he’d finish college first before leaving his native O’ahu for a position at Hanalei Bay Resort.
He was studying international business at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa by day and working in a private club by night, when Hanalei Bay Resort came calling.
His O’ahu lifestyle afforded him good pay and ample time to study, and when he accepted a position as manager at Bali Hai restaurant in Hanalei Bay Resort, he figured he’d stay on Kaua’i for a couple of years, return to O’ahu and school, and chalk up his Neighbor Island experience as a good learning adventure.
“I wanted to be in Honolulu, in Waikiki,” because that’s where he thought the action and his visitor-industry future would be.
“Now, they cannot pry me off the rock.” Chang met his wife, the former ‘Uilani “Kiko” Yokotake, while both were working at Hanalei Bay Resort.
Chang spent 14 years at Hanalei Bay Resort, moving from restaurant manager to director of food and beverage to general manager.
From 1983 to 1987, he also owned and operated Kaui’s Flowers and The Flats Grill & Bar.
Part of the team which opened the Marriott after its shift from a Westin property in 1995, Chang was initially director of guest services here, even though he wanted to open the hotel as resident manager.
In retrospect, he feels his initial position with the Marriott (not on the executive committee) was a good thing, as it allowed him to learn the intricacies of the Marriott management system.
He became resident manager, for three years, after serving as assistant front-office manager, all the time with his eyes on the prize: the hotel manager’s office.
Now that he’s in the office, though, he craves time out of it. He’d rather be pouring coffee in one of the restaurants, working the switchboard, or checking in guests at the front desk.
“I try very hard to get out of here,” he said from his office.
Not surprisingly, the paperwork portion of his job is his least favorite task.
“What keeps me excited, and what keeps the passion going,” is the variety of work he does. No two days are alike, and the moment you plan an entire day’s work, several other, more important things come up during that shift.
While he doesn’t especially like having to deal with dissatisfied guests, he gets tremendous enjoyment out of turning that unhappy visitor into a lifelong fan.
“You like to think you run the perfect place,” he said. It is important that the hotel staff work as a team, supporting each other through mistakes that are inevitably made in any business, by every human. Chang, so far in his hospitality career, has done the right things.
“Doug has done a tremendous job for us, first in opening our guest services department, then as assistant front office manager and, most recently, as resident manager,” said Stan Brown, hotel general manager and vice president for the Marriott’s Pacific Islands Area.
With Brown’s position keeping him on the road most of the time, it was important for the hotel to have Chang on-property to run the day-to-day operations.
He still provides cultural training at Marriott locations here and Ko Olina on O’ahu.
Along the way, he has had full support from Marriott higher-ups. “It’s fulfilling for me to work at a property that really puts out.” It is the meshing of the Native Hawaiian culture and hospitality industry that prompted Chang to accept the position as president of the Native Hawaiian Tourism & Hospitality Association. The group is sure that for the future of the hospitality industry to remain bright and successful, the Native Hawaiian culture must be a pivotal part of it.
The commerce of tourism and the value of local hospitality must be balanced, said Chang, who with his employer mutually decided that Chang’s presence is most needed now in his home state.
“Right now, my work is right here in Hawai’i,” said Chang, indicating that if the Marriott offered him a general manager’s position at a new hotel in, say, Orlando, or anywhere else in the world, he would probably respectfully refuse the assignment.
“There is so much more work that needs to be done — inside and outside of Marriott — that I want to be a part of,” Chang said.
Later on, he may accept an assignment outside Hawai’i. While here, he is a member of the Hawai’i Hotel Association Kaua’i chapter board of directors.
Ironically, there were times in Chang’s life when he downplayed either his Native Hawaiian origins or his occupation in the visitor industry, depending on who he was talking with at the time.
Now, he understands they are really “one and the same.” The culture must surround the tourism, and the tourism must surround the culture, he feels.
Even though sometimes the two disagree with or distrust each other, both are essential cogs in a successful state economy, he added.
In his spare time, Chang paddles with Kaiola Canoe Club, swims, spends Sundays on Hanalei Bay with wife and children Kaui, 18, and Nyla, 12. Kaui, like her dad a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, is off to Oregon State University in the fall.
The Changs have been married 18 years.