Listening and leading in Princeville

The Cliffs of Princeville has a new general manager.

Assistant manager John Young has mentored for two years under Kimo M. Keawe, who retired in December. Taking over as manager meant about double the responsibilities in all aspects of running the 18-acre resort.

Keawe exemplified the ideal manager with the ability to create an ohana with all sorts of personality, he added. He also taught guidance on solid business practices, exceptional service and providing quality product at a fair price.

“I would say I learned two vital things from Kimo for this position,” Young said. “There is never enough patience in any conversation, listening is a virtue but know when to step in and bring the group back on task. I have also learned to soften my approach to look at all sides of an issue, and again, listening.”

As a self-managed resort, Young said it is difficult to compare The Cliffs with other timeshares. Over two decades, a long term renovation has transformed the property for whole unit owners, deeded week vacation timeshares, rentals, and points programs through the open market.

Rather than compete, Young said they are concentrating on exceptional service as the best example of success and marketing as they look to what the next generation of travelers is looking for in a vacation purchase.

“I’m proud to say our service scores seem to verify that we’re doing something right,” Young said.

The Cliffs became a self-managed property 12 years ago, the result of management issues and lawsuits. Today, there are three active boards that meet quarterly to assist in the guidance and direction.

“When I was first offered the job, I declined as I knew the history of this property,” Young said. “It was not until I was informed Kimo was here and had turned the physical plant around that I agreed to give it a look.”

The property has completed 40 percent of its renovation and will undergo a complete makeover of the interior units and landscaping, he said. The goal is to create the feel of a tropical fruit plantation walk paths through orchards.

The next step will be to connect The Cliffs with a botanical garden through interactive trails. Another is to reduce the energy footprint by installing solar for the entire property, supporting the North Shore Shuttle pilot project, and build a fleet of electric cars.

The outgoing Keawe describes Young as a talented manager who will use his sales and marketing expertise to take the property to the next level. The two developed the project and he said it will be Young’s mission to let travelers worldwide come and experience it for themselves.

“My vision was laying the foundation, and his vision will be adding the refinements including several eco-friendly and sustainable projects,” Keawe said. “It’s an exciting time for the property.”

Cliffs Club President Mark Barra said the transition from Keawe to Young is a rebirth for The Cliffs. Keawe turned the hotel around and stayed on for 14 years, while Young brings Mainland modernity but as someone who understands the Hawaii experience.

His first resort manager position was with Village Resorts, where he worked in Hawaii, Park City, Utah, and Breckenridge, Colorado. He had arranged to stay at a sister hotel on Kauai one vacation when Hurricane Iniki struck.

Young spent two years pushing for a transfer and finally got the opportunity as assistant general manager at Papakea Resort in the Kaanapali Resort area. He returned briefly to the Mainland to open a hotel from the ground up before returning to start at The Cliffs about two years ago.

“John is a very strong candidate who brings the modern world with his enthusiasm,” Barra said. “He has a lot of experience in the hospitality industry.”

Barra said The Cliffs staff is unparalleled, with the average service time of 18 to 20 years. Many have worked for 25 to 35 years.

“That is truly an ohana that you don’t get at a lot of resorts,” he said.

About 80 percent of guests and owners are from the Mainland, Barra said. Around 60 percent of those are from the West Coast, with the remaining 20 percent from the East and Central and 10 percent from Canada.

Barra said Young is particularly skilled at outreach and getting The Cliffs name out into the markets. For two decades, the clientele was largely word of mouth. Young’s efforts have led to write-ups in travel magazines and commercials.

“I saw The Cliffs mentioned on a Mainland television news broadcast,” Barra said. “John is doing a fantastic job getting our name out there.”

Young is from the Midwest and has a degree in hotel and restaurant administration from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He lived in Colorado previous to Hawaii. He and spouse Anah have two children.

“I knew I wanted to live in resort areas, but I also knew I wanted to be able to make a living doing it, versus having to work three jobs to survive, thus the degree,” Young said.


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