Awarded at 2014 Readers Choice event

Lifetime achievement award winners: Richard Kelley and Geoffrey Kent

Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 recipients Richard Kelley, left, and Geoffrey Kent, with previous winner Valerie Wilson.
Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 recipients Richard Kelley, left, and Geoffrey Kent, with previous winner Valerie Wilson. Photo Credit: Andrei Jackamets

Travel Weekly honored two Lifetime Achievement Award winners at its 2014 Readers Choice Awards dinner, an award that pays tribute to individuals whose efforts have led to extraordinary results within an organization and who have also made significant contributions to the industry as a whole.

The legacy of the recipients of the Travel Weekly Lifetime Achievement Awards collectively defines the environment that the travel industry operates in today. The 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are Richard Kelley and Geoffrey J.W. Kent.

Richard Kelley; Chairman Emeritus of Outrigger Enterprises Group

Born in Honolulu, Kelley began working in hospitality when his parents, Outrigger co-founders Roy and Estelle Kelley, opened their first hotel, the Islander, in Waikiki in 1947, when he was 13 years old.

Richard Kelley of Outrigger Enterprises
Richard Kelley of Outrigger Enterprises Photo Credit: Andrei Jackmets

Kelley and his sisters did everything from folding towels and carrying luggage up five flights of stairs to serving pineapple juice to guests at breakfast.

He recalled Outrigger’s early years as a different time.

“That was long before computers, cellphones and the Internet,” he said. “My father produced architectural plans by hand, and my mother wrote commission checks for travel agents using a fountain pen with a nib tip and real ink."

In 1951, he left for Stanford University and, later, Harvard Medical School, before returning to Honolulu in 1963 to begin a medical career specializing in pathology.

He continued practicing medicine even after transitioning to Outrigger Hotels in the early 1970s, where he started out as the secretary-treasurer, and rose in the ranks to  president, a position he held from 1975 to 1994, and CEO, from 1994 to 1989.

He was chairman of the board from 1989 to 2011 and has been chairman of the board emeritus since then.

At 81, Kelley continues to write a weekly column for Saturday Briefing, a newsletter for Outrigger employees, as he has for over 30 years. His dedication to Outrigger employees was obvious in his acceptance speech.

“The lifetime achievements for which I am being honored do not belong to me alone,” he said. “I would never have been able to accomplish even a fraction of them were it not for the support of the outstanding men and women of the company it has been my privilege to lead. I am talking particularly about the many individuals at Outrigger Hotels and Resorts with whom I have worked for so many years. Ranging from our housekeepers and the bell staff to those in the executive offices — up and down the ranks — there are thousands in our company who work daily to turn the concept of hospitality into a reality."

Kelley has contributed profoundly and extensively to developing Hawaii as a visitor destination, working over the years with Hawaii’s government, labor, industry and education leaders in many areas.

Among his numerous honors is the Sales & Marketing Executives of Honolulu Inc.’s 1994 Sales Person of the Year for his “profound and extensive contributions to developing the state of Hawaii as a tourist destination and as a desirable place to live and work.”

Kelley is also a member of the Hawaii Business Hall of Fame and was honored with the “O in Life” Award by Punahou School, his alma mater, and the Legacy in Tourism Award by the University of Hawaii’s Travel Industry Management School.

He writes and speaks extensively about tourism, and is currently on the executive committee of the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Kelley is the father of seven children, a grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of two. He currently resides in Colorado with his wife.

Geoffrey J.W. Kent; Founder, Chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent

Geoffrey Kent is a co-founder of Abercrombie & Kent, winner of two 2014 Readers Choice awards and a company that employs more than 2,500 people on six continents.

“When you realize that the typical worker in Africa supports seven members of their extended family, the multiplier effect of what we do is dramatic,” Kent said in his acceptance speech.

He thanked travel agents for their part in making A&K what it is today.

Geoffrey J. W. Kent of Abercrombie & Kent
Geoffrey J. W. Kent of Abercrombie & Kent Photo Credit: Andrei Jackmets

“The most important part of running a successful operation was finding clients,” he said.  “Over the years we refined the A&K experience in Africa and slowly began to expand as our guests asked us to re-create what we did in Africa elsewhere. The travel agents here tonight became our partners in building this business by entrusting us with their most valued clients.”

Kent was born while his parents, John and Valerie Kent, were on safari in northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and grew up on the family farm in the Aberdare Highlands of Kenya. He attended the then-new Duke of York School in Nairobi, which has produced many of Kenya’s business and science leaders.

At 16, Kent undertook a solitary, two-month exploration of the African continent that would in many ways define the course of his life. He became the first individual to travel by motorbike the 5,000 often treacherous miles between Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa.

Kent was serving in the British military when he and his parents founded Abercrombie & Kent in Kenya. His father retired in 1967, and Kent helped turn A&K into the internationally renowned luxury travel company it is today.

“When I left the army to join them, I came up with the slogan, ‘Shoot with a camera, not with a gun,” Kent said. “Since we would not be able to rely on hunting for fresh meat,  I worked with an old army buddy of mine to design a refrigeration system that made it possible for us to have fresh food — and unlimited ice for the gin and tonic — in the bush.”

Kent’s passion for wildlife preservation has marked both his career and personal life.  He is a member of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Leadership Council for Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and his commitment to sustainable tourism has been recognized by Travel + Leisure with the Global Vision Award and by Conde Nast Traveler at the World Savers Congress.

“Sustainable, nature-based tourism plays a critical role in supporting conservation because it gives local people an economic incentive to protect natural habitat and preserve endangered wildlife,” he said. “This kind of support represents a 21st century approach to philanthropy, a new form of community development assistance that evolved from an informal partnership between a forward-looking travel business and our guests who want to give something back.”

Last year alone, he said, donations from A&K guests amounted to more than $600,000 for grassroots projects they were introduced to while traveling with the company.

Kent is a founding member of the World Travel & Tourism Council and its immediate past chairman, and a member of the U.K. Travel Hall of Fame, which credited him with creating “experiential travel” by bringing the same sense of adventure found on safari to destinations around the world.

Kent is also a world-class polo player, winning the U.S. Open twice, the U.S. Gold Cup, the Cartier International and the World Cup, and served as captain of the Windsor Park polo team, on which he played with Prince Charles.

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