An Interview with Outrigger Resorts Bitsy Kelley

[Although Bitsy Kelley is no longer part of the Outrigger organization after it was sold to KSL Resorts, this interview still shows Bitsy’s passion and commitment to Hawaii, the environment, and the hospitality industry.]

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Opinions are always my own and I’ll never promote something I don’t use or believe in.

Instead of just doing a question/answer interview format, I decided to write a essay that highlights the many topics covered in my interview with Bitsy Kelley who graciously spent an hour with me on my recent trip to Oahu to attend the Waikiki SPAMJam.

Bitsy-Kelley-Outrigger-Waikiki
Photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

There is light within Bitsy Kelley. She is effervescent. There is a constant smile in her eyes. She is warm, friendly and gracious and above all, she is passionate.

Whether she is speaking about her family, Outrigger Resorts, food or travel, the passion (and quite frankly joy) is ever-present. Unexpectedly, there doesn’t seem to be any compartments in her life, everything blends together. She works hard, plays hard and enjoying life. Balance is very important to her.

Bitsy-Kelley

I feel a little bit inspired and a lot blessed to have had an opportunity to speak with Bitsy and get to know her a little better.

Bitsy is the third generation of Kelley’s helping to run Outrigger hotels. Her grandparents, Roy and Estelle Kelley built the Outrigger and raised their family – Bitsy’s father and two sisters in Oahu. And in turn her parents raised her and her four siblings on the islands as well.

The Kelley Family
The Kelley Family, photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

The Outrigger Resort was their home and their playground and all the kids worked in the hotel. From folding laundry to washing dishes, they did everything and learned about the business from the ground up.

Later when Bitsy’s father took over the helm he continued to grow the business and expand it to other islands in Hawaii. Bitsy’s father, Chairman Emeritus Richard Kelley, still participates in the business, particularly when it involves, the global travel industry such as the his recent trip with Bitsy to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual Global Summit, something he covered in his weekly blog series! (He’s a blogger!)

Richard Kelley in Japan
Photo credit, Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

As the third generation began leading the company, expansion continued East in of tropical areas and there are Outrigger Resort properties in Thailand, Fiji, Bali, Guam and Mauritius (see full list here) with properties coming to Vietnam and the Maldives.

Family is weaved into every fiber of history in every generation. There is no law that says you have to work in the company business. Instead, Bitsy’s father encouraged all his children to pursue their interests passionately. The one thing he stressed was education and all the Kelly children have undergraduate and advanced degrees.

Bitsy left the islands for a decade to pursue her education and her interests. She worked in media and communications, which included stints in TV and radio. She had her own outdoor adventures show based out of the Portland area and advocated for family activities.

BitsyKelleyOutdoors

Eventually the call of family and the desire to be closer to her grandchildren brought her back to Oahu. The role of family is a principle driver in the Kelly clan. In fact all Kelly’s siblings live right next to each other on the beach. They respect individual family time, but also spend a lot of time together.

Many mornings she will look out her window while enjoying a cup of coffee and will see her brother out surfing and she will often grab her board and join her.

Bitsy-Kelley-Outrigger-Resorts
Bitsy surfing, photo credit: Surfpix.com

Bitsy indicated that the success of the Kelly family has been that they have figured out how to work together. She said, “there is the family business and then there is the business of the family.” Open communication and transparency has allowed her family and the Outrigger family business to thrive for three generations with eyes to the fourth.

Bitsy-Kelley-Founders-Day
Roy and Estelle (cutout) are Dr. Chuck Kelley, Bitsy Kelley, Jean Rolles, Colleen Heyer and Judd Klinger, photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

It feels like this earnest sincerity is an underlying current that flows underneath the Outrigger brand. The culture is centered around Ke ‘Ano Wa’a which is the combination of HOST + GUEST + PLACE and their single-handed focus is to integrate and celebrate the local culture wherever their properties exist.

Ke ‘Ano Wa’a
Ke ‘Ano Wa’a photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

And sometimes where is doesn’t.

For example, when Outrigger Resorts opened in Guam, the Guamian culture was nearly extinct. So working together with local leaders they began re-educating and revitalizing customs, cuisine and culture. They put artwork in the property and introduced local dishes to the menu,

Outrigger Guam Cultural Dance Performance
Outrigger Guam Cultural Dance Performance, photo credit:
Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

There is a symbiosis that exists between host, visitor and place that allows culture to thrive. And that is where the Outrigger likes to be.

Bitsy in Thailand
Photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

Given Bitsy’s predilection for what I call “the circle of life” you can see why she would be so passionate about this topic. To say she is a foodie is putting it mildly. Bitsy strongly believes in knowing where her food comes from. She truly celebrates and embraces the land.

She has farms on the mainland and is a hunter that not only knows how to cook what she hunts, but prepare it from start to finish.

She is an avid home cook that takes advantage of the nature’s bounty to create delicious meals, including BBQ’ing. When she doesn’t know how to do something – say canning, she will study YouTube videos for hours until she gets it, and then dives head first into trying it out for herself.

It is her passion for food and local culture that sparked the idea that eventually convinced Hormel to move their SPAMJam festival to Waikiki. While cooking breakfasts for the Outrigger housekeepers to celebrate Housekeeping Week, she had the epiphany that if there was to be a SPAM festival anywhere in the world, it needed to be in Hawaii. And through persistence and might, it happened! [Read about my experience at SPAMJam.]

SPAMJam-Check
Bitsy gives the crowd a wave at SPAMJam

It is that same foodie nature that had her asking the chef of Outrigger’s Mauritius property if she could go back to the kitchen and learn how to make some of the delicious meals he had been making her during a site visit. (Here is also a great interview with Chef Baastian from Rosie Gohres)

Executive Chef Jerry Baastian
Executive Chef Jerry Baastian, photo credit Outrigger Resorts

And when I asked her about her favorite food related vacation she talked about a family vacation on a peniche along the canals of France where she lived off of cheese and charcuterie and wine…a woman after my own Francophile heart.

Sausage__cheese_and_wine

All this to say that Bitsy Kelly is one cool chick.

Bitsy comes from a long line of inspirational women. Her grandmother was equal partner with her grandfather in running the business. Her grandmother on her mother’s side was a nurse and heavily involved in the community in Santa Rosa, California. Her mother who died when Bitsy was quite young was a pilot. She had licenses to fly every type of flying machine possible and was a real go-getter.

Jane-Kelley
Jane Kelley in her Pitts S1 aerobatic biplane, Photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

Instead of being a burden, it is a source of strength. The pride in her heritage, both in their family and in her island, seeps through everything Bitsy does and in every word she speaks.

Not only does Outrigger Resorts want to make the islands they host on exceptional local experiences, but they want to make the world a better place. Through Bitsy I learned about an upcoming conference of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) focused on global environmental issues. It is the first time in its 60-year history that the United States has invited the organization to meet on American soil and Oahu was selected as the host city. Bitsy is very keen on participating in the convention and promise of its future.

If I wasn’t convinced by my pleasant stay at the Outrigger Waikiki, after spending time with Bitsy and observing her throughout my weekend, I am convinced that the Kelley family is genuinely interested in preserving local culture, local cuisine, and local customs wherever their properties exist and nothing could be more important in the hospitality industry than that.

Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort

Ke ‘Ano Wa’a could definitely be a new religion. And Bitsy Kelley the new movement’s leader!

Bitsy-Honolulu-Festival
Photo credit: Dr. Kelley’s Weekly Briefing

Outrigger-Resorts-SPAMJam-Sponsored-Project

This interview took place during my sponsored weekend with Outrigger Resorts. Thank you Bitsy and Outrigger Resorts for inviting me to Oahu to experience the Waikiki SPAMJam. And thanks to AlaskaAir for transporting to and from the islands.

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An Interview with Outrigger Resorts Bitsy Kelley

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44 Comments

  1. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)
    May 12, 2015

    It sounds like an amazing place to stay! I would love to visit Hawaii and I would definitely consider staying there.

    Reply
  2. Ashley
    May 12, 2015

    Wow, what an amazing life Bitsy has lived so far! It must be so interesting to be brought up on a resort, and the life experiences she’s had since then are just incredible. We are looking to travel to Hawaii in the fall and I will definitely be checking out Outrigger’s now!

    Reply
  3. Brook Devis
    May 12, 2015

    wow.I absolutly love this post. They way you have described this place is just fab.I cant wait to plan my trip there and stay in this resort.thanx for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  4. Christy Maurer
    May 12, 2015

    Bitsy sounds like an amazing woman! I love that she is so well-rounded and personable. I would love to visit the Outrigger Resorts and get to meet Bitsy as well 🙂

    Reply
  5. Kim
    May 12, 2015

    What an amazing family and an amazing resort. I have always wanted to visit Hawaii. This looks like it was just incredible.

    Reply
  6. Lisa @bitesforbabies
    May 12, 2015

    That looks like such an amazing resort! I have to admit that I haven’t been very intrigued by Hawaii (I prefer visiting Europe) but you’ve definitely peaked my interest!

    Reply
  7. Amby Felix
    May 12, 2015

    She sounds like such an inspiration! I love hearing bout people like this and I’d love to be hanging out in Hawaii right now! We will be there soon though!

    Reply
  8. Looks so much fun! I’m really jealous. I need a plane ticket to go to Hawaii – pronto!

    Reply
  9. Jennifer Stewart
    May 12, 2015

    This a great review! Thanks for being so complete and your photographs are top notch! I definitely want to visit this place!

    Reply
  10. AJ @ Roaming Family
    May 12, 2015

    This looks like such a fun place to stay. I absolutely love Hawaii and can’t wait to go back!

    Reply
  11. Christine
    May 12, 2015

    Would love to go to Hawaii one day! Looks so fun and beautiful! Would love to learn how to surf there too! Thanks for sharing! xox Christine | Amidst the Chaos

    Reply
  12. Myrabev
    May 12, 2015

    Sounds like an amazing woman, amazing family and amazing resort all in all. Love that they incorporate local culture wherever they open a new resort. A family that can work together stays together.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Myrabev, they are pretty amazing.

      Reply
  13. Franc Ramon
    May 13, 2015

    It’s admirable how the business has been there for generations. They really know how to handle the resort and take care of their guests.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Franc, it is a great family and a great story (and a great resort!)

      Reply
  14. Rebecca Swenor
    May 13, 2015

    This sounds like an amazing place to stay and such an amazing family as well. I love how they all worked and work together. It does make a huge difference in a family business. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Rebecca, it is a great spot and I love knowing the people behind the product.

      Reply
  15. Fi Ní Neachtáin
    May 13, 2015

    This sounds like an amazing place to stay. It’s my dream to visit Hawaii one day and I’d love to stay here.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @FiNi, it will be a long trip from Ireland, but you’d love it!

      Reply
  16. Jennifer
    May 13, 2015

    Wow, I have always wanted to go to Hawaii and I will have to keep this resort in mind if I ever get the chance. It seems amazing and I love the family behind it.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Jennifer, definitely consider it for the future, it is very family friendly.

      Reply
  17. Aisha Kristine Chong
    May 13, 2015

    I definitely would love to be able to give this place a stay in the future. Seems like a wonderful place to be in.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Aisha, it is, an institute in Waikiki.

      Reply
  18. Sara
    May 14, 2015

    My parents are seriously considering going to Hawaii and I’ll be sure to show them this place, it sounds so wonderful! Maybe they will take me 😉

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Sara, make them! Make them!

      Reply
  19. Murissa
    May 14, 2015

    Very inspiring!
    Plus I stayed at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach in December of 2013 – I loved it!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Murissa, yay, now you have more back story.

      Reply
  20. Lois Alter Mark
    May 14, 2015

    Bitsy sounds like a really special person and that place looks AMAZING! Would love to visit!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Lois, she is and you’d love it!

      Reply
  21. Jaclyn Anne
    May 14, 2015

    I love how Bitsy promotes the culture of the destinations/locations of her amazing resorts. She is an amazing woman!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Jaclyn, she is amazing!

      Reply
  22. Natalie
    May 14, 2015

    I can absolutely see why she’d want to return home! What a gorgeous place. 🙂 Also, major props to her for pushing for a more authentic cultural experience. That’s amazing what they did in Guam!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Natalie, their ethos is incredible. The work they do for the environment and sustainability in inspiring.

      Reply
  23. Jess Benoit
    May 14, 2015

    Such an amazing woman & and a gorgeous area!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Jess, Bitsy is very inspiring.

      Reply
  24. Neha Sultan
    May 14, 2015

    What an amazing post!! the cultural dance pics looks great! Will be checking this out for my next vacation plans!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Neha, thank you. Bitsy and her family make a great story.

      Reply
  25. Stephanie
    May 15, 2015

    It looks like you had an amazing time! Great post!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Stephanie, it was a blast, thanks!

      Reply
  26. Christine
    May 15, 2015

    Bitsy is soooo lucky to be born into that family and live the life that she does! Hard worker too it seems!!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      June 15, 2015

      @Christine, very hard working the whole family is amazing and always trying to make the world a better place.

      Reply
  27. […] 2015 Lunch at Hawaiian Airlines Corks and Forks with Hawaiian Airlines Pau Hana Market Waikiki An Interview with Outrigger Resorts Bitsy Kelley Kermit Lynch at the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival 2014 Colgin Cellars at the Hawai’i […]

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  28. Kona Hawaii
    February 27, 2019

    […] been introduced to the Outrigger Resorts family (literally and figuratively) during SPAMJam, I was very interested to see what their other type of […]

    Reply
  29. […] stay longer and experience more of what Outrigger calls Ke ‘Ano Wa’a (see what that encompasses in my interview with Bitsy Kelley) but it was just a super quick weekend trip, so I am hoping to stay at an Outrigger Resort property […]

    Reply

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