After nearly 25 years of promoting Hawaii, the Big Island as a world-class vacation destination, travel industry veteran George Applegate is retiring as executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) on May 31. Succeeding him is Ross Birch, a long-time marketer on Hawaii Island himself, who brings more than 20 years of experience to the BIVB’s top position.
“For more than a decade I’ve witnessed first-hand George’s love for Hawaii Island and passion for the visitor industry as he lead the BIVB team,” said John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), the BIVB’s parent agency. “He has done some remarkable work to grow Hawaii Island as an adventure destination for travelers, while never losing sight of his roots as a local boy growing up in the islands. On behalf of the HVCB ohana, I say mahalo nui loa to George for his tremendous contributions and to his family for their support.”
Applegate began his career as a bellman for the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo more than 40 years ago. During his tenure, he held various management positions in hospitality, sales and marketing. He joined BIVB in 1989 as director of sales and marketing, and became executive director in 2000. Prior to BIVB, he was vice president of Big Island Tours of Hawaii, offering excursions of the island’s most spectacular attractions.
“Together with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and HVCB, we’ve worked proactively to help the mayor and County of Hawaii enable our islanders to live the American dream,” Applegate said. “By promoting tourism to this destination and growing the economy, we’ve been able to create opportunities for our residents and communities.”
In retirement, Applegate plans to remain active within the hospitality industry by starting his own consulting practice to help businesses on Hawaii Island and beyond connect with the visitor market. He also plans to continue his support of BIVB as a member of the organization.
As incoming executive director, Birch will be responsible for overseeing BIVB’s marketing and associated programs impacting the island’s visitor industry. Serving as the lead liaison between the island’s stakeholders and HVCB, he will also oversee the development of relationships with community leaders, government officials and visitor industry marketing partners.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity and look forward to working with our stakeholders to overcome the complex challenges associated with promoting our great destination to the world,” Birch said. “My initial goal is to focus on driving more demand for Hawaii Island thru effective brand and tactical marketing programs with our island visitor industry partners. We clearly have room to grow and we need to reach healthy year-round occupancies for our accommodations partners. Thru driving demand to the island, we will enhance our position with current airlift partners and potentially develop new partnerships to increase air seats to the island. Additionally enhancing the arrival and departure experience at both Kona and Hilo airports is imperative.”
Birch brings with him 23 years of hospitality experience on Hawaii Island. Most recently, he was the general manager of Makalei Golf Club where he oversaw all facets of the club including marketing and operations of the 18-hole golf course and its facilities. Prior to that he was president of Hawaii Golf Connection, a group travel company that assists its members with getting to Hawaii Island. Birch also held positions as the director of golf sales and retail for Mauna Lani Resort and the head golf professional at Waikoloa Beach Resort. He has served on BIVB’s Board of Directors for 10 of the last 13 years, with four years spent on the Board’s Executive Committee as marketing committee chair, Board chair and immediate past chair.
“I’m proud to hand the reigns over to Ross whose good business sense and innate knowledge of our island will help continue our efforts in rebranding Hawaii Island as an inspiring destination, focusing on all parts from Kohala, Kona, Hilo and Kau,” Applegate said. “We’ve built a strong team that is equipped to help him continue the good work initiated by those who served before us.”
Originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Birch relocated to Hawaii Island in 1990. He is an active Class A Member of the PGA of America and serves on the marketing committee of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. Birch and his wife, Tammie, reside in Honokaa and have three sons.
BIVB is a chapter of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Hawaii’s tourism marketing agency for North America. For more information about Hawaii, the Big Island, visit BigIsland.org or call 1-800-GOHAWAII.