The Aloha State of Hawaii has had its challenges when it comes to tourism in 2018. From a volcano spewing lava and ash and opening fissures that caught the attention of the national media, to flooding and hurricanes and even rat lungworm disease. And that’s just the mother nature side of the story.
Then there were the man-made challenges for the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) in the form a negative state audit, the government legislature hacking away $13 million from the tourism budget, and the subsequent top 3 executives stepping down from their posts.
First, came surprising resignations from the then Chief Operating Officer, Randy Baldemor, and the Chief Marketing Officer, Leslie Dance. This was followed by the removal of HTA’s President and CEO, George Szigeti, as directed by the authority’s Board of Directors.
The new President and CEO of the HTA, Chris Tatum, has his roots in Hawaii’s tourism, starting from when he worked at the Royal Hawaii Hotel while he was in high school, then becoming the Assistant Housekeeping Manager for Maui Marriott after graduating from college, rising up through the ranks to his last position of Area General Manager at Marriott Resorts Hawaii, which he officially resigned from last Friday.
In his new role, he will need to turn the Hawaii Tourism Authority around to focus on destination management. Tatum is expected to attend the HTA board meeting today alongside new HTA Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan and Vice President of Marketing and Product Development Karen Hughes. There are still other HTA vacancies that need to be filled, but for the time being, the head honcho has put a hiring freeze in place until he determines what the agency needs.
HTA pushed to grow tourism arrivals, succeeding for 7 years to advance those numbers higher and higher – close to 10 million. What it did not do, and what the state government has criticized it for, is it did not plan ahead and take into account what effect that would have on resources and residents as well. More tourists, yes, but what about more hotel rooms?
As a partial answer to that question, Tatum supports the state legislature’s efforts to ensure vacation rentals are paying their fair share of taxes. He also believes lawmakers need to address the spread of illegal vacation rentals in the islands.
And then there are social issues that are marring the tourism experience which must be addressed, such as homelessness and crime. On the flipside, Hawaii’s culture and needs to be front and center while at the same time preserving its natural resources.
Also high on Tatum’s agenda is the international airport in Honolulu. He says the concept of an airport authority works well in other coastal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, and he would like to see this authority put in place for Oahu, and it is something that the airlines approve of. He would also like to see the HTA put some focus on group tourist markets which usually bring in visitors who spend more while on vacation.
Finally, but perhaps not lastly, Tatum wants to bring experiences for tourists that he thinks they come here for and that they cannot get anywhere else, namely, an aloha greeting at the airport with Hawaiian music and hula dancers. And further along, he envisions working with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to create an ambassador program that will seek to educate and promote the natural beauty of the islands.
Should Chris Tatum succeed in his goals, when the times comes for him to leave the Hawaii Tourism Authority, he will leave mighty big shoes to fill.