The most important person in Hawaii

Tourism leader Chris Tatum  may very well be the most important person in the US State of Hawaii. The largest industry in Hawaii is tourism, and even if someone is not employed in that industry, it remains everyone’s business.

The state agency in charge of tourism is the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), and since January 1 of this year, Chris Tatum has taken over as the Chief Executive Officer and President of the HTA replacing George Szigeti who took over from predecessor Mike McCartney. Tatum is the former Vice President for Marriott International with responsibility for the portfolio of resort hotels in the Hawaiian Islands. He had a dual role as the Market General Manager for the 1,310-room Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

This is a distinguished difference between those that were in charge of HTA prior to Chris Tatum. The previous CEOs were politicians, while Chris is a businessman, and tourism is a business. In Hawaii, it’s the biggest and most important business, so this new leader is a good move for Hawaii tourism.

eTN Publisher Juergen Steinmetz caught up with Mr. Tatum in his office yesterday and found that this new leader has brought a different atmosphere to HTA. Within weeks of taking over at the helm, it was evident a new chief was in charge.

Tatum told eTN: “I cannot predict tourism, so in my press releases you won’t find predictions and assumptions. I pledge to share facts in a timely manner but don’t expect me to have a crystal ball.

“When I was with Marriott Hotels, my job was to have the hotel booked at all times. I know this is very different when running the state agency of tourism.”

On the question of over-tourism he said: “We cannot tell airlines to fly or not to fly to us, but we can influence cutting available illegal vacation rentals resulting in high rent and availability of accommodation in neighborhoods like the North Shore or Kailua that shouldn’t be there, because it causes what we all know as over-tourism.”

“I am for a hands-on approach,” Tatum said when referring to the recent influx of marketing dollars for the island of Hawaii. Tatum agreed with Steinmetz’ statement that there is Hawaii the state and there is Hawaii the Big Island – they are two different products and should be marketed differently.

The island of Hawaii is a very different experience for tourists compared to the rest of the islands. An upcoming bus tour being coordinated by HTA will take Hawaii Island executives to showcase their island in key markets in the US and get morning radio show exposure in main markets. “I require those that lead the industry in Hawaii to be on the bus if they want the state’s money. It’ll be fun,” Chris said.

Mr Tatum agreed the Chinese market is important, and its potential serves the medium- to lower-end accommodation market, while at the same time bringing visitors who find Hawaii as a mecca for shopping.

Mr. Tatum concluded his visit with eTN’s publisher by saying that his office is always open for good suggestions. “I see my staff of only 32 cannot market the state. Marketing is the job of those agencies that we employ to do this. We are the ones overlooking them.”

Tatum agreed Hawaii would sell even without marketing, and there is something magical this state has to attract visitors. It is still here – the Aloha Spirit – which people come to experience time and time again. Visiting Hawaii truly is an experience like no other destination. Sometimes those that live here can become complacent about “Aloha,” but all we need do is take a trip elsewhere and return home to realize that spirit is alive and well and should be nurtured and in the case of tourism, marketed.

With so many issues including the homeless population, the high cost of living, and second-class medical care in Hawaii, there is a lot to do to generate tax dollars from the over-expanded travel and tourism industry. But being the biggest industry for the state, it is wise to invest in this industry.

Mr. Tatum may be the one who could really make a difference in the state’s tourism that has was missing for so many years.

Tatum said: “I am doing this job to make a difference for my home. I was to retire at Marriott, but this is my chance to give back.”

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