The emergency for the Hawaii visitor sector became even greater today when Chris Tatum, President of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, indicated his no-confidence vote on Monday and announced he will be relocating to Colorado for an unexpected and early retirement, leaving the Aloha State behind.
Chris Tatum is the President of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state agency responsible for Hawaii’s largest industry – the Hawaii visitor industry. Everyone in the state was looking to and banking on Mr. Chris Tatum to guide the economy out of a free-fall of reduction of the Hawaii tourism industry.
Hawaii Tourism is facing the biggest crisis and challenges in its history due to COVID-19. The Governor is expected to extend quarantine requirements for visitors at least until July 31, 2020. Unemployment due to the closure of the visitor industry went from almost full employment to the highest unemployment rate in the United States. This was too much for the man in charge of the travel and tourism industry.
The man with the highest paying job in the public sector of the travel and tourism industry and who took over the post of President of the Hawaii Tourism Authority 18 months ago is now throwing in the towel and calling it quits for a better retirement. Hawaii taxpayers pay him $270,000 a year.
His resignation mirrors the frustrating situation the State of Hawaii is in. It may explain why no one at the Hawaii Tourism Authority was reachable or returned phone calls, and why nobody answered the phone or responded to emails since COVID-19 threw the money cow of the State of Hawaii out the window and vanished overnight.
Chris Tatum has been in the travel and tourism industry for about 40 years with an distinguished career at Marriott Hotels and Resorts. His career in the hospitality industry began as a housekeeper at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel during his summers home from college.
After graduating from Michigan State University in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in hotel and restaurant management, Tatum helped open the Maui Marriott Resort & Ocean Club at Kaanapali after which he steadily rose through the ranks of leadership positions with Marriott on the US mainland and in Asia and Australia.
Tourism is everyone’s business in a state where the largest industry is tourism. With Tatum giving HTA notice, it is a blow to this industry and the future economy of Hawaii. Tatum pledged to use the time between now and August 31 to guarantee a “smooth transition.” After this, he will leave the Aloha State behind and move him and his family to Colorado.
This throws Hawaii Tourism again into a leaderless vacuum and all of this when strong leadership is essential for the economy of the entire state. Tatum told the Honolulu Advertiser: “I let the board chair know on Monday, and I told my staff today. I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished. I’m very proud of the HTA team and our refocused plans to develop a balanced strategy for tourism. Now, I’d like to get us through the quarantine and help with the recovery piece and long road back.”
Quitting this high-paying job in Hawaii now will guarantee a sizable retirement.
“After it, the deluge,” is a saying in Europe.
The official version of the announcement was released by HTA after the first part of this article was published:
After a 40-year career dedicated to serving the hospitality industry and working to make a positive difference for Hawaii, Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) President & CEO Chris Tatum announced he’s retiring. His last day at HTA will be August 31.
Tatum was appointed to the top tourism position for the State of Hawaii in December 2018 after a 37-year career with Marriott International.
Under his leadership, HTA established Hawaii’s direction for tourism’s future in the coming years with its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan. HTA is putting an increased focus on destination management, which includes investing more time and money in programs that support the community, perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, and protect Hawaii’s natural resources. He also advocated for workplace development in tourism to provide local students with career opportunities in hospitality.
“I’m very proud of the HTA team and our refocused plans to develop a balanced strategy for tourism. With active collaboration from the community, we need to create a sustainable industry that is respectful of the culture and protects our environment for future generations. I plan to spend the next three months working with the HTA board on the transition and supporting the state’s recovery efforts,” Tatum said.
HTA Board Chair Rick Fried commented, “Chris is smart, candid, always puts the residents of Hawaii first, and, most importantly to me, is unfailingly honest. When he asked to come to my office on Monday, I assumed it was just to discuss various HTA matters as we often do. After a few minutes of talking he handed me a brown envelope with his resignation letter and explained his thinking. I deal with many sad cases, but I teared up when it became clear his decision was final.”
HTA Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan said, “It has been such a blessing to have had the opportunity to work alongside Chris. From the first day, he displayed all the great qualities you’d expect from a true leader. Besides his decisive and passionate approach, what I’ve really appreciated has been his willingness to share, teach, and mentor those around him has elevated the whole organization. He has placed HTA on the right footing, focused on balance and sustainability. We owe him a true debt of gratitude and I, for one, am truly indebted to him for his incredible leadership.”
Prior to joining HTA, his experience included executive leadership positions on the U.S. mainland, in Asia, Australia, and Hawaii. His career started as a housekeeping houseman at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel during his summers home from college.
Tatum moved to Hawaii with his family in 1965, when his father Lon was a member of the U.S. Air Force, and his mother Bette was a teacher. He’s a proud graduate of Radford High School. The Tatum family fell in love with the islands and made Hawaii their lifelong home. Before her passing in 2017, Bette was a well-respected leader in the business community as executive director of the National Federation of Small Business for the State of Hawaii. Lon retired from the military and supported Bette’s career until his passing in 2010. Tatum’s brother Lonnie was a very successful owner of a recreational vehicle dealership in Washington State until his passing in 2004.
Tatum and his wife Peg, who have been married for 28 years, plan to relocate to Colorado to begin the next stage of their lives.
“After 40 years in a 24/7 industry, I’m looking forward to traveling with Peg and spending quality time with my daughter Sam and son Alex. I’m blessed to have grown up and raised our kids in the islands and Hawaii will always be our home.”