|By Robbie Dingeman, The Honolulu
AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 21, 2009--Marriott's top executive in Hawai'i, Ed Hubennette, is being transferred to London to run the hotel chain's London-based operations that include South England and Ireland.
He's being succeeded by Chris Tatum, a 28-year Marriott veteran who grew up in Hawai'i. The 50-year-old Radford High graduate went to college at Michigan State University and has worked with Marriott in other U.S. cities, and in Asia and Australia.
Tatum is currently the general manager of the 1,310-room Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, where he received the Marriott International General Manager of the Year Award in 2006.
He says he's excited about the promotion that allows him to move up but stay home. "This is a great opportunity. I'm from Hawai'i, my kids are in high school, my mom and dad are here."
Tatum will be responsible for the strategic planning and operations at 31 properties in Hawai'i, Australia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, and Guam.
He said he's looking forward to "helping to drive tourism back to Hawai'i" and the potential for growth from Korea and other markets.
Hubennette, 58, has served in his current job for just shy of three years, but it's his second stint in Hawai'i. He plunged into the community, at work and in various other roles, including helping to select the head of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and the Honolulu police chief.
Hubennette said he is happy about the new job in London -- where there are 14 Marriott hotels within that city alone -- but less thrilled that it means leaving Hawai'i.
His previous posting in the Islands was 20 years ago, when he was the general manager of the Hyatt Regency. When he returned to Hawai'i in 2006, "I said I would never leave again. I was really, really excited to come back."
Hubennette remains a major advocate for Hawai'i as a visitor destination that is unique for its cultural traditions.
And he has seen the state's No. 1 industry enjoy amazing success in boom years, then watched a slump come with a global economic downturn, the back-to-back closings of Aloha and ATA airlines and a wave of discounted hotel rooms.
Hubennette said the industry has pulled together in tough times, with Marriott, Hawaiian Airlines, Polynesian Cultural Center and other private companies teaming up with state tourism officials to focus marketing efforts.
What about Hawai'i's reputation as bad place to do business?
"It's a real challenging place to do business," Hubennette said. He was among industry officials who opposed an increase to the hotel-room tax on top of the state's general excise tax. "Taxes are a necessary evil," he said.
"Margins are tight. Taxes create a bigger challenge."
And he said the state's levels of bureaucracy can slow projects and frustrate businesses. "Other places make it easier."
But Hubennette sees efforts to streamline and speed certain processes that he thinks could help.
While there are glimmers of hope that the decline in tourism may have flattened, he said it's clear that 2010 will still have more challenges after months of deep discounting to attract visitors during difficult times.
"Our business is going to be down next year," he said.
Among Hubennette's highlights here was a recent bus tour that took hula dancers, Hawai'i images and giveaways to key Mainland cities to spark interest in travel during a down economy.
The bus tour was supposed to start and end on the West Coast but got extended across the Midwest and to the East Coast. Another tour went to Japan, and a new Mainland tour is set to begin next month starting in Phoenix.
The tour won support from Hawaiian Airlines, the Polynesian Cultural Center and other private companies, and Hubennette estimates it generated $18 million worth of bookings.
Marriott is an important player in the state's top industry, employing about 4,500 people in Hawai'i alone.
Hubennette said the state must get creative to win back more business and convention travel. "I'm worried that Hawai'i has this boondoggle image -- the place you go with the extreme award or top incentive."
Hubennette will be responsible for managing the day-to-day business of 28 hotels in London, South of London, and Ireland, effective Jan. 2, 2010.
Tatum is chairman of the O'ahu Visitors Bureau and chairman-elect of the Hawai'i Hotel & Lodging Association. He also serves on the boards of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, Waikiki Improvement Association, Waikiki Community Center, and Waikiki Business District Improvement Center.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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