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HVCB President and CEO John Monahan stepping down; Tom Mullen to serve as interim leader : Maui Now

John Monahan (left); and Tom Mullen (right).

The Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau announced that its longtime president and CEO John Monahan will step down effective Dec. 31, 2023, after serving as the organization’s top leader since 2003. Tom Mullen, HVCB’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, will serve as interim president and CEO effective Jan. 1, 2024.

Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Interim President and CEO Daniel Nāho‘opi‘i issued a statement in response to the announcement, saying Monahan contributed tremendously to the state over the past two decades by serving the community and supporting the diverse visitor industry.

“He has successfully managed three main areas as HTA’s contractor, which includes strengthening The Hawaiian Islands brand in North America and beyond, advancing Global MCI group business through Meet Hawai‘i for the meetings, conventions and incentives market, and overseeing the Island Chapters representing the island of Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.”

Nāho‘opi‘i said Monahan has also been an integral partner of HTA through the state’s various periods of economic revitalization during his tenure, most recently having championed critical efforts in the US market to support Maui’s recovery and the overall state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We thank John deeply for everything he has done for the people of Hawai‘i and wish him continued success,” said Nāho‘opi‘i.

Tom Mullen, HVCB’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, will serve as interim president and CEO effective Jan. 1, 2024, while maintaining his current duties until a permanent replacement for the position is in place.

Sean Dee, HVCB board chair and executive vice president/chief commercial officer for Outrigger Hospitality Group said, “John has served HVCB admirably for over two decades, spending countless hours leading what is universally recognized as one of the preeminent convention and visitor bureaus in the world, and helping to position the state of Hawai‘i as one of the most iconic and sustainable destinations on the planet.”

“While it would be impossible to truly replace him, we are confident that Tom Mullen will seamlessly step into the interim leadership role as we continue our search for the next permanent CEO and execute our planned succession process with the HVCB transition committee,” said Dee.

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Monahan will continue to serve as an advisor to HVCB and will be transitioning alongside Mullen through January.

Mullen joined HVCB as senior vice president and chief operating officer in 2015 bringing more than 35 years of travel and tourism experience to the organization. Prior to HVCB, he led American Express Travel and Merchant Services for 28 years, of which 20 years was based in Hawai‘i. After leaving American Express in 2013, Mullen was recruited by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board to be its chief administrative officer before returning to Hawai‘i in 2015 to assume his current position at HVCB. 

Mullen’s relationship with HVCB dates back to 2000 when he served on its board of directors for eight years, including being its chair from 2006-2008. He also led the Marketing Committee from 2001-2006. His experience also includes serving as a board member for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board from 2008-2013 and its chair from 2009-2013. He also served on the board of 
San Francisco Travel from 2010-2013.

During his tenure with HVCB, Monahan is credited with helping the organization strengthen its management and internal controls following a critical state audit in 2003. That same year, HVCB’s offices in Toyko and Shanghai were closed as the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority moved its global marketing contracts to other contractors. At that point in time, HVCB’s brand marketing focus shifted primary to North America and global single property meetings, conventions and incentives (MCI) sales and marketing.

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At the same time HVCB’s mandate was to help grow visitor arrivals and spending through the Hawaiian Islands, it also saw its fair share of challenges along the way that threatened to cripple Hawai‘i’s economy. 

Among the issues Monahan and the team faced was the 2008 financial crisis, a number of hurricanes and other disasters, including economic calamities including the closing of ATA and Aloha Airlines in the span of three days in 2008 which was quickly followed by the beginning of the Great Recession later that fall.  

Despite the challenges he encountered over the last 20 years, Monahan notes there have been many bright spots along the way. He notes the team’s work to help market and position the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawai‘i Convention Center as a desirable meetings, convention and incentives destination through the collective efforts of the Meet Hawai‘i team.

He is also most proud of the way his team rose to each and every challenge with well-planned, thoroughly researched and well-executed integrated marketing programs. He also cites the important work which began in 2018 in partnership with HTA which began the shift to attract more responsible and mindful travel to the islands. This focus evolved to supporting HTA’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan which prioritized destination stewardship and a regenerative tourism model for the state. 

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Jay Talwar, HVCB’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and his brand marketing team who along with our Island Chapters, are the primary engines that make HVCB go,” said Monahan.

HVCB was proud to help develop a series of award-winning campaigns – Hawai‘i Rooted, Kuleana, and Mālama Hawai‘i – which were designed to educate visitors about pono (responsible) travel to the islands through the hearts and voices of local residents who live and work here. The Mālama Hawai‘i campaign continues on today.

“I am leaving the organization in a good place with a lot of dedicated and talented people who care deeply for Hawai‘i, said Monahan. “Over the past four years, we have weathered incredible challenges as we navigated our way through the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently the long, drawn out, procurement processes. As my time with HVCB comes to an end, I am grateful that HTA has once again affirmed its faith in HVCB with the granting of our three main contracts. There is still a lot of work to do, and I have no doubt Tom and the team will be able to deliver for the state and all of those who depend on a vibrant visitor industry.”

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