Montine McNulty was appointed to what was then the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Commission by Gov. Bill Clinton. Six years later she would be hired as CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association (AHA). That was 25 years ago, and it’s time for new leadership, McNulty said.
The AHA announced Thursday that Katie Beck has been named CEO, succeeding McNulty who will officially leave the organization on Dec. 31. McNulty said she thought about retiring prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but felt obligated to stay and help the industry through the difficult time. The AHA works with state government, legislators, and tourism business leaders to improve the sector.
“I’ve had wonderful support for 25 years from a great industry, and that doesn’t happen in many jobs,” McNulty told Talk Business & Politics. “I’m 75 years old. I want to spend more time with my family and my grandchildren, and I feel like I’m missing a lot of time with them.”
She said technology changes and more race and gender diversity are the two biggest changes in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industry in the past 25 years. She noted it was somewhat controversial when she was hired because there were so few women leaders in the hospitality sector.
“We’ve seen more influences (with race and gender) and that’s been a huge change and a change for the better, and I really hope that will continue,” she said.
‘BIGGER AND BETTER’
The biggest change in the sector is technology. Cell phones and the multitude of online connections between the hospitality sector and consumers are key parts of technology change, McNulty said, noting that “you have robots now cooking hamburgers. No one was thinking anything about that 25 years ago.”
“Just think about 25 years ago, I don’t think I had a cell phone when I arrived. … Technology is just huge, it’s just transformed everything for us, and who can imagine how it will transform the next 25 years,” she said.
The pandemic expedited many technology changes in the industry, McNulty said, with the changes in how businesses operate likely to prevent a full recovery in the convention business and with big venues. She said Arkansas’ tourism industry “was poised to have its best year ever going into 2020,” but then the pandemic happened. The state’s Leisure and Hospitality (tourism) sector had 112,900 jobs in September, down from 113,100 in August and above the 107,800 in September 2020. The sector first reached an employment record of 122,900 in December 2019. But McNulty is optimistic about overall sector recovery.
“I think it will ramp back up. Obviously, we have had some losses and there is some suffering still going on, but the public demands what our industry offers, and it will not slow down. I really think it will come back bigger and better,” McNulty said.
McNulty is not entirely stepping away from her work in the industry. She will remain an emeritus member of the Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism Commission, and is the president of the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation.
Beck most recently served in state government as director of communications and spokesperson for the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Beck also worked for Gov. Hutchinson from 2016-2019 as liaison to the Arkansas federal delegation, the White House, and federal agencies. Beck advocated for the state at the federal level on a wide range of issues including trade, healthcare, education and workforce development, environmental protection, and federal funding.
From January 2015 to September 2016, Beck worked as executive assistant to the Governor and economic development liaison to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and business community. In that role, she participated in the recruitment, expansion, and retention of businesses throughout the state.
“I am excited to welcome Katie Beck as the new CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association. Katie’s extensive background working with the highest State and Local officials, along with her experiences and relationships made at the Federal Government level, will be a huge contribution having Katie represent AHA and all its members,” said Annette Nichols, chairman of the AHA Board of Directors.
Beck earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history from the University of Arkansas, Fullbright College of Arts and Sciences, and a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law.