Montine McNulty, CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association since 1996, will retire effective Dec. 31, she said in a statement released Monday.
The statement said she had announced at the AHA board meeting in July her intention to retire. “The past year and a half have been both challenging and rewarding as your association has worked hard every day to serve our industry, save businesses, and help our great industry,” she said.
Few industries have been affected more by the COVID-19 pandemic than the hospitality industry, both in Arkansas and nationwide.
“I have loved this job and it’s a wonderful industry,” McNulty, of Little Rock, told Arkansas Business in an interview Monday afternoon.
McNulty, 75, said she didn’t have definite retirement plans but that she planned to travel and spend more time with her grandchildren.
“There has never been a more challenging time for the businesses in the industry, state and our country during my 25 years,” she said in the interview. “It’s challenging on so many fronts.”
The pandemic, in fact, delayed her retirement, McNulty said. “I was thinking about it when COVID hit,” she said. “I wanted to stay on because I knew the industry needed all the help it could get. I devoted, well, our whole staff devoted ourselves to that,” McNulty said, adding, “It was difficult, but it was heartwarming.”
The board of the AHA has been working on finding her replacement since she announced her retirement plans in July, she said. She said she thought the association would announce a new CEO before too long.
“They wanted to make sure that I would stick around and help with the transition,” McNulty said.
McNulty said among the biggest changes the hospitality industry has seen in the last 25 years are the internet and its effects on communication and term limits for Arkansas legislators.
When she was first hired to lead the AHA — the umbrella organization for the Arkansas Lodging Association, the Arkansas Restaurant Association and the Arkansas Travel Council — “it was really about relationships, particularly with people who’d been leaders in the Senate and the House for many years,” McNulty said.
But with term limits, those leadership roles change much more frequently. “Just managing that has been a huge challenge,” she said.
“Another huge change is the makeup of our association,” McNulty said, noting that it was much more diverse in terms of gender representation, culturally, race, “all kinds of things. It’s much broader.”
In fact, when she was hired for the CEO position, McNulty said, the association members had “discussed whether they were going to interview any women or not.”
McNulty added that she is an emeritus member of the Arkansas Parks, Heritage & Tourism Commission and president of the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation, “so I won’t just be going away from the industry.”