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Tom Mullin retires on Dec. 4 and that evening, approximately 45 friends and
colleagues will gather at the DoubleTree by Hilton Regina to fete Mullin
with a retirement dinner. Here are some of the highlights of his 15-year career, reprinted courtesy of Hotel & Hospitality Saskatchewan magazine.
Are you crazy?
A few months into Tom Mullin's tenure as president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association (SHHA), he was asked: “Are you crazy?”
“I got a call from the Western Hotelier magazine editor Kelly Gray, and he asked if he could interview me in person,” Mullin said. “I was going to the convention in Winnipeg so I said, 'Absolutely.' So we meet and his first words were, 'Are you crazy?' He was mainly referring to the banning of smoking that was taking place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He said, 'You really jumped into a kettle of fish here because this is going to be huge.'”
When Mullin—who had spent the previous 14 years as marketing manager of Regina's Exhibition Park—began his term in 1999, it was indeed a hectic time for hotel owners across the province. They were worried about the Saskatchewan government's intention to place an outright ban on smoking in public places. After chatting with members of the Association, Mullin realized how important smoking in hotels was for their bottom line and immediately set out to implement a plan to oppose the proposed legislation.
“We engaged a public relations firm who developed an awareness campaign about the financial impact of the ban and to orchestrate a rally in Weyburn… We spent more money than we should have, but at the end of the day, we got our point across that it was going to really hurt, especially the rural hoteliers,” Mullin said. “We had always put it out there that it would probably take away about 30 per cent of the on-table sales in a hotel. The government was saying, 'No, it will for a while and then the business will bounce back.' To this very day, the business has not returned to the levels prior to the ban.”
The Saskatchewan government didn't budge on its position, but did phase out the process over a few years instead of immediately making a change. On January 1, 2005, the government banned smoking in enclosed public places. As a result of this, the Association encouraged many hotels to get into the food business, because offering food to customers would be a great way to offset the financial issues. Many of the ones who did this are still in business today.
It was quite the battle to start off what would be a lengthy term for Mullin, who is retiring after serving for 15 years. In fact, he noted that the smoking situation was the first major dust up in the Association in years. This didn't faze Mullin, who would never be afraid to go to bat for the Association's members.
Improving liquor regulation
Shortly after the dispute over the smoking legislation, Mullin immediately went to work to improve another area for the hotel association, liquor regulation.
The Association's stance was that the commission system for beer had to be revised. After making several presentations to the government on the issue and discussing the issue with members, the Association earned a victory when it was allowed to retail liquor out of off-sales in 2005.
“That was very successful for us,” said Mullin. “The people that revamped their off-sale premises and got proper displays in did quite well at it. They made an investment—adding nice coolers and displays for all the liquor products—and it really paid off.”
Battling VLT elimination
Then, around five years later, Mullin stepped up on the national level, opposing a proposal that would eliminate VLTs from hotels and only have them in casinos and racetracks.
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“Tom came to Ottawa and met with a variety of people from right across the country,” said Tony Pollard, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada. “He did the work that saved a heck of a lot of our business in Saskatchewan.”
Recently, the beer discount schedule was revised to increase the discounts on beer that hadn't been changed since inception in the early nineties and later further discussions with government led to changing the discounts to a percentage, to protect revenues into the future. Mullin was adamant about convincing the government that the off sale business was a huge part of liquor retailing and the Association is a partner in liquor retailing not an opponent.
Mullin's willingness to step up and ensure the SHHA's members voices were always heard has led to the Association being in a great position moving forward. With 60 new hotels being built over the last four years, the door is open to a whole new membership base.
Admittedly, Mulliin is sad to not be a part of the Association's future struggles. However, he felt it was time to spend more time with family. He and his wife Beverly will be welcoming their first grandchild in January from their daughter Jillian and husband Kris. Their son Mark is engaged to be married next year.
Mullin made the announcement at the Association's AGM and his speech was met by a standing ovation. Pollard, one of many people to pay tribute to Mullin, said following the announcement, “Tom, you'll always have a hotel room to stay in and a cold beer.”
“It's been a great run for me,” Mullin said. “I believe new energy is required to lead the association through the coming years.
“I'm going to miss the routine. There's always stuff going on, things to do—looking down the road at where we can improve the Association, whether it's board governance, new programs that might be advantageous to the members, or dealing with the government to make sure that anything that's brought in doesn't hurt the Association.”
“I think one of the clear pluses over the years was my relationship with the other CEOs of the hotel associations in other provinces. We have a real bond. We've worked on various positions and various programs that were consistent right across, at least the western provinces. So I think that's what I value the most is the friendship of the CEOs, the knowledge that we all pooled together and then implemented programs that have a lasting effect on members bottom lines.”
Whoever the Board chooses to succeed him will be thrown into the fray just like he was. [Note: Jim Bence has now been named CEO. See article on Bence at https://canadianlodgingnews.com/lodging/people/former-shsa-ceo-replaces-tom-mullin-at-shha]
There's a staffing issue for the accommodation side of the business that needs to be solved. As well, it will be a priority to ensure the Association is at the table and positioned properly when discussions begin about the advancement of private liquor retailing.
Mullin will certainly have sound advice to pass along on how to fight for the Association. There's one thing, however, he doesn't plan to include in his conversation with the new President and CEO.
“I'm not going to start the conversation with, “Are you crazy?'” said Mullin.