Halvorsen leaving N.J. Restaurant & Hospitality Association

CEO, after more than 8 years in the role, is taking national role with Hotel & Lodging group

Marilou Halvorsen has always noted: Her first day at the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association was the first day of Superstorm Sandy. She now hopes her last day will mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Halvorsen told the NJRHA board and her members Monday that she will be leaving the association to become the vice president of state relations and government affairs with the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The association is based in Washington, D.C., but Halvorsen will be able to do much of her work remotely.

Halvorsen said she expects to start the new job in the middle to end of March. She said she intends to spend the next few weeks helping the NJRHA find her successor.

“It’s just time,” she said. “It’s been a long year, and it’s been rough. This opportunity came along, which will enable me to work for a national organization but stay in the hospitality industry. I loved dealing with my state partners. So, the ability to do … state relations and government affairs is the best of both worlds.”

Halvorsen has led the NJRHA for more than eight years. The last 12 months certainly have been the most challenging.

She was in the center of all discussions — and disputes — with Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration over restrictions placed on the industry, most specifically new rules for indoor dining.

“It’s been a draining year,” she said. “It’s tough, because you can only make so many people happy. Some people think you’re not doing enough to get restaurants open, others think you’re doing too much. It’s been draining.”

Halvorsen said the American Hotel & Lodging Association has agreed to let her stay on for a few more weeks.

“They’ve been really good about making sure that my association is in good hands before I leave,” she said.

Halvorsen said she expects there to be a huge search for her successor, but said she does not anticipate hiring a search firm.

“I think, between all my contacts and just getting the word out, there will be more than enough qualified candidates to fill the position,” she said. “We will have a job posting soon.”