Early in her professional life, Lynn Hogan traded the fantastical princesses and magical kingdoms of Disney for the historical monarchies and rich cultural treasures of Hawaii. In doing so, she helped introduce millions of U.S. travelers to the Aloha State.
Hogan, who along with her husband, Ed, founded what would become travel company Pleasant Holidays, died Nov. 24 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She was 92.
Gary Hogan, one of the Hogans’ four children and the CEO of the Honolulu-based Hogan Hospitality Group, spoke with Travel Weekly in December about his mother’s life and legacy in the travel industry. As readers know, Pleasant has grown to be one of the country’s largest operators, one that helped pioneer Hawaii as a destination.
It all began, however, as little more than what was literally a mom-and-pop business at the Jersey Shore.
Hogan was born Marilyn Jane Schneider on Nov. 26, 1927, and raised in Elizabeth, N.J. She earned a degree in graphic arts from Brooklyn’s Pratt Art Institute and in 1951 married Ed Hogan, who she knew from high school and had reconnected with through their work in the travel industry.
Lynn worked briefly in advertising and as a flight attendant before taking a job with Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., where she worked on the animated feature “Peter Pan.”
Meanwhile, Ed was getting to know the Hawaii tourism market. He found work as a sales manager and later as director of domestic and Pacific sales for Transocean Air Lines, which flew tourists to the Islands. While there he caught the attention of Henry J. Kaiser, an industrialist and owner of a Waikiki hotel (which today is the Hilton Hawaiian Village) who hired Ed to market the property. He initially moved the Hogans to Hawaii but eventually sent them back to the mainland, setting up a sales office in New York.
Ed eventually lost that job with Kaiser, and in 1959, the same year Hawaii became the 50th state, the couple struck out on their own. They took $10,000 in savings and opened Pleasant Travel Service in Point Pleasant, N.J.; with Ed’s previous connections to Hawaii, they decided to specialize in selling trips to the Islands.
“My parents really fell in love with Hawaii [while living there] back in the ’50s,” Gary said. “I think they saw opportunity with Hawaii being part of the United States. It was safe, stable and magical, and they just wanted to share that passion for the Islands with others.”
It was not, however, the easiest product to push at the time, considering the amount of time it took to fly to Hawaii from the East Coast back then — something Ed had learned while trying to sell the 24-hour journey during his time at Kaiser.
“Finally, they decided to pack up the family — myself, my twin brother and my sister and older brother — and drive cross country,” Gary Hogan said. “It was a big risk.”
In 1961, they moved Pleasant Travel Service to Los Angeles to focus their business on selling trips to Hawaii. That’s when Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays was born.
The couple had a symbiotic business relationship, with Lynn taking the lead on bookkeeping and using her graphic arts background to produce colorful brochures.
The couple worked “tirelessly” on building the business, Gary said, traveling all over the world for trade shows and large travel conferences. In the ’70s the company continued to grow, moving into wholesale rather than direct sales, signing charter flight agreements that significantly expanded operations and promoting vacations on the neighbor islands when others were focused on Oahu.
By 1985, Pleasant was responsible for roughly 10% of visitor arrivals to Hawaii, and in 1987 the company celebrated sending its 2 millionth customer to the Islands. In the 1990s, the company began offering vacations in Mexico, and then Asia.
Lynn and Ed continued to work side by side while also bringing their children into the business.
“My mom was the great stabilizer of the company,” Gary said. “I never saw my mom lose her temper. If somebody disappointed her, you knew, but she was always smiling and always very fair. She also taught us a lot of independence. She worked all the time and knew she needed to teach us to take care of ourselves. She was not the type of mom who was hovering over us, she would let us fail and pick ourselves back up. She was very loving but not doting.”
The Hogans kept expanding the business, eventually owning more than a half-dozen hotels and employing 3,500 people.
“It really grew from a business into a corporation, but it still felt like a family operation,” Gary Hogan said.
In 1998, the Hogans sold the company to the Automobile Club of Southern California, and the next year the name was changed to Pleasant Holidays. At the same time, they established the Hogan Family Foundation, a nonprofit that has raised more than $100 million for educational and humanitarian causes throughout the U.S.
Lynn Hogan really loved her dogs, her son said, so much of the philanthropic work has concerned animal welfare. The foundation operates both a dog and horse rescue and also supports entrepreneurial programs at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and Chaminade University in Honolulu. The Hogan Angel Flight Fund provides airline tickets to patients needing treatment not available where they live.
Hogan was recognized with numerous awards during her career. She was inducted into the ASTA Hall of Fame in 1993 and the TIA Hall of Leaders in 1999 and was selected as one of Tour and Travel News’ 25 Most Influential Executives in the Tour & Travel Industry in 1995. Her charitable work was also recognized with the International Fund for Animal Welfare Animal Action Award in 2007, and the Lifetime Achievement for the Arts Award by the Alliance of the Arts in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 2012.
She is survived by her husband and their four children — Brian, Christine, Gary and Glenn — as well as four grandchildren, three great grandchildren and her brother George.
“When I created Hogan Hospitality Group it was really to honor the legacy of my mom and dad, not for ego or anything,” Gary said. “I wanted to continue the name out there and grow that brand, and I’m using the skills and lessons they taught me over so many years every day.”