OBITUARY: Earl Hagaman – a tourism pioneer

“There will never be another Earl. I loved him immensely" – Lani Hagaman.

Proud of being a self-made man, Earl Hagaman, 92, was one of the few people in New Zealand to have created a local hotel chain that is still owned and operated locally. 

Over the years his business, Scenic Hotel Group, expanded. He claimed never to have taken any money out of the hotels, instead reinvesting it in the chain for future growth.

Mr Hagaman died today in his Christchurch home surrounded by family and friends.

“There will never be another Earl. I loved him immensely,” says Lani Hagaman, Earl’s wife and business partner of 30 years.

He started in partnership with friend Ralph Brown in 1980 when they bought their first hotel on the South Island’s West Coast – the 48-room Graham Motor Inn, now the 130-room Scenic Hotel Franz Josef.

Today Scenic Circle owns and manages 18 good-quality hotels, stretching from Paihia in the far north, to Gore and Queenstown in the deep south, and the South Pacific in Tonga and Niue.

Lani Hagaman says he was a visionary who loved this country.

“Earl was loved and respected by many, including business and industry colleagues, and our 1000 staff working throughout Scenic Hotel Group both here in New Zealand and the Pacific,” she said in a statement.  

“He put all his energies into developing New Zealand’s tourism industry, as well as bringing much-needed jobs and income into the regional economy where most other hotel companies did not want to take that risk."  

Last June the Hagamans launched defamation proceedings against Andrew Little after the Labour leader made remarks about donations to the National Party.

In April the High Court found Mr Little had not defamed Lani Hagaman but the jury was unable to agree on whether four of the six instances claimed by Mr Hagaman were defamatory and held the decision for further legal argument.

In 2009 Mr Hagaman was awarded the inaugural NZ Hotel Industry Achievement Award, and in 2014 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his services to business, tourism and philanthropy.

The Hagaman family’s good fortune has always been shared with the community. While every property engages in local and regional charity work and fundraising, the Hagaman family has gifted more than $10 million over the past 20 years to numerous individuals, communities and organisations. Schools, sports clubs, individuals, organisations, charities and entire regions have benefited. 

The NBR Rich List valued the couple at $190 million. Read their 2016 profile here.

He is survived by Lani, his fifth wife, and their three children, Zane, Toya and Skye. He also has four other children.

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