headshot of jan freitagJan D. Freitag, CHIA, MBA

National Director, Hospitality Analytics, CoStar Group

Motivating force: When we have disagreements about future trends in our internal meetings eventually someone will say: “Let the data set you free”. I hope that my work with and commentary on the hotel data has allowed meeting planners to be more thoughtful about their actions and that they are “set free” because they understand the larger context in which they operate. I am motivated by interactions with meeting planners and hotel operators that give me feedback on the trend data and provide insights that I only get from people on the ground. And, of course, meeting planners are just fun to be around.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Data and data presentations can sometimes be quite heavy, and dare I say, boring. I try to introduce some levity, not humor for the sake of humor, but a light moment to advance the point I am making. Sometimes that includes making fun of myself, sometimes just a catchy phrase or image I picked up in the media that will resonate with the audience.

Lately, I use a screenshot from The Wall Street Journal that coined the term “mullet travel” (business in the front, party in the back) that, I think, perfectly encapsulates travelers working in a location for a few days and then adding on a leisure stay. In addition to illuminating a point, those lighter moments make for great conversation starters at the closing cocktail.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I have been very fortunate to benefit from an amazing alumni group of hotel professionals through the Cornell Hotel School network. My peers and I graduated a few decades ago (we are not old, just more mature), so many of them are now in very senior positions, and am I lucky that they share their questions and insights with me.

In addition, I sit at the nerve center of hotel information, at the crossroads of STR hotel data and CoStar real estate data. That combination allows me to ask deep questions about what drives performance. And, of course, 2020 shaped my career because I was able to produce weekly videos, reaching thousands of operators and planners, telling them in almost real-time how the industry was faring and recovering. Audience members still come up to me after my talks, telling me how much those videos meant to them.

Next advance pursuing: After the acquisition of STR by CoStar Group, it was just a question of time until the weekly and monthly STR report performance data would be in the CoStar platform. This is finally happening. It will be an amazing advancement for our clients to see all their data in dashboards they can manipulate in real-time. On the CoStar side, we will continue to roll out global data to an ever more global customer base to allow meeting planners to assess local market conditions from their desktops.

headshot of sophia hyder hockSophia Hyder Hock

Chief Diversity Officer, Destinations International

Motivating force: I believe that meeting professionals have the ability to change the world. They design experiences that create personal and professional connections, meaningful memories, and help people feel welcome. My expertise lies in equipping meeting professionals with ways to influence their role through an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) lens.

Approach to supercharging experiences: My approach is rooted in empathy. Think about the attendees’ experience—put yourself in that person’s to understand what could create excitement and inspire a person to attend the event. I also consider how people tend to absorb information through interactive experiences, off-sites, and connections with the local community, and I ask myself, “How will this event add value to me? What will make it memorable?”

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: My parents always encouraged me to pursue a career that I would truly enjoy. My first career was in international development working on social inclusion issues ranging from gender empowerment and entrepreneurship to sustainability and workforce development. While I have immense respect for development work, I wanted to pursue other opportunities that aligned with diversity, equity and inclusion.

As an avid traveler who experienced safety issues and bias while traveling, I felt the hospitality industry could do a better job creating welcoming experiences, and I wanted to do something about it. So, I started my own business in 2015 to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion dialogues and strategies. I made a conscious choice to be in this industry because I believe in what we do—but we can create a greater impact if we take the time to understand each other in a genuine way.

Next advance pursuing: I recognize that implementing EDI-related initiatives can take time—it takes time to change mindsets, and it’s not easy work. As I listen to the needs of our members, I intend to create resources, toolkits and educational opportunities that address how to implement EDI initiatives in practical and sustainable ways.

headshot of tracy judgeTracy Judge, CMP, MS

Founder & CEO, Soundings

Motivating force: I am motivated by the resilience and courage of the talent in our industry. Our brand mission is “to make professional freedom accessible to all by revolutionizing the way companies work with talent.” We take a talent-first approach in everything we do at Soundings. Particularly during the pandemic, we were constantly reminded of why we do what we do while watching the achievements of our community of talent amidst adversity.  When the industry was decimated overnight, we had to quickly pivot because there was no work for our talent.

We realized what we could offer was community and education. By focusing all of our resources on building our community, Soundings Thrive, we were able to truly connect and understand the needs of meeting professionals as they entered the toughest period of their professional careers. I witnessed so many people push themselves out of their comfort zones, try new roles, learn new technologies, and upskill through certifications and other learning opportunities.

As a result, they found work during the pandemic and learned new skills that have made them more valuable than ever. The most rewarding part of my job is watching the personal success of the members of our community and the positive impact they have on our clients’ businesses.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Supercharge the team and you will supercharge the experience. To design great experiences, you need the right minds, expertise and strengths, plus synergy on the team. Over the past few years alone, we have seen innovation in technologies, content delivery, event design, and marketing but we rarely talk about innovating the way we work with talent.

When live events came back faster than any of us expected, many organizations tried to resource events like they had pre-pandemic. However, due to talent shortages, skills gaps, and recruitment and retention challenges, many event organizers struggle to achieve the experiences and outcomes they are looking for. An agile talent strategy solves these problems.

Put simply, an agile talent strategy leverages a combination of full-time employees and external talent (like freelance or contract workers) to contribute to a company’s projects or events. This model allows organizers to tap into specialized talent on an as-needed basis ensuring you have the most relevant talent for each project. We work strategically with our customers to build a talent framework that will achieve their goals and then match them with the talent to bring the experience to life.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: The forces that shaped my hospitality career are education, community, authenticity, and courage.

Continued education has been a huge contributor to my success in the industry. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in hospitality and tourism. Pursuing a master’s degree after having years of industry experience gave me the context to apply my learnings and propelled my career forward.

I am grateful to be part of the hospitality and events community. The support we give each other is unmatched, and that was seen more than ever during the pandemic. Industry involvement has led me to many incredible mentors and mentees who I learn and grow from. Many of us suffer from impostor syndrome and often feel we must be or act in a certain way based on the role or position we are in. A big turning point for my career was when I realized “authenticity sells” and started showing up as my whole self in business.

But none of the above would have happened without courage. I’ve learned to push myself out of my comfort zone, to manage fear, and most importantly, to trust the universe.

Next advance pursuing: We are focused on making Soundings Thrive the global community for independent meeting and event talent. I had the opportunity to travel to multiple international events this year, including IMEX Frankfurt, PCMA Convening EMEA, Site Global Conference, and Cvent Connect Europe, to get a pulse on the post-pandemic global industry.

Some challenges that were addressed across the board were talent, sustainability, and DEI. Among the talent issues were under-resourced teams, burnout, resignations, industry exits, lack of expertise, and unexpected labor costs. Continued investment in our Soundings Thrive community can continue to solve these problems globally. Our young leaders’ program helps educate young talent about the industry and the opportunity to try different roles. The size of our talent pool and geographic location allows companies to tap into a diverse workforce–age, gender identity, neurodiversity, and ethnicity providing diversity of thought and specialized skillsets.

Additionally, the flexibility provided by freelance work retains industry talent, especially women who make up 77% of the events industry. For instance, HBR did a study that found 2/3 of highly skilled women would not have dropped out of the workforce if they had more flexibility in their role.

headshot of nick kopachNick Kopach

Director, National Event Sales & Programs, Topgolf

Motivating force: We take great pride in creating moments that matter for our guests and want to continue delivering a top-notch guest experience for all hosted events. I am very motivated to continue making planning easy for our clients that activate and plan events across the country at our 70+ Topgolf locations. It’s been amazing to see the tribal following we have as a brand, and astonishing to witness planners trail us into new markets year after year. The loyalty from planners for Topgolf is incredible!

Our goal was simple, and that was to make planning much more turnkey for our dedicated clients that book events nationwide. We were able to streamline the entire booking process and make planning easy under our National Events program. The perks & benefits of our National Events Program are: single point-of-contact for event coordination, sourcing availability, one standard event contract with centralized billing, and our amazing loyalty rewards program. These were all pain points previously and we did our best to deliver surgical solutions for our clientele.

Approach to supercharging experiences: We never stop evolving and being innovative at Topgolf and we were able to deliver a new product that connects guests in meaningful ways across the country with our new multi-venue live leaderboard feature. Planners can now host live virtual team-building events while staying connected for simultaneous competition across multiple cities.

The industry was impacted severely by the pandemic and the feedback we would receive daily was “travel budgets were cut” or “they didn’t feel comfortable traveling.” We then took matters into our own hands and our industry-leading technology Innovation team created a live virtual team-building experience and it has been an absolute hit! Recently we hosted a multi-location live leaderboard event series across 72 of our Topgolf locations for an incredible team-building/employee appreciation experience.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I would have to say it’s been having incredible mentors, coaches, and leaders throughout various chapters of my career. Those mentors stayed with me from the beginning and are still by my side today. Being a part of different brands, teams and cultures, allowed me to gain so much industry knowledge and network and connect with so many talented industry leaders in hospitality. Topgolf has a very special culture, and I am surrounded by the best of the best every day and have extraordinary leaders that allow me to be myself, be innovative, and drive results as #one-team.

Next advance pursuing: I want to help continue growing the game of golf and bring the amazing experience of Topgolf to planners that are in cities of all sizes across the country. Our leadership team has created prototypes and Topgolf models that allow us to enter large, mid-size, & small cities. And with that, we want to be able to impact communities in a positive way and be the perfect event spot for all types of events. The next big initiative on deck for me will be launching a new structured National Tour & Travel program in 2023.

This is something I have received a lot of great feedback on from the planners and tour operators, and I have leaned on key leaders that I consider great friends across the industry to customize the “perfect” program. We are looking forward to expanding our brand into 12+ new markets next year and keep growing with our incredible following of event planners!

headshot of susan listonSusan Liston

Senior Vice President Growth, Aramark Destinations

Motivating force: The hospitality industry has been through many cyclical ups and downs but none quite like the recent pandemic. The resiliency of our teams is always an inspiration to me, however, many experienced hospitality professionals were laid-off or resigned and we’ve gained new employees who are eager to learn. This motivates me to ensure we provide world-class service to our meeting professional clientele by seeking new ways to recruit top talent and mentor them. We also need to invest in upgraded technology to power our meeting venues to do more with a leaner staff.

Approach to supercharging experiences: The brand essence for Aramark’s conference center portfolio is “Inspired Hospitality, Authentic Experiences.” Authenticity is key; we want our guests to feel at home in our venues yet also enjoy different, super-charged experiences in the heart of Philadelphia versus a meeting along the California coastline. We have flexibility to be uniquely different since our portfolio is a unique blend of independent hotels and conference centers.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I was introduced to the hospitality industry by a friend who worked for Marriott Corporation. She said, “if you like retail management, you’ll love hospitality even more.” My first job was an administrative role for a full-service hotel and from there, catering manager, sales manager, and eventually director of sales and marketing. When Smart Meetings launched its first issue, I was proud to be among the initial advertisers who supported the trail-blazing publication and Marin Bright’s vision.

Our industry offers great opportunities in terms of diversity and inclusion, however, there’s still a need to support women and minorities to be better prepared for senior leadership and C-suite roles. It’s why I’m a huge fan of the Castell Project, which celebrates remarkable female talent in our industry. I also serve as the executive sponsor and co-chair of Aramark’s Empower AZ chapter which provides allyship for women in all levels of the organization.

Next advance pursuing: As incoming IACC Americas President, I want to continue the association’s Meeting Room of the Future research to benefit the meeting professional community and our IACC member properties. There will be continued advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and computer learning to create a very immersive meeting experience for conferences and give meeting professionals the tools to expand learning environments and enhance their community.

headshot of pamela troopPamela A. Troop, CMP

Senior Director, Meeting Industry Relations & Leadership Events, ASAE:  The Center for Association Leadership

Motivating force: As an employee of ASAE for 24 years and a member of the meetings team, that in itself motivates me to create and deliver exceptional programs and conferences to meeting professionals everywhere. Our partners, stakeholders and our members look to us to deliver the best content, the best experience and the best networking opportunities. Since Covid, ASAE has not been able to meet in person, and like so many associations were forced to meet virtually. In 2020, which was to be ASAE’s 100th year anniversary and again in 2021.

The pandemic changed all of our lives. Variants continued, travel budgets cut and many people were still hesitant to travel. Under the new leadership of Michelle Mason, president & CEO, the decision was made to meet in person in 2022. It was the “right” thing to do for ASAE, its partners and its members. It was up to ASAE to bring this community together after so long. We were determined to meet and we knew we could meet safely.

With 5,000 attendees strong, new and creative ideas and content, we marched into Nashville in August 2022. With a team of three (yes three) when we were a team of 12 in 2019, we worked long hours, met and resolved obstacles along the way, brought the entire ASAE team together to demonstrate staff’s resilience and leadership to each other and our membership. There was nothing more rewarding that watching members arrive in Nashville with smiles on their faces, a hug or two for each other and packed meeting rooms!

Approach to supercharging experiences: Nothing at ASAE is done in a silo; decisions are made together and communication is key. We convene as a team and discuss the “what’s next” or “what if.” We continue to challenge each other, meet with our partners, meet with other planners, attend conferences and observe. Our responsibility to each other and to ASAE is to bring great ideas and great people together to enhance, upgrade and energize experiences. We focus on ASAE’s strategic plan, manage seasonality spikes by bringing in great consultants/partners who can help manage ASAE’s conferences, online programs and meetings—sometimes two to three in a week, so my team can focus on the day-to-day operation and future annual meetings.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: People, family and experiences have shaped my career.  In my earlier years as a meeting planner, my family did not understand what I did. They sensed my passion and determination to stay the course and learn as much as I could about this wonderful crazy industry so many of us love. I started my career at a trade association in Chicago and from there went to the “other side” to work in hotels. I wanted to find out exactly what happened to my information once it was sent to the hotel or a venue.

I soon realized (three years in) my calling was working on logistics, negotiation, working with all levels of the association management. That did not happen right away as my life took me to Arizona where I planned incentive programs for Fortune 500 companies, followed by working for a company responsible for delivering services and solutions for various technology partners. An eye-opener for me regarding budgets, strategic plans, planning and execution of incentive programs. A few years later, my life changed again and brought me back to the east coast. Employed by a housing company, enhancing my knowledge of this piece of meeting management. Positions became available at ASAE, but I knew I wanted the director of meetings position. I said, “Call me” when that position is available. Then I got the call.

I was hired after a two-hour interview and was to start the day the team returned from the annual meeting. I knew this position would enhance and grow my community of contacts, relationships and friendships and open doors to a thriving and exciting industry. I am proud of many of the accomplishments I have had over the years, but none of them are as great as the people I have met and worked with along the way.  I have been in this industry for more than 40 years and continue to nurture those relationships and mentor people I have met along the way. Especially through challenging times, because we are all in this together.

Next advance pursuing: I live for the here and now, one step at a time and one day at a time. I am blessed that I wake up every morning. I have had so many wonderful experiences and memories in my career and it’s not over yet. I get great comfort and pleasure from being part of a team who believe associations make the world a better place. The role has many facets of it, but to educate, network, collaborate, celebrate each other is key. I enjoy meeting and working with planners first starting their own career; I see that look of being overwhelmed, and I tell them it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be fun and you are going to learn so many things and meet so many wonderful people.

So many first-timer attendees were in awe of experiencing their first-ever ASAE annual meeting along with so many new staff at ASAE who were overwhelmed but in a good way. I’ve been there, I know it’s a lot to take it but so much to be proud of when it’s over. I would not trade my career for any other. If I were to pursue other opportunities, I wonder what I would be good at, what would I do to gain the knowledge, exposure in that industry that would create and enable me to keep these incredible relationships. I’m not sure there is one. I believe I am right where I need to be and I thank so many of my friends and family (you know who you are) who stood by my side during my good days and my bad days.

headshot of brad weaberBrad Weaber

Principal, Brad Weaber Consulting Group, LLC 

Motivating force: I love this industry! I am motivated by the incredible work and creativity I see from all facets of the meetings and events industry. The passion that our industry has for creating amazing experiences, yet driving one of the largest economic engines in our economy while dealing with every issue that comes our way is amazing.

Having spent 38 years in the industry with many of those years with some of the best meeting professionals in the world, I am motivated to give back through the work that I do facilitating conversations that help all corners of the industry to stretch, and grow for the greater good. I love seeing planners/suppliers/destinations come together and take some of the toughest topics and collaborate to create meaningful dialogue with ultimately incredible forward-thinking results to tackle and sustain the collective roles. I believe in helping create “paradigm pioneers”.

Approach to supercharging experiences: I believe that we should all use the analogy of the windshield to create supercharged experiences! There is a reason that the windshield is much bigger than the rearview mirror. They are both important and while you do need to occasionally look back, you need to look forward as much as possible. The last few years taught us that more than in any other time. Working with my clients to try new things and new environments helps to foster greater dialogues.

I spent many years seeing “the same old, same old” when it came to boards and facilitating and decided it was time to really push for a shift by creating dynamic, safe and inclusive environments to tackle and solve some of our industry’s most challenging issues. I also believe that my role is to help create groups of professionals that do not look like each other to bring every voice to the table. This, I believe, is the greatest gift I can give.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: Wow, so many! I have had the amazing privilege to work not only for but also alongside some of the greatest professionals that any industry could possibly have! There are few industries that can truly show you that you are making a difference and that you can see the fruits of your labor come to life over and over. I remember early on in my career watching a group of doctors in a meeting room working together to create a treatment to extend people’s quality of life and thinking, “Wow, the environment of this room, its location and the ability to have people comfortably collaborate is changing lives.”

That is pretty powerful. The major force that shaped my career is that the hospitality industry is truly an industry that rewards hard work by opportunities to grow and advance. I believe this is an important message now more than ever that needs to serve as a reminder to those contemplating a career in the hospitality industry.

Next advance pursuing: I want to continue to play a role in helping advance our industry to the next level. The next level of being the industry of choice for emerging professionals, the next level of solving geo and social issues that are going to continue to be at the forefront of our daily lives. I hope to advance the mindset that if you are “at the table” then you need to be proud that you are “at the table” by pushing the paradigm and creating the change that we all try to be. I love being a catalyst for these types of discussions. I hope that in some small way I have been able to model the way for others.

Back to 2022 Catalyst Award winners page.