General Manager, JW Marriott Washington, DC
Motivating force: Post-pandemic, we understand how it is more important than ever to bring people back together. With the change in how people work, meetings become essential to instill culture and build camaraderie. Additionally, often the most beneficial parts of meetings are the interstitials when people who may not see each other often are able to reconnect to discuss a piece of business or just to catch up personally.
Meeting professionals are tasked with building a program that is conducive to this and usually must do so within shorter planning windows. They do not have as much time to focus on the planning, nor do they have the teams that they used to have. Our job is to make the planning process simple, ensure the onsite experience is effortless, and provide opportunities for individuals to connect outside of meetings, so that the meeting professionals can focus their attention on what matters most: bringing people together. Ultimately, as hoteliers, bringing people together whether for business or pleasure is at the core of what we do.
Approach to supercharging experiences: Too often, a hotel’s sole methodology for creating an experience for meetings relies on over-the-top decor and entertainment. We aim to provide something memorable and replicable through sustainability and service. A focus on environmental issues and sustainability is becoming more vital in today’s business climate. Our customers are increasingly inquiring about our energy conservation efforts and expect hotels they do business with to have implemented green meeting practices.
It’s our responsibility to ensure that we are doing our part to protect the environment as well as meet the needs and desires of our consumers. We’ve taken steps such as sourcing in-season products to reduce carbon footprint; recycling all fryer waste oil for biofuel; solar panels which provide up to 20% of energy and consistent reduction in energy usage. Through these efforts, we have received LEED EBOM Gold Certification, SEP Platinum Certification (one of the only hotels in the world to have this designation), and won the Clean Energy Ministerial Award in 2021, one of four locations in the world to do so. Achieving these milestones has been a hotel-wide effort, led by Director of Engineering, Rajaram Srinivasan, and his team. From a service perspective, we aim to make everyone feel like they are home and part of a family. That starts with taking care of our associates. In return, our associates will take care of our customers.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: My career has been greatly shaped by my upbringing, as well as the leaders and teams with whom I have worked. I am the son of immigrants who moved here to improve their prospects. My dad worked as a janitor through college. He could not afford a fridge, so he would bury items in the snow to keep them longer. From that, I learned the value of hard work and to respect any individual who put in the effort regardless of their role. In hospitality, the entire team is needed to create a great experience.
The leaders I have had helped me understand that the human aspect of hospitality is paramount, and no vision can become tangible without people who believe in you. They also taught me to push myself to the edge of my abilities since that is how to grow and get better. Lastly, the teams I have worked with helped shape me. We have people from different nationalities, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and orientations. Each person brings a wealth of knowledge and helps to build nuance in how we approach hospitality. Building a strong team takes time and effort but is worth the investment. I fully realize that each of the opportunities I have been afforded came with the help of people who supported me along the way.
Next advance pursuing: There is a saying at Marriott International that success is never final. That statement seems truer now more than ever. The world is changing rapidly and, along with it, so are our guest’s tastes and expectations. We are seeing this in various forms. First, we are seeing guests move more to the digital world. This has created the need to meet our guests where they are by doing things like mobile key and mobile dining, and we’re continuing to evolve digital options for our guests. Second, guests and groups are much more focused on ESG.
They want to feel good about where they are staying, and we want to feel good about our place in the community. Lastly, guests are more focused than ever on experiences and creating memories. The hotel is meeting this desire through unique packages, more leisure-focused F&B, and working with experiential groups like Tablemation for the Le Petit Chef Show, which is an animated show presented on your table along with a five-course meal. We continue to explore these unique events that will make a lasting impression on our guests.
Commercial Director, Hotel del Coronado
Motivating force: I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to work on both the planner and hotelier side of the business and know how hard both sides work to collectively create an amazing program. There is nothing better than when it all comes together with the hotel coming to life with the attendees and as partners, you can stand back and be proud of all that went into the success of that program.
Approach to supercharging experiences: I am a big believer in making the most of your surroundings and fortunate enough to work with an experienced and creative team at The Del. They know how to celebrate our location on Coronado Beach and pull in authentically local experiences that attendees remember forever.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I went to school for Journalism and worked in television news, which trained me to ask a lot of questions and listen well. My Dad was in sales his entire life and I saw how he developed personal relationships with his clients and took a genuine interest in them. Also, my very first director of sales was Heather McCrory (with Accor). She has always been an inspiration and mentor to me. Heather opened a lot of doors for me early on and having someone like Heather believe in me, made all the difference.
Next advance pursuing: I just landed in my current role three months ago and still have so much to learn! I am loving this challenge and the team here so presently not thinking about “next”. Although, I am very excited about how Hilton is approaching Commercial Services so that we can have a greater impact by connecting all of the revenue streams throughout a hotel. I think there is a lot of opportunity here in the future.
Chief Sales Officer, Discover The Palm Beaches
Motivating force: I believe in the power of personal connections. The effect a meeting or event has gone beyond the ballroom or meeting space and lasts longer than the meeting itself. Meetings have the ability to positively impact economic growth, social progress to individuals, the local destination and globally. It is incredibly fulfilling both personally and professionally to have the opportunity to contribute, support and be a part of that impact.
Over the past few years, we have had the opportunity to implement corporate social responsibility programs that have supported cleaning up the plastics out of the oceans, raised money to stop human trafficking, and helped provide work opportunities and welcoming environments for people with disabilities. The past few years have been challenging and the meetings industry has supported its recovery and the wellness of individuals, organizations and communities.
Approach to supercharging experiences: At Discover The Palm Beaches, we support meetings by elevating our Between-The-Sessions experiences. I find it important for the team to showcase how incorporating the local community can create a welcoming environment for all, offer opportunities of wellness, and showcase sustainable practices that positively impact the environment and leave attendees inspired. When investing time or money into any event, our focus is to challenge and expand the level of success for that meeting.
We try not to look at what our competition is doing. Instead, we focus more on the end goal of the organization. We first start with understanding the needs of the customer and leveraging the intellectual capital we have within the community to support those needs. Working collaboratively with the conference organizer to showcase how you can infuse arts and culture into a meeting through our complimentary cultural concierge program is just one example. We continue to create and incorporate new tools like a financial wellness incentive program to support the needs of our customers.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I have been in the hospitality industry for over 25 years with the opportunity to learn from inspiring leaders, and a supportive and understanding family, during some challenging times. Each leader cheered me on as much as they challenged me to be better and to get involved. We are fortunate to be part of an industry that encourages and is open to everyone’s growth. I am thankful for the support from organizations like Smart Meetings, Destinations International, PCMA, ASAE, IRF, SITE, FICP, and MPI, and for the opportunities to learn and grow.
I have also had many diverse work experiences and collaborative team members working for United Airlines, San Diego Tourism Authority, Choose Chicago and Discover The Palm Beaches. Each position and organization provided the opportunity for me to try something new and grow in my career. I have always been encouraged to implement new ideas, procedures, products and programs. Throughout my career, learning and growing from failures has been just as important as celebrating success, which in the end always leads to greater success.
Next advance pursuing: Next steps for me are to continue to challenge, learn and be curious. I want to focus both personally and professionally on the idea of “living in color.” To me, this means living life with authenticity, creating environments of inclusion, and fostering connection and compassion. I am fortunate to have been asked to be a part of The Above and Beyond Foundation Board and will work to create greater brand awareness and exposure for this organization. The foundation embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion and recognizes, rewards, and supports outstanding individuals employed on the front lines of the hospitality industry by providing awards and grants that help them attain their personal and professional goals.
Sonia Fong, MBA, CTA
Senior Vice President of Convention Development, Louisville Tourism
Motivating force: Seeing meeting professionals happy and successful motivate me. It’s fulfilling to know that the support I provide them and the resources I connect them with made a difference.
Approach to supercharging experiences: The ability to help meeting professionals execute authentic experiences leaving their attendees wanting to come back for more.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: Excellent customer service, high standards, and inclusivity. They push me to learn more about them to serve better.
Next advance pursuing: I am completing my CDME, getting involved with boards and making valuable contributions to our industry.
Troy Love, MS, CMP, CTA, CASE, CEM
Senior Sales Manager, Visit San Antonio
Motivating force: Looking at the big picture. Knowing that what we do affects so many people, so do it the best you can.
Approach to supercharging experiences: Having the opportunity to share our wonderful destination is always a blessing. It’s all about being real and authentic, so much more than just space and dates. I was taught early on that you need to be yourself. Never fake. Do what you say you’re going to do and do it with integrity and character. With those values, I love guiding meeting professionals in not just seeing San Antonio; but feeling San Antonio.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: The people I’ve met along the way. I’ve been fortunate in meeting amazing people in this industry. Everyone I meet helps shape my hospitality career. It’s all about relationships. Sincere relationships.
Next advance pursuing: Constant and never-ending learning.
Senior Director, Sales & Services, Discover Denton
Motivating force: The opportunities to surprise and delight meeting planners with the incredible services and resources they can experience when they bring their meeting or convention to my destination. Especially connecting with them on an emotional level that will deliver meaningful face-to-face meetings with a purpose.
Approach to supercharging experiences: Customizing details that match the clients’ needs and interests for themselves and their attendees and curating experiences that will leave a lasting impression that will drive impactful results and the desire to return to Denton Texas.
Elements of a stellar hospitality career: My father was a big driving force in my decision to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. He was a banquet waiter for over 30 years at the Sheraton NY Hotel. He worked hard to provide for our family, and he enjoyed providing exceptional service to everyone he encountered and served every day. He taught me that no matter what we chose to do in life, we do it with passion and pride and responsibility. I also had many great leaders and mentors along the way. Once I was introduced to sales, the rest is history.
Next advance pursuing: I am incredibly excited to be in the role that I am currently in representing Denton, Texas. I feel we still have a lot of work to accomplish here, and perhaps down the road I will think of what the next phase in my career will be. But for now, I love having people experience our small-town charm with big-city amenities