Regional Vice President, Sales & Distribution, Caribbean & Latin America, Marriott International
A Global Nomad
Aha Moment: Growing up, I truly wanted to make the world my home, being able to live and work anywhere in the world. I chose to study Hotel Management at University because it was global. As a hotelier, I work and play hard and make the most of time spent in destinations with teams, customers and love to explore the local culture, history and gastronomy. My favored state of being is in movement, and this industry is all about that, connecting, collaborating and contributing. These are all traits I favor and its where the magic happens when people gather together.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? In 2008, I became a certified speaker on behalf of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and have been fortunate to deliver numerous keynotes on Culture and Customer Service – two topics near and dear to my heart. As a global nomad, I thrive on exploring the world, understanding other cultures and sharing those learnings. Working in the Caribbean and Latin America has been a great blessing! It allows me to combine my passions and contribute through leadership to a magnificent part of the world.
Advice for My Younger Self: A fabulous day for me is when I have positively impacted the lives of those around me, including my team. I would not have fretted about the small stuff as much, I would have taken more opportunities and focused more on the times I positively impacted the life of someone around me to help inspire them to pursue opportunities. I was an incredibly insecure child and through my father’s coaching, mentoring and horse-riding I overcame that. Sometimes that insecurity returns, yet I now have rituals in place to help me move forward.
Next Goal: I am working on my 5 year goals, vs. 1 year goal. That truly forces you to think big. That’s 280 weeks, 1820 days and 2,620,800 mins. Personally, I will look to enjoy more family travel and ensure my nieces and nephew become global citizens, too. Professionally, I will look to continue to grow my career with Marriott, a company that has truly helped nurture my talents. For personal development, there is an e-book in the making and longer-term I am working on keynote topics, as this once upon a time very introvert and insecure child, now loves to inspire and motivate others, especially on stage. Somewhere in between, and once and for all, I must learn how to take my wellbeing routine on the road and exercise while traveling, maybe certify as a Pilates coach?
Sales Director, ICC Wales
Strive, Believe, Achieve
Aha Moment: From the moment I stepped foot in my first events role in December 2006, I was captivated. It was a new industry to me at that time that picked me up and inspired me to learn, engage and deliver for my clients and industry as a whole. The dynamic environment and vibrant mix of interactions sees me still in the industry 16 years later with as much energy and passion as I had all of those years ago. I love nothing more than bringing the people of the future into our industry and seeing them find their home.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? In 2014, I started work on a ‘side project’ in addition to my then role, looking at the development of a new Convention Centre, the first in Wales. I collated information for its feasibility, led focus groups for what should be built and researched events we could hold. In 2017, we broke ground and in 2019 we opened our brand-new venue. Due to Covid we have only just completed our first full year of trading. The learning, network growth and opportunities from this new opening has given me is beyond brilliant. It has been a game changer for me.
Advice for My Younger Self: I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to try new things, to take risks and put herself out there for opportunities. If things don’t work out, don’t stay down, ask yourself what lessons you can learn from it and move ahead. Make plans, but write them in pencil – obstacles are often blessings in disguise. Build your network of cheerleaders because a support network in tough times is crucial. Also, helping others when they need it helps you no end. Always try and find the positive – it is there if you look hard enough.
Next Goal: My goal is to raise awareness of Martyn’s Law, a law that will regulate venues safety and security. In May 2017, the worst terror attack to happen in the UK killed 22 people and injured thousands. My mission is to educate as many people as possible by way of a report, lobby the government and support our industry and the family of Martyn Hett who was killed in the bombing. It has been an incredibly challenging topic to take to industry. I want to create a legacy of positive change in all venues ensuring clients, staff and delegates are all safe at events.
Mary Kate Cunningham, CAE
Senior Vice President, Public Policy, ASAE
Community, Mission, Service
Aha Moment: Starting my career as a staffer on the Hill, I didn’t have a lot of experience in hospitality. When I joined ASAE, my first ASAE Annual Meeting was when I was hooked. I saw hospitality come to life on a bigger stage than I was ever familiar with. Seeing the sense of community and strength of the association sector up close was incredible. That is when I realized this was a community where I could spend the rest of my career.
What One Thing Made the Difference? I was extremely lucky to have terrific bosses throughout my career. Jim Clarke, the former SVP of Public Policy at ASAE for over 20 years, was an incredible mentor and still is to this day. “Bloom where you are planted” is some of the best advice I was ever given. Associations are a unique environment – if you are smart and work hard, you are able to take on new leadership roles and grow far above your original job description.
Advice for My Younger Self: When you have concerns, speak up earlier. Bosses aren’t mind readers and if you communicate you can address your concerns early. Don’t be hesitant to share your ideas. Find the smartest people in your peer groups and learn from them. My friendships with others in the sector have been lifelines during the most difficult challenges in my career.
Next Goal: We have a real opportunity to tell the Power of Associations message on a bigger scale, starting with workforce issues. Associations are the largest provider of post-college education and skills training. Legislation to expand access to association certification programs is the focus of our advocacy agenda. ASAE helped author the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act which would expand eligible uses of tax-favorable “529” savings plans to cover costs associated with workforce training and credentialing programs. This legislation gained bipartisan support in the House and Senate in the last Congress. Our next goal is to get it over the finish line.
Kate Galloway, CIS
CEO, K&N Travel Associates DMC
Create, Innovate, Share
Aha moment: In 1992, I answered an ad – “Project Manager required, must have a good knowledge of the UK, its culture, and enjoy drinking champagne!” As a DMC for over 30 years, I seek out people who are as passionate as I am to know Scotland in the most genuine and rewarding way and convey this to clients. No two days are the same. I strive to learn and connect with wonderful contacts and places, share ideas and empower others to do the same. Most rewarding of all is giving my team a means to find real purpose in their work.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? My first boss in the business travel industry inspired me with the adage that “Everything is Possible.” She set me the task of planning a highly bespoke itinerary for an elite group from University Club of New York. I did persuade famous authors and ex-prime ministers to accept my request to invite the guests to their homes to talk to them. From here, there was no looking back. I’ve pushed boundaries and found a way around every hurdle. When I come up against negativity, no doesn’t mean no, it just means try a different route to success.
Advice for My Younger Self: The conference and incentive travel industry gives us such rewarding times with the best relationships and stories. Yet we have lived through some challenges especially in recent years. I am naturally calm and aim to instill confidence in colleagues and clients alike. Life has always shown me the answer to a particular dilemma, but it’s sometimes not the answer I expected. We all learn from experience and yet we can never know everything. Take a deep breath and think. Keep smiling, believe in yourself and your product and be as prepared as you can be.
Next Goal: We are hugely proud of our Green Tourism Gold Award at K&N Travel Associates and constantly researching new ways to achieve sustainability in our program. Whether it’s electric off-road vehicles, refill stations for reusable water bottles or artisan chefs cooking home-grown food from hydrogen-powered generators, we aim to operate zero carbon programs within one year. Additionally, CSR is an essential part of showing guests the ‘real’ Scotland. We have worked with ‘Invisible City’ guides who have been homeless and trained out of poverty into a profession, telling their story of living on Edinburgh’s streets. ‘Going behind the scenes’ has a new meaning.
Vice President, Field Marketing, Trace3
Passionate, Creative, Committed
Aha Moment: Growing up in a home where my mother’s hospitality was second to none, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards a career in the hospitality industry. From my very first job as a receptionist to my current role in the event industry, I have always been passionate about making sure that everyone feels welcomed and taken care of. It is my goal to ensure that all my clients have the best experience possible. I am proud to be a part of an industry that allows me to make a difference in people’s lives.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? As a professional, I have found that hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn are the keys to success. The one thing that truly made the difference in my career was commitment. I was committed to success and dedicated to taking risks and pushing myself to reach my goals. I also consistently sought out opportunities to learn and grow, which allowed me to thrive in my career. I firmly believe that if you are committed to putting in the work and remaining open to learning, you can make a significant impact on your career.
Advice for My Younger Self: My advice to my younger self when facing tough times would be to stay positive and focus on the future. It’s important to remember that nothing is permanent and that no matter how difficult the situation may seem, it will pass. Take a step back and evaluate the situation, prioritize the things that matter, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Learning to cope with stress and adversity is essential in life, so be brave and take on any challenge that comes your way. Don’t let fear or anxiety prevent you from taking risks and achieving your goals. Most importantly, remember to take time to relax and take care of yourself.
Next Goal: My next goal is to create a unique space for people to come, play and stay. I’m passionate about creating unforgettable experiences and memories for people to take with them. I want this to be a place that people can come together to enjoy, explore and create. I’m looking forward to creating a fun, safe, inviting and relaxing atmosphere that will be a joy to experience. From providing activities and entertainment to making sure the space is comfortable and inviting, I’m excited to make this a reality. With the right resources and dedication, I’m confident I can create an unforgettable destination that people will love.
Vice President, Accounts, Imprint Events Group
Passion, Being Present, FOMO
Aha Moment: I’ve found the meetings industry to be my home because of the people. It probably was my first industry association meeting in Denver where I had no idea how to be at a networking event and felt immediately at ease with the people that took me under their wings. I was included and felt like I was part of something great. It gave me purpose and grew my passion.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? Building genuine, authentic connections. Not looking to build a relationship based on what someone could give or do for me but on what I could give or do for them.
Advice for My Younger Self: Use and trust your voice–you matter and it matters!
Next Goal: Building legacy
Asian Inclusivity Consultant, The Meeting Maximizer
Curiosity, Questions, Exploration
Aha Moment: My aha moment was revisiting the mimeographed party-planning check-box template I made in the 7th grade, complete with invitees’ names, activities and potluck items. I had friends from different schools, so nametags, icebreakers and laughter were crucial to facilitate new bonds. In high school, when classmates attended keg parties, we planned non-alcoholic themed parties like Flamingo Flamenco and Spring Soiree with progressive dinners and games. I realized I’ve always created meeting places with structured playful environments. These experiences gave me the ability to facilitate professional team building. The meetings industry needs to create intentional and inclusive environments that include welcoming Asian Americans.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? I channeled the power of curiosity to step into the unknown, like exploring underwater hockey, participating in the Miss Chinatown Pageant as a tomboy, lobbying for a law to protect women and attending Burning Man as a non-drinking, fully clothed person or taking a 44-day spontaneous trip to Cambodia. When you make it a practice to put yourself in new environments, you are forced to think differently.
Feeding my curiosity and challenging myself has enabled me to adapt to chaos. With this training, I am more equipped to talk about sensitive subjects with life-and-death consequences such as race and culture.
Advice for My Younger Self:
- Talk about tough touchy topics ASAP, so you can learn about yourself and those around you.
- Understand your values and how they were shaped.
- Amplify Asian voices.
- Be around as many diverse perspectives as possible, to be more inclusive.
- Make sure to have Asian Americans in your network.
- As an Asian American, you may feel alone, ignored, and gaslit, but you are not alone; millions of others feel the same way.
- Model vulnerability and speak up, to inspire others to share their voices.
- Invite others so they have an opportunity to see Asians as Americans.
Next Goal: I’m committed to making sure Asian Americans can walk safely in public, be respected, and be treated like Americans. I want to bring national attention to the plight of Asian Americans, like I did for legislation protecting women which caught Oprah’s attention. I will continue to educate planners to be Asian-inclusive, including seeing Asian American speakers and representation in marketing and media.
- Increase awareness about Asian American cultures and current events.
- Spark meaningful conversations about environmental racism, portrayal of Asian Americans, and the model minority myth.
- Stop the fetishization of Asian women, violence against Asian Americans, and whitewashing.
Owner, Director of Event Operations, Bash Creative
Problem Solver, Resilience, Determination
Aha Moment: When I realized that all of the “tough things” about our Industry, I felt invigorated by and was naturally good at this. I realized I was where I was meant to be. Additionally, growing up in a low income home, our industry has provided opportunities for me to see the world far beyond what I thought was possible. Now, decades later, I am hooked on the experiences and connections across the world.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? I was open and eager for new experiences and opportunities. Even if they felt non-linear, I never said no. I feel this really made a difference in building trust with a wide range of teams and understanding the multi-faceted inner workings of our diverse industry.
Advice for My Younger Self: You will be just fine. Learn from the lessons as it makes you better.
Ashley Lowe, CMP, MBA
Vice President of Sales, M Resort Spa Casino
Passion, Purpose, Persistent
Aha Moment: At 18 years old, I moved to Las Vegas to attend the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. I quickly fell in love with Las Vegas and began working in the world’s largest hospitality destination. I was inspired by how many industries and departments of the hotel I was working at were impacted by meetings and events. My senior year of college I landed my dream job selling meetings and events. It was exciting, fast-paced and I was passionate about the work I was doing. I feel so blessed because decades later, I still love it!
What One Thing Made All the Difference? From a very early age, I was fortunate to have a clear understanding of my career goals. I always strived to maintain a positive attitude, strong work ethic and took the initiative to proactively seek out new opportunities and responsibilities even when they were outside my comfort zone. Even when the path was unclear, I was adaptable and I listened and learned from wise mentors. I had the ability to stay positive and focus on all of the things I was grateful for.
Advice for My Younger Self: My advice is to remember that tough times are temporary – they will pass. Stay positive and keep moving forward, no matter how small the steps are because progress and growth come with persistence and determination. Remember that every experience, good or bad, shapes you into the person you are meant to be. Embrace each challenge as an opportunity and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Next Goal: I believe that it’s important that we recognize the hard-working professionals in our industry. I sit on the advisory board of HSMAI (Hotel Sales Marketing Association International) with a very dynamic and talented group of sales, revenue management and marketing leaders in Las Vegas. It is my personal goal for HSMAI to produce awards to distinguish outstanding performers within our local meetings and events industry. As leaders in the community, I think it’s important to provide opportunities to give back to our amazing industry and recognize those locally that have dedicated their careers to support it.
Flavia Oliveira, CHIA
Director of Sales & Marketing, Visit Santa Cruz County
Connector, Positivity, Open-Minded
Aha Moment: My aha moment was when I realized that the meeting industry is about everything that I care for – building relationships, providing unforgettable experiences and continued education. Meetings provide us with a space to grow, learn, discover new things, meet new people and share new ideas. It makes us evolve.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? I went out of my comfort zone and moved to another country, learning another language, to pursue a post-graduation in Hotel Management. I was scared but not intimidated. That move changed the course of my life into a career and opportunities that I cannot be thankful enough for.
Advice to My Younger Self: Know that we are resilient! We just saw the world change and we proved to ourselves that we can adapt, survive and we are still reinventing ourselves as we go. We are in an ever-changing environment and tough times will continue to repeat, just so we can see the other side brighten up in front of our eyes. We can handle whatever the world throws at us.
Next Goal: My goal is to promote sustainable tourism and inspire others to start having more sustainable actions in their personal life. Bring your refillable bottle of water. Produce less trash. To continue to grow in this rapidly changing industry. To continue to learn about new technology, data management, and other topics in the industry. To create a safe space for women of all industries to get together and support each other and be the conduit for mentorship opportunities.
Jacquelyn Y. Powell
President & CEO, Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau
Go For It!
Aha Moment: I had an opportunity early in my career to work in the hotel industry as a director of sales, and the challenges and opportunities I experienced in that position, coupled with my exposure to working with the local Convention & Visitors Bureau motivated me to pursue a career in the Destination Marketing Organization arena. I really enjoyed the relationships I formed with clients, local stakeholders and industry peers, and I developed an interest in becoming a part of a team at a CVB. I was proud to join the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau and promote my hometown.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? People. One of the reasons I developed a passion for the hospitality industry was because of the people. Every day I get to work with extraordinary individuals who truly care about others and about providing exemplary service. Whether it is our talented CVB team, our dedicated board, industry peers and colleagues, local community stakeholders and hospitality partners, or our important clients I am continually motivated and inspired by the energy and compassion, and “can do” attitude of this industry. I have had some wonderful mentors and I hope that I have provided positive mentorship to others throughout my career.
Advice for My Younger Self: Believe in yourself and your team, always be open to networking, sharing and learning from your peers, and never stop learning. We all have individual strengths and if you surround yourself with good people with complementary strengths you can accomplish so much. This industry is a very sharing industry and over the years I have appreciated the camaraderie and insight of others and have tried to reciprocate whenever possible. There are a lot of wonderful industry organizations that help you expand your professional network and that provide continuous education – take advantage of those organizations. Remain positive and strive to have fun.
Next Goal: I look forward to continuing to stretch and grow as an individual and to continuing promotion for our fantastic destination – Dayton, The Birthplace of Aviation & So Much More! – and its many unique and positive attributes for visitors, tour groups, meeting planners and event attendees.
Co-Founder & CEO, Rock Paper Coin
Discipline, Communication, Positivity
Aha Moment: When I was 6, I was invited by a family friend to help plan my mom’s baby shower for my youngest brother. I remember being completely awestruck by the process of planning a party. From the invitations, picking out the food and games all down to welcoming guests at the party, I loved every minute. It was from that moment, even at such a young age, that I felt at home planning events.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? I ditched my corporate job after one year and dove head-first into wedding planning. It was incredibly scary as I was leaving behind a salary, benefits and more. But I knew my passion and I also knew with hard work, perseverance and discipline I would succeed. It was a bumpy start, and I had to supplement income with babysitting and odd part-time jobs, but I remained focused and by the following year I was full-time planning.
Advice for My Younger Self: Take time. I can be a little bit of an Irish firecracker and when I think back to how I handled tough times in my twenties, I wish I would have taken more time. More time to think about how to respond, more time to pick the right words, take time for myself, etc. Time is a really powerful tool and it wasn’t until my thirties that I realized what an impact it can have when used.
Next Goal: Scaling Rock Paper Coin. Since launching at the end of 2019, my co-founder and I have grown the company to something we never imagined. Our next goal is to scale Rock Paper Coin to become a common platform in the events industry for processing contracts and invoices. We absolutely love working with event businesses and this next chapter is exciting not only for our company, but also for all those we get to help along the way.
Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, CDME, CMP
Managing Director, 2Synergize, a Simpleview Consulting Company
Be Helpful, Be Fluid, Laugh as Much as Possible
Aha Moment: I have always been a person who loves to discover solutions and solve problems. I remember listening to a discussion during a customer advisory board about the problems that result from attendees booking outside the contracted room block and learning subsequently the cascading effect on booking guidelines, contractual obligations, and negotiating leverage. Aha, this is a problem that needs solving! And 22 years later, I’m still working on it!
What One Thing Made All the Difference? I made a career out of “making deposits” as Stephen Covey would say. Being helpful and giving unconditionally has made all the difference in the trajectory of my career.
Advice for My Younger Self? Don’t take yourself so seriously because it will all work out!
Next Goal: I love to golf. There is something fascinating about the sport. My next goal is to get my handicap into single digits!
Allison B. Spicer, CMP
Manager, Events Management, The Home Depot
Joyful, Collaborative, Empathetic
Aha Moment: Early in my meetings career, I ran into a huge hurdle when weather impacted my speaker from arriving in time for his presentation. The moment I realized he would not arrive in time, I jumped into action, coordinating complex technology to create a seamless experience so he could deliver his presentation from afar. I realized that I thrived in an environment where I could solve problems that impacted large groups of people. I knew I had found my career.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? It is going to sound cliché, but never burn a bridge. The global meetings industry is miniscule. People in our industry are constantly moving around. You may meet a hotelier in a tier city you aren’t using, but a year later, they could be working with a CVB for a city that you are sourcing. One of the most wonderful things about what we do is the relationships that we can build.
Advice for My Younger Self: Be kind to yourself. We strive to produce flawless meetings and events. I have learned the best lessons in my career through mistakes I have made.
Next Goal: Over the past decade, I have enjoyed wine tasting and expanding my knowledge of different varieties. I have become the unofficial wine consultant within my team for wine pairings and menu suggestions. My boss recently encouraged me to pursue a wine certification. It is something I am passionate about and excited to add to my repertoire.
Chief Sales Officer, Principal, CSI DMC – an event management company
Determined, Open Heart, Grateful
Aha Moment: The moment I walked through the doors of the local DMC office in 1997, I instantly knew I had found my home. The realization that I was able to do what I loved by using my creativity to curate unforgettable events, while also developing lifelong friendships, and it felt like a career created just for me. That was the aha moment that started it all. Decades later, that dream job has become my family and my home. I am grateful for all that this industry has taught me and the lifelong friendships made. I would never want to do anything else!
What One Thing Made All the Difference? Of all the moments that made a difference in my career, the one that was instrumental was having the courage to take a chance. As a single mom with two young children, I had a lot at stake, but I chose to dream big. So, in 2010, despite the risk and despite my fears, I opened my own DMC. Event design and operations were my comfort zone, but becoming an entrepreneur – that was taking a chance. Surround yourself with a team you can trust and that uplift each other. Things may not go as planned, but when we trust each other and work as a team then all things can be accomplished.
Advice for My Younger Self: Like many of you, I survived some of the most difficult times to face our industry – from 9/11, to the economic downturn of 2008 to the impact of Covid. So, I would tell my younger self “you are resilient!” No matter how hard the situation is that confronts you, keep making forward motion. Even if you take baby steps, just keep moving forward in a positive way, one step at a time. Without strife, we would not know joy. Go through the hard times and you will come out stronger and more knowledgeable on the other side.
Next Goal: My next goal is to pay it forward. I am grateful to have had mentors who shared their knowledge, their passion and had confidence in me. Now, I feel it’s my turn to pay it forward and help the 135 CSI DMC employees grow within our industry. Whether partnering with them during customer outings, joining for a presentation or collaborating at an industry event, I want to lift them up and help them grow. Waking up every morning and doing what I love has been such a gift. I hope I can help others excel and find their gift. My husband and children have given up a lot of time for my career, so I also look forward to spending more time with them, too!
Ana Carolina Villar, MS, CMP, VEMM
Events Coordinator, Wyss Institute at Harvard University & Founder, Chief Experience Strategist at Conative TIME (Travel Incentives, Meetings and Events)
Curiosity, Courage, Community
Aha Moment: It all started in high school. While choosing a career path, I wanted to be an architect or interior designer, but it meant many hours being isolated. I love helping people, being around people, so hospitality was the obvious choice for me. I could use my creativity while serving guests. I got the golden ticket when working as an executive floor concierge at a hotel in the Dominican Republic and I had to plan meetings for our guests or executive teams. It was the point of no return for me. Seventeen years later, it continues to be a source of joy for me.
What One Thing Made All the Difference? Enrolling in San Diego State University Master’s degree in Meetings and Event Management during the pandemic. With that program, I developed my leadership skills while working on the foundational structure of my business. Through their network and the mentoring I received, I was able to forge connections to advance my career and business while learning the essential skills to succeed and maintain a sustainable growth in all areas of my life. I highly recommend this program!
Advice to My Younger Self: I have a few tales of wisdom – let go of the things out of her control. Learn to identify the strengths of those around her and collaborate with them. Delegating is ok and it buys you time for the things you are best at doing. Asking for help is wise. Last but not least, the competition is not against others, it’s against yourself – therefore, concentrate on being the better version you could be.
Next Goal: I’m working on business development for Conative TIME and collaborating with my local community in Lawrence, MA. I’m looking forward to serving in the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) New England Chapter 2023-24 Board of Directors and planning their 2023 Educational Institute. My most important goal is helping the Dominican Republic’s event industry to achieve their MPI club or chapter level. Overall, continue helping those companies that want to create memorable incentive or event experiences for their attendees.