Introducing our Joule Award winners!

AnaLaura Becerra, CMP CTA

Director of Corporate Sales, Destination Irvine

Boards: HSMAI, San Diego 2005-2013; MPI Orange County Vice President of Membership

Editor’s Note: The collaboration of Destination Irvine, Visit Anaheim, Los Angeles Tourism, San Diego Tourism Authority, Visit Henderson and others in a West Coast DMO Alliance is a beautiful sign of the industry working together for the greater good.

Motivation: How can I make your life better today?

Approach to supercharging experiences: Listening with a purpose not only to what people say but also how they respond. I’m fluent in body language! All relationships start with conversations, and the more you listen, the more you can empathize with people and create trust, which will eventually result in mutually beneficial business. Kindness, flexibility and a proactive approach are inherent to hospitality, and being hospitable means being of service to clients, colleagues and friends alike.

I want people to be comfortable around me, and humor always helps. Sometimes, though, difficult conversations need to happen, and I’m not one who shies away from being direct and specific at the time when things are happening. I’m always grateful for the time someone’s given me. The magic words, thank you, always work.

Moment of enlightenment: The most important project of last year was to keep people engaged and informed. With so many furloughed, reaching out to clients, colleagues and MPI members became an endless phone call that I very much enjoyed, as conversations boosted personal connections. Many of my counterparts in other DMOs are also MPI members, so regular and consistent communication was the seed of an idea that was originally conceived as a way to acknowledge GMID, but that quickly morphed into the creation of West Coast DMO Alliance, which is the final product of a wide collaboration with plenty of talent. I was hosting a site visit with a meeting planner who was coming to Orange County for the first time, and teaming up with my otherwise competitors, we each showcased our cities in a very cohesive way. The planner was thrilled to see such cooperation and ended up not only booking three different meetings and three different cities, but also writing a stellar review of her site experience in both her company’s and her client’s newsletter. Everyone won! The ripple effect was that with such review, the work we do as a DMO, often invisible, became apparent and reached hundreds of potential future clients.

Next advance pursuing: The post-pandemic world has brought a wave of new people all over the meetings and travel industry. I’m currently working in quarterly educational seminars for our hoteliers, reassessing the way to approach and engage our local community, and develop ideas that foster further cooperation and visibility for the West Coast DMO Alliance. From the MPI perspective, my role now is morphing into showing members all the education opportunities based on the stage of your career. Most importantly, I am a tireless advocate for mentorships and for showing that in the hospitality industry, we conquer when we don’t divide.

David Bilbe

General Manager, Omni Royal Orleans Hotel

Editor’s Note: Bilbe rode out Hurricane Ida at the hotel with 20 associates who secured the property for the safety of guests who had nowhere safe to go and offered to house and feed New Orleans Police Department officers who had to stay in town. After electricity was restored, he invited 75 employees whose homes were impacted to stay on-property.

Boards: 2021 Chairman, New Orleans and Company; Past Chair, Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association; French Quarter Festivals, Inc; French Quarter Management District

Motivation:  Deliver an outstanding guest experience and create a positive impact on our team and community.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Travel and hospitality are about creating an experience. We need to customize our guest experience, regardless if they are here for a meeting, business or leisure. As an industry, we need to invest in the technology that will allow us to deliver on this promise but never lose sight that it is about the people that deliver these experiences. We have to reward and recognize team members who go above and beyond to create these experiences.

Moment of enlightenment: We hosted a citywide client event at the hotel. Not only did the entire hotel team come together to deliver a fabulous event, but the entire hospitality community came together. It proved what can be accomplished for the greater good if everybody works together. At the conclusion of the event, the entire team at the hotel was recognized in front of the attendees for all their efforts.

Next advance pursuing: Rebuilding our industry. The entire hospitality community has been impacted by the pandemic. Our team members have been significantly impacted. As we rebuild, we need to look at how we operate our hotels. Flexible schedules, job sharing, and cross-training are all ideas that have been around a long time, but our industry has not fully embraced these concepts. If we take care of our associates and our communities, they will support our businesses.

Jason Dunn Sr.

Vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Visit Cincy

Editor’s Note: Dunn has been a leader in advancing the hard work of rolling out the red carpet to everyone in the industry, so they can bring their entire selves to the job and contribute at the highest levels.

Boards: National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals; Events Industry Council; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce; Cincinnati Moon Festival; Cincinnati Police Foundation

Motivation: Inspiring people to be unafraid and walk in their power.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Encouraging people to be bold and unapologetic without fear of losing power. I believe that tourism empowers communities, but only via diverse collaboration can we be global change makers. We also have to be more sophisticated in our political posturing and leverage all resources to tell our narrative. It is clear by maximizing our leverage to back a tourism-led agenda via local and global communities that we are positioned to drive change, but our power will be limited if the table isn’t inclusive. It is my passion to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

Moment of enlightenment: During COVID/George Floyd, many organizations were forced to center themselves in compassion and humanity. As the Chair of NCBMP during this difficult time, I knew that the industry had been weakened, and we needed our moral compasses to align. Traditionally, NCBMP hadn’t been a part of industry conversations for many reasons. However, through many conversations with NCBMP board members and witnessing the evident impact to our members, it was decided to reach out in the spirit of collaboration.

We found that we shared similar issues, and it was associations like MMGY Global, U.S Travel, EIC, MPI, DI and RCMA that understood we all needed each other to persevere. Today, our partnerships have led to shared memberships, groundbreaking research, partnering educational sessions, creating awareness of the importance of DE&I and the development of authentic friendships.

Pam Gilbert, CHSP

Director of Sales and Marketing, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Editor’s Note: Gilbert is the embodiment of a can-do hospitality attitude and brings the entire team along with her.

Motivation: “The opportunity to create moments that are meaningful and remembered.”

Approach to supercharging experiences: Over the years I’ve had great leaders who helped inspire and shape my approach to hospitality and whose only ask of me was pass on what I learned from them to others.

Dream Big:

  • Surround yourself with the Dreamers and Doers that inspire you
  • Be the Dreamer and Doer that inspires others
  • Give yourself permission to think outside the box

Be Courageous and Bold:

  • If you believe in it, commit to it
  • Don’t be afraid to be first and to lead
  • Be brave enough to address the elephant in the room and move forward

Embrace Change:

  • Change drives innovation
  • Recognize your customers and their needs are changing, anticipate it
  • Help others whom change scares maneuver forward, be their strength

Welcome Client Objections:

  • Positive Conflict helps us evolve, grow and learn
  • Obstacles help us modify our approach and services

Give Them Something to Talk About!

  • Create a “Wow” for every guest experience
  • Give them a story to take home and share with others
  • Create moments that become memories people enjoy forever!

Lead with a Servant’s Heart!

  • Be present, engage with humility and gratitude
  • Provide the tools, support and feedback your colleagues and guests need to thrive.

Moment of enlightenment: I know many people want to forget 2020, but it was a year where everything I learned and all the relationships I built were needed to thrive. A lightbulb went off for me when my mentor, Jack Miller stated “we need to shift our focus from what we can’t do to a focus on what we can do.”’ I immediately shifted my focus to dreaming and building again. Our team collaborated with state and city leaders to find ways to re-open services and bring back colleagues. We hosted drive-in n movies to raise funds to feed our colleagues on furlough. We developed a plan to open an outdoor festival with safety protocols that met city approvals and provided the community with much needed fun and brought back hundreds of colleagues. We created new events, opened pop-up restaurants, pivoting our messaging and offerings to move forward. None of this would have been possible without the trust, support and engagement of our team and community that we spent more than a decade building at the Princess. Last week, when we hit 100 percent occupancy with 12 groups in house, in midst of second-annual fall festival, tears of joy came to my eyes for what we had accomplished.

Next advance pursuing: I’m writing a book about what I’ve learned during this time….about the power of 1) Focusing on what you can do, 2) dreaming bigger than your present and 3) the ‘how to’ of  activating and marketing events to drive community engagement. During this pandemic, there wasn’t a guidebook or training for what we experienced and I’d love to record what we have learned to share with our industry and those that will follow us and experience disruption of the hospitality industry in the future. In this rapidly changing world we live in, disruption will occur. My working title is “Find a Way or Make One”.

Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA

Vice President, Sustainability and Industry Advancement, Events Industry Council

Editor’s Note: McIlwraith’s work on EIC’s Centre for Sustainability & Social Impact is laying the groundwork for a more environmentally friendly meetings future.

Motivation: The more you do, the more you get done.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Hospitality is grounded in generosity. The pandemic has shown us our industry’s commitment to generously innovating and adapting even when facing unprecedented challenges. I focus on kindness, empathy and active listening. As we all navigate this new world, it’s easy to get caught up in our immediate needs. My long-term vision has helped me to understand the needs of our stakeholders beyond the current situation.

These stakeholders include not only our event participants and workforce, but also the communities where we meet—and the natural environment. I have cultivated relationships with a diverse network of industry peers; we have collaborated as thought leaders to elevate the sustainability and social-impact practices that are becoming the hallmark of exceptional event experiences. I’m also making a personal commitment to prioritize my personal well-being, including mental and physical health. I encourage all event professionals to do this, as it will enable us to create better experiences for everyone.

Moment of enlightenment: In early 2020, through the leadership of our global board and our CEO, Amy Calvert, EIC established the EIC APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, a community of thought leaders representing all sectors of our industry and geo-regions. I’ve had the honor of serving as editor for the resources the task force has produced in support of our industry, our workforce and the communities that we serve.

There came a moment when we took a step back and looked at the library of resources that had been developed and realized what they represented: the adaptability, resilience and collective knowledge of our industry. One of the many meaningful aspects of this work was to see the alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, demonstrating our industry’s focus on building back better, with a commitment to sustainability and social impact. I am so proud of having been a part of developing and curating resources that are having such a profound impact, and of the community that came together to share knowledge in support of our industry and workforce.

Next advance pursuing: Our next breakthrough will be to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the blueprint for a sustainable, equitable and resilient future for all, by leveraging the power of human connections. I’m committed to helping lead the development of tools, resources and guidance for our industry’s professionals to ensure that social impact considerations, including diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, and environmental considerations, such as climate action and circularity, and are always at the forefront in event design and delivery. This will ensure that we maximise the return on events and our catalytic impact on the communities we serve and where we meet.

Brian Ross, CTA

President and CEO, Experience Columbus

Editor’s Note: The city’s Live Forward Pledge, a collaboration with The Ohio State University’s Infection Prevention 101 for Public Spaces course supported by CloroxPr, 250 Certified Tourism Ambassadors and robust environmental and DEI programs are proof points of the Ohio destination’s forward thinking.

Boards: Destinations International, TourismOhio, Greater Columbus Convention Facilities Authority

Motivation: Hospitality’s impact on quality of life and economic and human development.

Approach to supercharging experiences: The three words we live by in Columbus are collaboration, passion and authenticity. Our collaborative spirit was actually studied by Harvard Business School because the way we operate is so far from normal and has been named “The Columbus Way.” Our planners see this in the way our community comes together for their events, from city hall to board rooms to meeting rooms alike. This type of collaboration cannot be faked and only works with the type of authentic passion exuded by our hospitality community.

Moment of enlightenment: First was when we were named host city for the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, second was when we hosted it, and third was when we were subsequently named host city for PCMA’s 2023 Convening Leaders. Even better, I have a bright spot in the future: In January 2023 we actualize Convening Leaders in Columbus, and I’m tremendously proud that as a community we continue to summit higher peaks. Columbus is a city on the rise, and we are so fortunate that our entire community—civic, public and private sectors alike—support us every step of the way in securing these high-profile events.

Next advance pursuing: Last year we all heard the calls for social justice around the country, and it became clear that our industry is not immune to race-related issues. We know that racially diverse talent and leadership are vastly underrepresented in this industry, so we have launched a Diversity Apprentice Program to provide leadership pathways for people of color to ensure that, at all levels, Columbus’ hospitality industry accurately reflects the makeup of the city’s residents and visitors.

Todd Zint, CMP, CMM

Vice President, Strategic Operations & Experiences, ACCESS Destination Services

Editor’s Note: Zint is a born connector. He and ACCESS Destination Services are building on 50 years of collaboration to leverage local expertise and innovative solutions to drive organizational change.

Boards: MPI Orange County, 1998-2000; FICP, 2008-2012; IRF Trustee, 2013-2019; SITE Texas, 2020 (2022 SITE Texas President)

Motivation: The opportunity to influence positive change personally and professionally.

Approach to supercharging experiences: The event industry is incredibly dynamic and continues to embrace technology innovation, which takes ideating and delivering experiential events to the next level; it creates a full-circle immersion experience, starting with communication and promotional strategies.

The use of social media, digital marketing, and the ability to capture personal preferences enhances the sensory mindset of what awaits with the event, conference or incentive. This data capture allows for more “surprise and delight” moments that are individualized during the event versus a “one size fits all” approach.

During the onsite experience, there is no stone unturned when it comes to thoughtful preparation and intentional design of the attendee journey, including appealing to all the senses from the arrival experience to activities, meals, production, content and the departure. This needs to include highly orchestrated logistics, anticipation, spontaneity and “wow” moments. Post-event follow-up is often overlooked but is an important aspect of a holistic event strategy that continues to engage attendees through thoughtful messaging and/or gifting and strengthens the residual sentiment for the company and ultimate event ROO/ROI.

Moment of enlightenment: These past two years have been challenging for the entire industry, and keeping active mentally and physically with a daily routine provided balance in my life. In addition, I have been fortunate to be a part of an extraordinary association (SITE) and to participate on the SITE Texas Board of Directors, which elevated my sense of purpose. I believe participating on industry boards has been important to continue strengthening legacies as our industry grows, but last year was different.

With so many industry friends being paralyzed by Covid circumstances, the SITE board’s role shifted to supporting our event community with time-sensitive initiatives. These initiatives started with simple well-being phone calls, then moved to weekly connection Zoom happy hours, discussing SBA PPP loan best practices, to building a comprehensive “How to Hybrid” live and virtual event two months after Texas reopened in July 2020.

Through these efforts, our 120-member chapter grew beyond Texas borders to a global reach by extending open-ended invitations to the entire events industry at no cost. The board’s ultimate commitment and synergy exemplified the best of our industry, including acts of selflessness, empathy and resiliency, which continues to drive my passion for the industry I cherish.

Next advance pursuing: The silver lining of the past 18 months has been the opportunity to reimagine ACCESS DMC to not only streamline efficiencies and increase client-centric strategies, but to embrace our ACCESS DNA fabric, including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) standards, as well as sustainability best practices. I’ve enjoyed leading internal taskforce teams that address these important issues, listening to different perspectives, and working to identify opportunities where we can integrate both short- and long-term strategies. The best is yet to come!