Many people saw 2018 as the Year of the Woman, be it because of fighting back against injustice and gender inequality, achieving new heights in several industries or just being the incredible people that they are.
Those in the corporate and incentive travel industry have long championed female leaders, and the industry possesses some amazing influencers. Here’s a look at some of the great women who impact our industry every day.
Chandra Allison officially entered the industry when she was 18, taking a job as a front desk agent at the Reno Hilton while still in school.
“At the Reno Hilton, I spent approximately four years in different capacities, front desk, VIP front desk — and last, casino marketing special events, where I fell in love with events and working with guests in the hospitality/gaming industry,” she says. “I then transferred to the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, where I held a position as a salesperson that operated everything I sold. I learned a lot about selling and executing events.”
Allison joined The Venetian preopening team in 1998 as an assistant, where she worked on contracts and was responsible for cold calling and working a trade show floor to identify prospective exhibitor companies to book their rooms and events at the hotel once it opened. Shortly after the resort opened in May 1999, she was promoted to sales manager developing the Northeast.
Today, she serves as senior vice president of sales, where her responsibilities include developing sales and marketing growth strategies for MICE segments, training and development, quota development, identifying new revenue opportunities, developing strategic partnerships for business growth and working with the corporate global strategy team to provide insight of its business to support the global growth and desire to enter key markets.
“There is no typical day, which is part of what I love about what I do,” Allison says. “I’ve been very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my career that have truly influenced my life in such a great way, and I hope to be able to return that. I love identifying opportunities to grow our business, developing new strategies and working with creative people that have new ideas that we can bring to life. I don’t like things to stay the same for too long, otherwise we will get passed by.”
Finding success as a woman in the industry came from building a strong network of people — both professionally and personally — for support, advice, resilience, preservation and hard work. Her advice for other women in the field is to find a company and a boss that will allow them to grow, gives them space to accomplish and fail, and flexibility to have a life and career — they are not independent of each other.
“Always find ways to learn new things or challenge your assumptions and be willing to take some educated risks — and assess along the way,” she says. “Get involved in the industry, and give back when you can. Provide an environment where other women can thrive and create a culture of diversity. The results are always better.”
It wasn’t an easy path. In 1998, when she started working at The Venetian, meetings and events were not an easy sell.
“We had to convince companies that Las Vegas — known for only leisure — was a place to host meetings, events and trade shows, and that business would get done,” Allison says. “We are one of the top destinations in the country, and our property is host to more than 1,000 meetings per year.”
Allison is proud to be a successful professional woman, wife and mom — and to provide an environment for other professional women who may want the same. ￭
As senior vice president, U.S. Event Solutions at BCD Meetings & Events, Christine Erickson heads a team of 75 event specialists with expertise in planning, procurement, creative design, business development and operations, producing more than 300 events globally. She also sits on the company’s global executive team and reports directly to the global president.
“I am accountable for the sales and operations of our event solutions business,” she says. “Under that umbrella, my key focus areas include: developing and executing our strategic growth plan, building and supporting a culture of happy, engaged and high-performing employees and enabling innovative and impactful solutions for all our clients. I’m also accountable for the financial health of our business.”
Erickson knew early in life that she wanted to pursue a career in the service and hospitality industry; hence, her decision to get a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“At the time, there were not the same academic opportunities that exist today in the industry. I was lucky, I discovered the industry through word of mouth and knew immediately that I wanted to dive in,” she says. “It was definitely a calling. I loved the idea of expanding my horizons in not only the world of travel, but also with Fortune 1000 companies. I took a position as a trip director, and the role was the perfect gateway into the industry. That was the starting point in my career and through it, I experienced firsthand the value of incentives, sales meetings and all types of face-to-face events while gaining incredible exposure to various industries and functions with some of the biggest companies in the U.S.”
Even today, she draws from those life lessons and applies them to her current role. “In navigating my career, there is one commonality to be found: unpredictability. And, truth be told, I thrive in this type of environment,” Erickson says. “One day, I may find myself supporting the team and client with onsite operations, or I could be facilitating a workshop with a client, key stakeholders or in a sales pitch. On another day, I might be in back-to-back calls and meetings — action planning, brainstorming sessions, solving a challenge or HR/legal/finance-related items.
“I am very fortunate to be surrounded by the brilliant minds of our leadership and sales teams, and my role is often to help them accept new challenges and work through them.”
The key to being a strong influencer as a woman in this industry, she notes, is finding your voice. “Take time to genuinely understand your purpose, your role and the impact your role brings to the business. That knowledge allows you to be thoughtful around your contributions and to set clear goals for yourself,” she says. “Then, own your plan fearlessly. Seek support in your peers, management and senior leaders. Remember, attitude reflects leadership. Surround yourself in a culture that supports growth, mobility and brave conversations … and share your aspirations. Take some risk, trust your intuition and speak up.”
Erickson says there are many trends in play that the industry will need to be mindful of as it launches into 2019.
“Our focus continues to be on elevating the power of face-to-face experiences and impacting the way people think, feel, behave and perform,” she says. “As such, the use of technology continues to be a key enabler for us in our space. It is essential for us to advance our work in this area.
“Data and analytics with a focus on audience segmentation is another area of increased focus that will allow for a more targeted and intentional approach to the attendee journey and the design of an event,” she says. “Lastly, we continue to focus on personalization and our ability to connect with each attendee to create a DFY (do for you) experience similar
with what we see in the business-to-consumer space.” ￭
Charlotte Smith has been working for Giltedge DMC for 10 years and is now the manager of the company’s conferences, incentives and events. She’s excited about Southern Africa’s corporate and incentive travel industry and has been able to indulge her passion for travel since the 1980s.
“In the 1980s, I started working as a retail travel consultant and traveled around the world,” she says. “After many years, I eventually found my niche in FIT inbound travel for Southern and East Africa. Nowadays, I manage the Giltedge DMC division based in Cape Town that is part of the award-winning Giltedge Group.”
Over the years, she’s worked with top brands like Old Mutual, Danone, BHP Billiton, Citroen, Amicorp, BMW and Toyota, among many others.
“I’m in charge of a team who specializes in organizing conference, incentive trips and events to Southern Africa, East Africa and the Indian Ocean islands,” Smith says. “My management of groups includes all aspects of travel from accommodations, transport, special events, client liaison, security, activities and VIP service. I often accompany groups and manage all onsite arrangements.”
She understands that every event requires passion, energy and excitement, as well as care of and commitment for each client.
“To be a strong influencer, you need to pay attention to details and have the ability to see and solve problems before they even occur,” she says. “You have to work as a team with the hotel/venue staff and suppliers, ensuring open direct communication all the time. As a woman in this industry, I think it’s important to empower my team to always give their best and to go the extra mile.”
Some of the things she is most proud of from her career include working on key corporate clients during the World Cup in 2010 and escorting a group to the semifinal game in Cape Town; hosting a mini children’s World Cup soccer tournament in Langa, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town and donating soccer kits to each participant; and hosting the first Crystal AirCruises private jet charter in Africa with 84 guests on a private safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
“I love helping groups experience the diversity of Southern Africa with its abundance of natural attractions, wildlife, friendly people and extraordinary cultures,” Smith says. “I love a challenge! I also enjoy working with guests from different cultures and ensuring that every event is a success. My satisfaction from work stems from the certainty that guests will always return home with memories they will never forget.”
Smith’s view of the industry today is that multi-day conferences are becoming less popular, and clients are preferring to incorporate both work and pleasure in one location. She also sees wellness as a growing trend, and her clients are interested in healthy food options and offerings like yoga classes or spa sessions.
“Creativity is in the spotlight. Groups who come to Southern Africa and East Africa want to have fun, energetic and bespoke team activities that are tailor-made for their group’s needs,” she says. “The emphasis is on unique and memorable trips. Less traditional conferences have been popular for a while, but now some groups/companies are integrating festivals or live music events into their trips.” ￭
LLG Events is a self-funded international event planning and design firm striving to incorporate altruism in every aspect of its business. It has garnered industry-wide recognition by coding its own event-planning portal that streamlines the planning process and manages tasks, guest lists, budgets and proposals, establishing the ability to plan a destination event from anywhere in the world.
Lauren Grech, CEO and founder of the company, started in the business in a very unconventional way. She earned her degree in biology/pre-med at Binghamton University, followed by an M.S. in forensic science at Pace University. Post-graduation, she began a career in research and development, studying autopsies, running toxicology reports and determining how people died.
“As I was planning my own wedding, I was planning my exit strategy from R&D to start my own business. I told my husband one month after we got married that we were going to start our own business, and he was 100 percent on board,” she says. “We sat at my mom’s kitchen table planning it all out. We agreed that our first step was to go back to the place where we got married and ask to shadow the maitre d’. It was brilliant. I would work 40 hours a week at my day job, and then volunteer every Thursday and Friday evening when they had an event, and every Saturday and Sunday when they had a wedding.”
She admits it was exhausting, but they did this for four months until finally they went out on their own, succeeded in their first event, continued the momentum and expanded into New York City. Today, she is a powerful influence in the industry.
“As CEO, I am responsible for delegating tasks among our senior staff, finding and pursuing new business opportunities, curating the strategic direction of the business and setting budgets for new initiatives and sales,” Grech says. “On a day-to-day basis, not only am I responsible to all my clients and their planning tasks, but I have meetings with our creative director to discuss our brand, content strategy and what we’re showcasing to our audiences; and our PR and marketing director to discuss and review press releases, media kits, social media strategy, new business opportunities and speaking engagements.”
Additionally, she is always running from client meeting to client meeting. “Being a successful woman in any industry requires grit, and lots of it. It takes great courage and humility to continue pushing forward when every opportunity has just collapsed right in front of you,” she says. “I remember one year when I thought I was about to make $100,000 in sales in just one week, and literally every single contract fell through.”
But she was able to escape the mind-set of failure and kept going. The trick was accepting her shortcomings, learning from mistakes and recognizing when someone was doing it better.
“Being a strong influencer requires constant hard work, determination and sacrifice. And unfortunately, this means choosing your business over anything else — that any spare moment you have, you are focusing on the company,” she says. “It’s hard work, I’m not going to deny it. But I was determined to be successful, and that is what enabled me to wake up every morning to pursue my dream.”
Looking ahead, Grech thinks experiential marketing will really take off this year. “I think we saw exponential growth in 2018, but now that multiple companies have seen the benefits of interactive audience displays, more will continue and ‘pop up,’” she says. “I truly love how busy I am, and I thrive when I am constantly doing something. My job exposes me to so many exciting and new opportunities.” ￭
As director of global meetings and events sales for Bethesda, Maryland-based Radius Travel, the world’s leading travel and meetings management network, Henrietta Balint has launched a proven, successful meetings and events business line.
“We have best-in-class agencies in our network who deliver superior meetings and events services, and the strategy involved pulling together their strengths in the aggregate to help organizations better manage their category, improve visibility and attendee experience,” she says. “I am focused on further developing our global meeting and events offerings and creating innovative solutions for customers, as well as bringing insights and thought leadership to customers and the industry.”
Balint started in the industry more than 25 years ago, when she was presented with the opportunity to do a one-week work experience program at a flight center store in Sydney, Australia.
“I immediately fell in love with the idea of helping people plan their trips and achieve their goals,” she says. “A lot has changed since then in the industry. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for amazing organizations and teams in many different roles and cities around the world in both business travel and meetings and events.”
To be a successful woman in the industry today, Balint notes you must be active and have your voice heard.
“It takes self-confidence and believing in yourself that you can contribute and make a difference,” she says. “It will make people listen and take notice.”
In her career, there have been many achievements both personally and in developing team members that standout as favorite memories.
“In general, what continues to make me proud is that I am brave enough to get uncomfortable, and I am incredibly persistent in pushing through tough situations,” Balint says. “These attributes have presented many learning and growth opportunities.”
Looking at 2019, Balint believes the convergence of the travel and meetings categories and the emergence of meetings technologies will continue.
“Our focus will be to continue to disrupt traditional global meetings management programs, help planners create better attendee experiences and organizations to achieve better ROI with direct linkage to their organizational objectives,” she says. “We are an incredibly creative, agile and flexible company and can truly create customized solutions.” ￭
Danielle Babilino is a fierce female leader in the hospitality industry, with nearly two decades of experience in various upscale brands, including Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, where she oversaw a sales operation that resulted in a great increase in sales revenue over a five-year period.
Today, she serves as senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, critical to the success of expanding the Hard Rock brand. During her tenure thus far, Babilino has demonstrated a tenacious work ethic, with the ability to drive sales to a limit that was previously perceived as impossible.
“I grew up mostly in Las Vegas and was attending UNLV as a psychology major, but needed some cash flow, so I worked for a company doing meet-and-greets at hotels,” she says. “As an outsider watching the hotel industry, it looked like a fun and exciting industry, so I decided to change majors.”
Back then, it was a male-dominated field, and it took her a while to get into hotel sales, but she got her big break at the original MGM.
“They saw something in me — my persistence and desire to succeed, and a natural-born instinct to be a hospitality professional,” Babilino says. “I spent 13 years at the property, and when I left, I was overseeing the sales and marketing for Bally’s but also working on the preopening project of Paris.”
Babilino was in demand around Las Vegas and was part of the opening of the Mandalay Bay Resort in 1999. She was instrumental in the opening of the convention center a few years later.
“I love working with an opening team and building something from the ground up,” she says. “It’s an incredible experience, and you build a special bond with those you go through it with.”
At Hard Rock, the company is going through a large growth spurt, and she expects the addition of five to six hotels to the portfolio each year in the next five years.
“My team’s responsibility, whether for group, leisure or corporate travel, is to grow brand awareness and, ultimately, drive business volume to the properties,” she says. “In tandem with that, I am involved with all of the sales teams as we open projects.”
At the core of what she does, Babilino says the industry is built on strong long-term relationships, and that has helped her to be successful.
“Those are built on integrity and built on solid business practices and professionalism,” she says. “As someone who has been in this industry for a long time, I have had the good fortune of being around many great mentors, and I try to pay that forward as a mentor and coach.” C&IT