2022 Catalyst Award: Kinetic Award

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Christopher Baran

Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Nemacolin

Motivating force: Trust is the key concept and motivation to deliver for the meeting professional. Once a client has chosen our property for their program, they have extended their trust in us to deliver a promise that was solidified during the sales process. Ultimately, they have placed their job performance and reputation as a meeting planner in our hands, and the responsibility associated with this trust in us is a responsibility that hoteliers don’t recognize often enough.

With each contract, Nemacolin understands the planner’s trust in us, and it is paramount that we honor and elevate that trust. We strive to deliver a successful event experience, and to demonstrate to meeting participants that the planner had made a successful choice for their company in selecting our property for their event. My team and I are motivated to continue to deliver outstanding results where we see the meeting planner recognized for their selection and trust being returned to them by their own organization.

Approach to supercharging experiences: We prioritize the meeting planner’s expectations and bring in the in-house expert teams’ suggestions for every event in the program. We find that involving the various departments delivering the services and events into the planning process with the client and the conference event manager brings about greater understanding and success for events. This isn’t something that all hotels employ, but it’s a priority at Nemacolin, where we approach each client event holistically, and we leverage the expertise of the individual departments to provide suggestions on how to elevate and enhance the event.

The team that is delivering the activity or experience every day has insight and knowledge on curated planning and execution, elevating the client’s overall connection and response to the programming. What we see as a result, are group guests enjoying the one-on-one memories for themselves while also embracing the comradery of their professional colleagues. This is how we supercharge and elevate our event experiences.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: There are a number of personal and professional forces that have helped to shape my decades in the hospitality industry across several major brands and in a number of places around the country. With each place and each hotel property, I’ve been able to pull together best practices and insights. From city and destination properties to large convention hotels and boutique resorts, the best financial results are a by-product of a cohesive and collaborative culture between the owners, management companies, and brand corporations who are each involved in daily operations and expectations. What is abundantly clear is that those who work together the best are those who see continuity in their guest satisfaction and expectations. Throughout my career, I’ve also been shaped by failures that occur when cohesion and collaboration don’t exist. The successful teams at successful properties are breaking down silos, working collaboratively and delivering hospitality excellence to their guests, members and associate teams.

Next advance pursuing: The next pursuit on the horizon at Nemacolin is the Wisteria project for our associates. This project is paramount to us in the marketing department because the positioning of this housing program will likely become a best practice in the hospitality industry in the years ahead. The marketing team and I will oversee the creative on this new project with information going out to educate the associate team and for use in upcoming recruitment campaigns. The Wisteria project at Nemacolin will be positioned to attract the best and brightest talent in the world. In these post-pandemic recruiting times, we must strive to provide an atmosphere where the associate can feel safe and secure, while also providing an environment where they can interact with their peers and co-workers. It will allow the associate to truly feel at home when returning from their workday.

Peter Gamez

President and CEO, Visit Oakland 

Motivating force: In addition to our dedication to service, wanting to provide unique and memorable experiences and showcase our beautiful destination to make our meeting professional partners extremely successful, we have another important focus. Our industry has been impacted greatly by the pandemic. At Visit Oakland, we are motivated to bring our entire industry back.  Working together to create meeting and event opportunities and valuable experiences for attendees, we achieve this for tourism across the board. It is so important for our industry. 

Approach to supercharging experiences: Now more than ever, time is precious for meeting and event professionals. We have invested our time and energy to make the experiences interesting and the execution simple for those planning the events. We have a long list of turnkey experiences that are fun, interesting, unique and very diverse. These appeal to groupw with many interests and of all sizes. Visit Oakland is extremely proud of what The Town has to share with attendees. By doing this work, we offer our meeting partners the tools to execute high-level programs in Oakland with as much ease and efficiency as possible.   

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I was very fortunate to work with JDV Hotels alongside Chip Conley. Our simple mission was to create joy. That philosophy touches everyone from staff to visitors. I will carry that important mission with me throughout my hospitality career. I strongly believe that within our organization at Visit Oakland, we need to be experiencing and feeling joy in order to share that with our visitors. Our Oakland community has that joy. It comes from their love of The Town. That true hospitality spirit is recognized by everyone we encounter. That authenticity has a powerful connection to our visitor experience. In turn, that contributes to a positive economic impact for our destination. 

Next advance pursuing: Together with my team, we are fully committed to bringing Oakland to the forefront. We are making sure the positive and beautiful stories about Oakland are celebrated and shared. As the master storytellers of The Town, with each chapter, we highlight our amazing community, and all that Oakland has to offer our visitors. Oakland is for everyone, and we are dedicated to making our diverse, welcoming and inclusive city a top destination choice for all. 

Rose Horcher, CEM, CMP

Vice President of Client Services, Choose Chicago

Motivating force: Having been a meeting professional for many years earlier in my career, I understand the pressure they are under to create successful, memorable and productive events. I have empathy for the time, financial and other constraints they work under, and my team and I try our best to help alleviate their stress and provide quality, effective and valuable services to help them succeed. The last two years have been brutal for our industry. It’s more important than ever to work with respect and grace for our meeting professionals.

Approach to supercharging experiences: I consider a supercharged experience as one that is memorable for all of the right reasons—educational, profitable, excellent networking opportunities, giving back to the community, having fun and staying within budget. If you can accomplish those primary purposes of a F2F event, you’ve been successful. Don’t skimp on the fun factor! It is what helps make an event memorable. I enjoy connecting meeting professionals to Chicago’s intellectual capital to help them meet—and exceed—their goals.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: On the first day of my first job in the hospitality industry, my boss told me to “be a sponge.” He encouraged me to learn as much as I could about all aspects of our industry and reminded me that knowledge is power. Another employer highly encouraged me to get involved with industry organizations such as IAEE, PCMA, MPI and others. Doing so has truly helped me forge lifetime industry friendships and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend dozens of conferences to continue to be a sponge. You are never too old to learn.

Next advance pursuing: Connecting to Chicago is a newer initiative that I am very excited about. We are forging new relationships with our medical, life sciences, technology, culinary and manufacturing industries in and around the Chicago area, with the intent of connecting suitable organizations to clients meeting in Chicago. The goal is to create lasting partnerships between local organizations and corporations and our clients in order to increase attendance, grow student participation, provide local start-ups unique opportunities with and exposure to events, and much more.

William McBroom

Director of Conference Sales, Saint Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau

Motivating force: I am inspired to do the best job I possibly can. Life it too short to do otherwise. As a CVB (VCB in our case) we are here to help, so my motivation is to make sure the planners we engage with get an unexpected level of extraordinary service from the initial contact through completion of the event and rebooking. Once they understand the level of service we provide to make their jobs easier, they will return to our destination as often as they possibly can.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Always have a clear understanding of the client’s goals and the makeup of the audience. Then bring the leaders of the service, culinary and venue teams into the creative process early to get their best ideas to blow the client’s expectations away. It helps to have the nation’s oldest city with our beautiful beaches and waterways, along with everything that goes with those, as a backdrop.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: Hard work and getting the job done were the initial forces, making sure I did not let anyone down along the way. Food and beverage jobs starting at the diner at Dearman’s Rexall Drugs in my hometown of Baton Rouge, to banquet manager and later catering director at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa and over to the rooms side as group sales director and director of sales all helped lay the foundation for me to understand our VCB clients’ and stakeholders’ needs and serve them at the highest level in my current position.

Next advance pursuing: I love my work at the St. Augustine|Ponte Vedra Beach VCB as the last chapter in my official hospitality career. When the time comes down the road, I look forward to exploring the next path, traveling, reading, fishing, hiking, staying in touch with old friends and taking time to explore and learn new things. My wife, Veronica, has European Union citizenship through her Irish roots, so we plan to explore that side of the world, with an eye toward spending time in Slovenia. I plan to remain open to opportunities that come my way, and to continue to enjoy and appreciate the people in my life and strive to make the most of every day.

Mike Pouey, CHIA

Vice President of Group Sales, Visit Lauderdale

Motivating force: Great ideas often turn into action when people come together, and many issues can be solved when the right people meet. This motivates me to deliver for meeting professionals by providing ideal environments that allow them to achieve their goals and interests whether it be a business transaction, educating an audience, fighting for a cause or fraternizing socially. The ideal environment is key to stimulating creativity, motivation, relaxation and energy that drive people to connect over a shared purpose or need.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Great experiences are created in advance of the event. Attendees must get excited about where they are going, and I believe that begins in the pre-messaging prior to the event. A compelling event website allows attendees to plan ahead, recruit others to attend and allows them to have something to look forward to. The focus must be on what is unique to the destination or venue and capitalize on the local culture to make it memorable. Forming a planning committee of diverse local businesses helps boost the experience by engaging local talent and resources and anticipating needs.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: Great mentors ranging from professors at FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management to those that gave me my first sales opportunity at Marriott and Hilton. Learning to negotiate, be flexible, collaborate and respect all people in an organization are ingredients that have helped me shape my career.

Next advance pursuing: At this time, I am very content with my current role at Visit Lauderdale and still have much to contribute. That said, I believe that life is about growing thus I spend much time on self-education to prepare for what opportunities may come.

Tim Reardon

General Manager, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel

Motivating force: As Canada’s largest hotel conference center, one of Sheraton Centre Toronto’s core values is to bring people together in meaningful ways. Through our partnerships and programming, we have an opportunity to make a significant impact on sustainable meetings whether the meeting is for 10 attendees or 10,000. Some sustainability practices we incorporate into meetings include using higher-efficiency lightbulbs; replacing 75% of individual servings with bulk purchase items served in reusable containers; and purchasing 50% of notepads, napkins, office paper and other paper products that have a minimum of 30 percent recycled content. We also distill all our food waste into compost that goes to local farms, and we use the water compressed from that same food waste to clean sidewalks and the garden area.  

Approach to supercharging experiences: Our hotel just underwent a major transformation, the largest in our 50-year history and it included head-to-toe renovations of our public spaces. A complete reimagination of our lobby and Club Lounge space aligns with Sheraton’s global transformation. We’re one of the first Sheraton properties in Canada to amplify the new design which draws on the brand’s roots as a community hub for locals and guests.

Part of this reimagining includes private collaboration Studios, soundproof Booths and technology integration which enables flexible gathering spaces for collaborative working and connecting in a less formal setting. The transformation also includes a new food and beverage philosophy. People remember the food and beverage they consume and under the direction of our Executive Chef Tom Phuong Luu, our elevated food and beverage experience is inspired by Toronto’s diversity. We aim to feature vendors and ingredients from a 100km radius. 

We also added two new food and beverage outlets to our portfolio including 43 Down and Dual Citizen. Both spaces allow for meeting attendees to continue networking and unwinding following their events. Additionally, our exclusive and newly designed penthouse-level Sheraton Club Lounge offers 360-degree views of the city. It’s a premium 15,000-square-foot gathering space accessible to Marriott Bonvoy Elite members or guests who upgrade. Of course, we have a great Meetings and Events team with different experiences and backgrounds who are involved from ideation to putting meetings into action.   

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I grew up in the industry and have been fortunate to learn from and work with people from all over the world with different backgrounds who were some of the most interesting and dynamic people I have ever met. Through the years, I have been fortunate to have had mentors that have taken the time to share their knowledge and experiences with me that have shaped my views and leadership style. More recently, I’ve been able to see the hotel’s ideation, design, construction and the actual operation at the hotel which has been an amazing experience to be able to see how our hotel has been reimagined.    

Next advance pursuing: Sheraton Centre Toronto hotel has a 50-year legacy of creating some of this industry’s top talent and I wish to continue that legacy for 50 years and beyond. In the hotel industry, we often talk about hotel transformations pertaining to our hotel design or food and beverage philosophy, but we need to talk more about the transformation of our leadership teams. That’s why through my work as General Manager and as Chair of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, we’re working on diversity and inclusion initiatives that not only ensure that women and BIPOC associates have a seat at the leadership table, but that we have a system for growing leaders within our industry. 

John Rovie

Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina

Motivating force: My goal has always been to make it easy for meeting planners to shine by ensuring the hotel team is fully aligned with the client objectives for the event. This was made more challenging when earlier this year group activity ramped up so quickly that teams were caught shorthanded and products across the board were hard to find. It has been truly inspiring to see the teamwork and creativity that has fueled the resurgence of meetings and events. They say that adversity builds character…and hospitality is filled with characters!

Approach to supercharging experiences: We are fortunate to have recently completed a $10 million renovation of 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. Technology has always been an important component of our business, but never more so than now. Staying connected is a breeze with our new cutting-edge AV technology throughout the event center. As well, recent changes in our world have made use of outdoor space a key component for most large events. In San Diego, we have the luxury of enjoying outdoor events most days of the year. We have tremendous gardens and lawns to meet that need, the largest of which can welcome 1,000 guests for dinner with a stunning view of San Diego Bay and the Coronado Bay Bridge.

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: I was drawn to the hospitality business initially because it is fundamentally a “people business.” Oh, and because I love a delicious meal and great glass of wine (I started my career in food & beverage). I have been very fortunate to work at some of the finest hotels and resorts in the country and with many amazing leaders who have been incredible mentors. Suffice it to say, it is still all about the people and doing whatever I can to assist them in reaching their goals. Whether it’s making sure a meeting planner hosts a successful event, an associate achieves the next step in their career, or friends and family celebrate an important occasion together. We are so fortunate to work in a business that orchestrates meaningful face-to-face collaboration. The human connection is the foundation of what we do, and I think it is needed now more than ever in my 35-year career.

Next advance pursuing: This is an easy one to answer! I mentioned that we recently completed the renovation of our meeting and event space. That is just the beginning for the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina as we have embarked on a $110+ million transformation. By mid-next year, we will have completed 705 guest rooms, added 4 new food & beverage venues, updated all public space, and made significant enhancements to the pools. We look forward to welcoming all very soon to the finest hotel, in America’s Finest City!

image of john solisJohn Solis

Senior Vice President of Sales and Client Services, Visit Houston

Motivating force: The success of a meeting professional bodes well for how they are executing their conference, attendee experience and organization’s mission. I am easily motivated with assisting meeting professionals to meet their goals, fully aware that a win for them is a win for our hospitality community, stakeholders and Houston’s brand.

Approach to supercharging experiences: We believe that a heightened experience in Houston must include: community, culture and culinary. Observing our neighborhoods, visiting with our people, tasting our various cuisines, engaging with the many cultures that thrive throughout Houston will clearly justify why we are consistently identified as one of America’s most diverse cities and why you must experience!

Elements of a stellar hospitality career: My introduction to the hospitality industry was through the general contracting side of the equation. I became an expert in setting and tearing down trade shows before gravitating to the CVB world. I’ve had the honor of representing two awesome cities from the great state of Texas. My career has been molded by good people that I’ve met along my journey stemming from; great staff, meeting professionals, board members, hoteliers, DMO associates from cities across the country to facility managers.

Next advance pursuing: Over the next few years, Houston is slated to host the NCAA Men’s Final Four, College Football Championship Game and World Cup, these events provide positive exposure for our community. Additionally, we will host the 2025 PCMA annual convention and we look forward to showcasing our convention campus and sharing the Houston experience. However, before these events occur, we are all on board with the Houston Astros as they make their run for another World Series!

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