Switching careers to discover your passion

There is a near endless list of jobs in the world but some people were just born for events and hospitality.

While others discover this as children or adolescents and take it all the way through college and, land into the world of events and hospitality, others work in other industries for a while to later find out that it was about hospitality all along.

Maybe It’s in the Blood

Although she was born to parents who worked in hotels, Natasha Pereira chose a different route on her way to the hospitality world. Formerly a postgraduate in public relations and advertising, working with technology clients as a PR executive, a vacation to the Cayman Islands was all it took to change Pereira’s career trajectory forever.

“I decided to take a little bit of a break and visit my brother down here in Cayman Islands vacation for three months,” she says. “I used to be on and off the property of The Westin Grand Cayman [Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa], and I just decided to see if there was an opening for a pool and beach concierge. I was like, ‘Man, what a better place than to be watching the Seven Mile Beach’…I think it was a great entry level position that I could get into. The idea was to just spend probably the summer here, and then get a broader perspective and just head back to Mumbai and look for another PR job. But life had different plans.”

Pereira joined The Westin Grand Cayman in 2017 as pool and beach concierge. Today, she is the property’s director of event management.

For Shauna Goodman, director of destination experience for Visit San Antonio, the planning gene has always been in her, expressed in her professional, as well as personal, life. “I am a planner by nature,” she says. “I am always the one who volunteers to host all my kids’ class parties, host all the holiday functions and first in line to be on a council, board or committee. It is just how I roll.”

The Draw

Before joining Visit San Antonio, Goodman worked with greater:SATX (formerly the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation), working with many business sectors in the city, such as aerospace, bioscience, cybersecurity, financial services, manufacturing and, lastly, hospitality, a sector that displayed a camaraderie she found appealing.

“Each sector had their own unique traits but what I loved about San Antonio’s hospitality industry is that our hospitality community works as a close-knit partnership,” Goodman says. “It is not one hotel property trying to work autonomously, or one venue or restaurant working in a silo, it’s the entire industry coming together to make San Antonio a premium destination for both conventions and tourists.

“Sure, each property, venue or restaurant has its own goals and objectives, but this industry pulls together like none I have experienced to make sure our convention attendees and leisure visitors feel the authentic hospitality that San Antonio provides.”

Transferring Skillsets

Although the events industry is distinct from other sectors of the working world, many of them have plenty of overlap in usable skills, which Goodman not only had plenty of coming into the industry but was able to apply to her new position with Visit San Antonio. Like Pereira, Goodman also worked in marketing and advertising. Before greater:SATX, she spent 20 years in marketing and advertising Dallas and San Antonio, representing national and local notable clients including Midas Automotive Repair, Procter and Gamble, Jose Cuervo, H-E-B, among others.

Goodman says this experience in marketing made for a comfortable transition working with clients to bring San Antonio into their event experience. “Similar to marketing, Visit San Antonio’s Experience team provides a comprehensive experience for our meeting planners that focuses on the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch,” she says. “When you have a city such as San Antonio that can offer authentic and memorable experiences through the five senses it is not difficult to get the meeting planner excited about hosting their group here.”

Moving from one working world to another, Pereira emphasizes the importance of communication. “Since my university days I was involved in events,” she says. “Moving into public relations and organizing, having this kind of communication and understanding of how operations run or understanding how you put two and two together to deliver the whole package really helped me understand the hospitality experience,” she says.

Another aspect Pereira says that helped her is proper preparation and organizational skills, as a large part of the job is gathering information for different departments that have a hand in the event; only when you gather that information sufficiently, you can then hand it out for other departments to execute. “It made me understand that you are, after all, the point of contact between your client and hotel, and that’s where you just bundle it up together, and you deliver. This was what I was also doing in my previous job. So, it comes down to communication and organizational skills.”

She adds that, while there is a thin line between PR and guest services, the major difference is the clientele you’re servicing. In the PR industry, there is a lot more backend work and less direct and constant involvement with clients, but now for Pereira, she acknowledges in hospitality that there is a lot more constant contact with your guest and leading the entire process from A to Z.

To Hospitality and Beyond…

For those wanting to get into the hospitality industry, it can be an awkward transition filled with unknowns. But there is one thing you Goodman and Pereira say one needs to have if they want to take that fateful step: passion.

“In San Antonio, 1 in 8 residents works in the hospitality industry. For me, hospitality is caring about the entire industry and not just one sector,” Goodman says. “This industry has so many opportunities for personal growth and advancement along with a true feeling of community. If you are passionate about sharing your community with others, interested in planning and customizing experiences for guests and providing over the top service, then a career in hospitality could be a great fit for you.”

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Beyond passion, Pereira says you not only need to have it to create events, but understand that anything can go wrong at any time. “It’s all about how you delegate your details, adapt and deliver efficiently,” she says. “[Event planning] is so fast-paced and everything’s changing. There’s so many demands, there’s so many last-minute requests coming in. You just need to know how to you keep your calm and keep on delivering.”

And from this passion comes other touches like personalization, which Pereira says it’s best to add often. “At the end of the day, guests leave remembering only the very important things you’ve done for them,” she says. “The small things, like you remember their name or you remember their birthday or you do something above and beyond. That all really stems from passion.”

Goodman goes on: “Although destination experience pros put in a lot of hours servicing clients and bringing the world to their destination, it is much more than parties and events and in San Antonio we love what we do and know it is directly impacting our community in a positive way.”

Pereira says when asked why she decided to change her career so late, she says she just realized this is what she likes most. “Each and every job has a lot of stress. But [this is] the good kind of stress, where you want to wake up every day and still face it, because you know it’s good. And at the end of the day when you see your guests smile and your people leave happy you know you’ve made the magic come true.

How to Get Started

Goodman notes event associations are a great way to test the waters in the events and meetings industry. Here are several: Area Hospitality Association (AHA), National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), International Live Events Association (ILEA) or Event Services Professional Association (ESPA). “All of these associations will give you wonderful exposure to the meetings and hospitality industry,” she says.

Pereira’s studies began on the job through Cornell’s online hospitality certification courses, also offered for Marriott employees. Cornell currently has 27 hospitality certification programs available, including hospitality management, hospitality marketing, and hotel planning and design.