Thursday, November 14, 2013

Careers in the Hospitality Industry

Last week I talked about Site Visits, which are one exciting part of my job as a Meeting Planner. Today, I wanted to share the different sides of the hospitality world and the event roles within each. For any of you interested in this industry, this may help you decide which career path fits your lifestyle!

1. Corporation

In the hospitality industry, the corporation is the company/association/non-profit/group who is the one hosting the event/meeting/convention/conference. This group is planning the event for their members/staff/clients/customers/etc. This is the group paying for the event. Some companies outsource their event planning to a vendor. There are event planning companies all over the country who will do everything from site selection, to contract negotiation, to execution.

Many companies, however, have a Meeting Planner and/or an event team to execute the meetings. This is what I do. I am a Meeting Planner for a trade association that hosts 3 events annually for their members. I handle everything from event budget, city selection, venue selection, contract negotiation, meeting space assignments, food & beverage, audio visual, entertainment, registration, signage, transportation... and the list goes on. (You can see why many places have event teams.) The specific details that go into an event and comprise the planner's job depends on the company. Each company is different and therefore, each event has different needs. This is one of the many reasons the corporate meeting industry is so robust.

The beauty of being a Corporate Meeting Planner is that once you know how to plan a meeting, you can work for ANYONE and ANY industry. The meeting language is always the same. I went from planning events for volleyball coaches to asphalt professionals. But I do the same thing. Because so many industries host events, the possibilities are endless! Don't turn down an opportunity because you aren't an expert in the field for which you are planning events. Trust me, you don't have to know anything about asphalt. You just have to know how to plan an event.

Corporate planners have a pretty ideal schedule (in my opinion). Travel typically consists of each event plus a few site visits. We have 3 events a year, so I plan to travel about 5 times a year. Some events are during the week, but many are nights and weekends, so during that time, we do work long hours. For the rest of the year, though, I'm in an office with regular 9-5 / M-F schedule.

For those who like to excel at something each year and continue to build on it, this job is great. The events always have the same foundations, so I can spend time getting creative and focus on how to make the next event bigger and badder than the last.

2. Hotel

The hotel sales team's main goal is to book events at the hotel. Some groups just need sleeping rooms, some need rooms and meeting space, etc. The sales team is concerned with making money and meeting their goals. They want the group that is going to sell the most rooms and spend the most money on food, drinks, AV, etc. The sales team conducts the site tour when a planner visits a hotel to see the property. It's their job to "sell" the venue and negotiate contract terms with the planner to convince them to host their event in the hotel.

The sales teams in the hotel (and 3&4 below) have a bit more flexibility with schedule than the event services people. They can schedule client meetings and sites during work hours for the most part, and while I have had some stop by an event to say hello, they are not obligated to be there all hours.

Once the hotel sales team books a group, they pass the group onto a Convention Services Manager. This person is the one who works with the client from planning stages to execution of the event. They fulfill space requests, food & beverages orders, audio/visual needs, and much more. There is usually a team that supports this person. So they may be the main event contact, but there is typically a banquet contact, AV contact, and others to assist them.

The hotel side of events (along with 3 & 4 below) differ from the Meeting Planner in that they are constantly working with different groups on different events. Some groups go to the same city and hotel every year, but that is rate. So, for the most part, event staff in venues are always working with new contacts and facing new obstacles. This is perfect for people who don't like to do the same thing everyday and who are always up for a challenge!

An event manger at a hotel typically has a more time-consuming job. They can be responsible for several events a month, and need to be in house during those times. Nights and weekends are frequently worked in this role. And it's a lot of walking! No need to hit the gym after work!

Marriott Harbor Beach - Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Touring the KFC Yum! Center - Louisville, KY

3. Convention Center or Other Event Venues

This category is mainly made up of Convention Centers, but their roles are similar to those in Conference Centers and any event venue. They host events but do not have sleeping rooms (so not considered a hotel). Could be a country club, sports arena, restaurant, park, racetrack, etc.

Similar to hotels and CVBs, these venues have a Sales Team. This team researches events coming to the city, or local events that could potentially use their space. They then try to sell their venue to the customer. Convention Centers sales personnel may have an easier time, since there is typically only one per city. So, if a large group is already coming to a city, and uses Convention Centers for their events, they are guaranteed to get the sale. Specialty venues like the ones mentioned above can work with these large groups to book receptions, special functions, or work with local groups for weddings, business meetings, etc.

This role is very similar to the event staff at a hotel. They take on the client after the sales contract has been signed and assist with all details before, during, and after the event. This person doesn't have to deal with sleeping nights and other items that are unique to hotels. Convention Centers typically host expos in their large exhibit halls, so they tend to excel in that area. (There is another whole side of the industry that is unique to trade shows/expos and their vendors).

Also like hotels, these professionals have busy schedules that are set by the events to which they are assigned. So, if they have a group in one week that has functions until 10pm, they are most likely working that late. The same goes for weekends.

The Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX

Unique space at San Antonio Convention Center

Pauley Pavillion - UCLA

4. Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB)

The sales professionals for a city's CVB has a unique position. They are selling a location, a destination. They are trying to get groups to come to their city. They aren't as concerned with what hotel, venue, or restaurants you use (although they do promote partners), they just want to get you to commit to Los Angeles, or Vegas, or Nashville. Pretty much every city has some version of a CVB. Google your city and CVB. I bet you didn't even know there was an entire team dedicated to bring tourism to your town!

A salesperson at a CVB is going to wine and dine potential clients in hopes they fall in love with their city. These people know EVERYONE in town. I'm always surprised how well connected CVB people are. They know all the restaurant owners, the management of all the hotels, vendors, arena contacts, etc. Everyone wants to know them, because they have the power to recommend vendors to the clients who are bringing all the money into the city. For example, a new hip restaurant goes all out for a CVB staffer's dinner with a client... this makes the CVB look good, which in turn makes them more likely to recommend that restaurant to the client.

The event services role at a CVB is a bit different than those of a hotel or other venue. This event professional works with a group primarily in the planning stages. They help connect the client with vendors in the area, recommend restaurants and entertainment options, provide city maps, logos, and other materials to help promote the event. By the time the event is in full swing, this person has typically fulfilled all of their responsibilities. If the event has already confirmed the city and moved past the sales team, this person may assist the Meeting Planner during their site visits. They can transport them to different hotels to tour, take them to local city attractions, and other things to make site visits run smoothly.

The event staff is similar to the sales team in that they know everyone. I've never worked for a CVB but this role sounds like one of the most fun in the industry. They have so many connections around town and are always checking out new restaurants, venues, experiences, tours, etc. so that they can properly promote them! The schedule is also not as demanding in the off-hours, as their job mainly consists of pre-event work.

Touring the Alamodome

Touring the interactive Ali Center in Louisville, KY

Denver Convention Center
Other Roles

Maybe you want to be involved in this industry but you don't want to be planning all the details or overseeing an entire event. And perhaps the word "sales" give you hives. Maybe you are a foodie or specialize in IT? Well, good news! Hotels and venues usually have catering managers who handle all food & beverage needs. They get creative with presentation and offer unique options to the client. These venues also have an audio visual staff! They work with the client to bring their vision to life whether it be a small session or a 1000 person dinner banquet!

As you can see, there are many different options in this industry. And this list just includes the ones I am familiar with. I assure you there are more! There are independent planners who work as a contractor for different corporations planning their events. There are wedding planners and people who work specifically with entertainment events. So, if you're interested in hospitality, do a little research and see which career best fits your passion and lifestyle.

Silent Auction in Exhibit Hall

NCAA Men's Final Four

Touring Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, KY

There's no denying jobs in this industry are fun. As a Meeting Planner, there are some nice perks. You get to travel and tour some amazing cities and venues. On the other hand, working for a venue allows you to interact with different groups and events on a daily basis.

But with the perks also comes stress...

Flying home after a 10 day event on an airplane with no AC. I was NOT happy.

This is a fast paced industry that comes with an increased stress level. You have to think on your feet, be able to make quick decisions, and be very flexible! There will be days you want to pull your hair out when it seems like nothing is going your way. And then there are the days when a member comes up to you and thanks you for putting on a fabulous show. It's not easy, but it's so worth it!


  1. Okay, so maybe you just convinced me IN A BLOG POST to switch my major?! Ut oh...!!!!

    1. I should have added that I majored in Marketing! And a lot of people in this industry majored in business. You don't have to study hospitality to get into it.. but I'm sure it would've helped! I learned everything as I went, not in school.

  2. I LOVED this post and it was so helpful to me in understanding the industry and what options there are for me. I was working on the nonprofit world planning events and trainings and fundraising but I have really wanted to get in to the event planning world. I didn't major in marketing or business but would really love to get back in to that realm. I would love to chat more with you about your experience and suggestions if you're willing!

    1. Thanks, Libby! Don't worry about your degree.. if you have that kind of experience, that's all you need to get into this side of things! Both of the associations I worked for were NFP. Happy to chat anytime!

  3. Interesting post Kali! I have been in freight/transportation sales my whole career. Was thinking of changing things up - hospitality sales sounds really interesting! Something to ponder...

  4. Wow so interesting!!! I used to work at a hotel but that was as far as it went, Im too shy to be an event planner but it always sounds so awesome.

  5. I really think this is an industry I would love to be a part of. Particularly in a sports arena... maybe I should email Jerry Jones and see if he needs any help! :)

  6. this is really interesting and I really feel like you taught me a thing or two (or 12!)

  7. This sounds like an industry that would be so much fun to work in!

  8. Loved this post! I have dabbled in event coordination and planning and am trying to work my way back into the field. Loved hearing about the industry!

  9. I appreciate this overview! I am a corporate event manager and I travel 70% (globally). It really depends on the company. I also think most people don't really have a clue what event professionals do and most thing it's party and wedding planning. They don't understand right down to the VGA cable connected to your projector, you must have that planned out as well as a back-up! Details, details, details! Great post!


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