This month presented an incredible opportunity for me to discuss the hospitality industry with an accomplished veteran and true pioneer, Joyce J. Ginsburg. With over 40 years of experience as both a supplier and a professional planner, Joyce’s story is very interesting and compelling. Her dedication and passion for meeting planning is immeasurable. After speaking with her, I realized that in this learn-as-you-go business, it’s oftentimes more about who you know than what you know.
Joyce, take us on your journey. How did you get started in the hospitality industry?
Well, like most people, I fell into it by accident. I had finished broadcasting school and took a job with a major company in Chicago. This was 41 years ago, at one of those times when corporate America was crazy and companies were laying off a lot of employees. Since I was someone with the least amount of seniority at the time, I was let go. The human resources person looked at me and said, “You should go into the hotel industry.” I was a kid; what did I know about the hotel industry? But, it seemed reasonable enough. So, I marched out of the office, and went straight to a phone booth and started calling hotels in the area. First I called the Bismarck Hotel, which was right across the street. They weren’t hiring. Next, I called the Sheraton Blackstone Hotel, used my best phone voice (remember, I was in school for broadcasting) and said, “I am looking for work and I have an interest and the ability to learn.” I guess that worked, because I was offered an opportunity to come in and interview for the position of diary clerk.
Now, this was well before the time of computers; and the diary clerk was responsible for blocking all hotel function space within the hotel for meetings, social functions, etc. in this extraordinarily large book. Well, I got the job and was soon after promoted to their assistant banquet coordinator. But, as is common in this industry, (although I didn’t know it at the time) I was ready for a new challenge after about two and a half years. Amazingly enough, I was offered an opportunity to transfer to the Sheraton Four Ambassadors Hotel in Miami, Fla., and be their convention services manager. After almost three years, I was ready to move on again. I was young and still didn’t realize this was typical in this industry.
I returned to Chicago to work for a private temporary placement business in Schaumburg, Ill. Before leaving, my general manager at the Sheraton had told me, “You’ll be back. The hotel industry is in your blood.” Well, wouldn’t you know it, exactly six months to the day, I returned to the hotel business! This time, I accepted the position of director of sales and catering at the Holiday Inn of Itasca, which is located in the outskirts of Chicago. Selling outside of the city was a little different, so I simply made up my mind I was going to sell like crazy, which I did. After two and a half years there, I accepted the convention services manager position at the Arlington Park Hilton. Then, I had another opportunity to transfer and move again.
In 1980, I accepted the position of director of convention services at the Denver Hilton Hotel. While I was there, I was promoted to director of marketing in 1982, which at that time made me the first woman director of marketing for Hilton Hotels. It was an incredible opportunity. In 1983, Hilton asked me to transfer to Los Angeles and work as director of corporate accounts at their Western Regional Sales Office. This was a holding position until another director of convention services position became available, which needed my experience. After about seven months, they asked me to return to Miami Beach and be their director of convention services at the Fountainebleau Hilton Resort and Spa. The reason they brought me on was to handle one of their major accounts, a huge revenue-generator for them. Every year, this company held back-to-back meetings consisting of 800 to 1,400 people per movement for six to eight weeks. It was amazing.
So, that was 20 years in the hotel business, and then you made the leap to corporate America, which jump-started your career as an independent planner?
Yes. In 1989, I had the opportunity to be a corporate meeting planner with a huge global company. But, in 1992, that company had a restructuring and downsizing, which meant that the American side of the business was pulling out and they were offering us severance and buy-out packages. So, it was then that I began my career as an independent meeting planner. When you’ve been employed all of your life and then find yourself self-employed, it’s very interesting, to say the least. I learned how to “not keep all of my eggs in one basket,” which helped me when the meeting business was down, like 9-11, and as a result of the time that followed. So I do a lot of consulting and on-site management.
What do you like most about your job?
The world of meeting planning allows me to interact with so many people. Not to mention the diversification! For example, while on the hotel side, a day could consist of working with a corporate meeting to an association meeting to a religious event to working on a meeting involving the secret service! How diverse is that? This has given me the flexibility to work with various organizations on many different types of events. I feel that my prior experience in the hotel industry provides me with an acute understanding of hotel services available to a client, while simultaneously being able to understand any challenges a hotel faces in order to conduct a successful meeting. Understanding both sides is an advantage to any client. I think it is good to know what can logistically be accommodated and what cannot.
You’re involved with a unique group: AIMM (Alliance of Independent Meeting Managers). Tell our audience about the organization.
We’re a group of independent meeting planners who meet quarterly and share ideas, discuss topics, and even merge efforts, if needed. There are no membership fees; it’s not an official organization with bylaws and such. It’s really a sharing effort. We help spread the word that there is a group of independent planners who can assist any organization with their meeting planning needs.
Are you involved in other meeting planning organizations?
I wish organizations within our industry could offer the independent planner an opportunity to join them with the understanding that there isn’t a company supporting our annual membership dues, which are not feasible to the independents. Their pricing is not in line or logical to many of us. I’ll volunteer and work with many of the groups out there, when my time permits, though. There are so many wonderful and reputable groups. I definitely advocate getting involved.
What is your favorite thing about this industry?
The hospitality industry is interesting. It is so complex and yet it can be simplified. There is knowledge and ability involved that the meeting planner can use to create a successful end result.
What advice can you share with our audience?
Life is an education. We all live it in different ways. Service and flexibility is the key to the industry.