Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Where Are They Now?

By Photos by Tate Carlson

It’s been 11 years since the very first Hall of Fame inductees were announced at Colorado Meetings + Events Best of 2008. We circled back with the beginning two Hall of Fame classes to find out what 12 of the 14 movers and shakers are up to today and even managed to assemble a crew together at Halcyon, a hotel in Denver’s Cherry Creek North district for a photo shoot. Most have stayed in the industry but a few have switched from planner to supplier and started businesses and all share how the meetings and events industry has evolved along the way and offer educated guesses about its future.

Class of 2008

Now: CEO & Chairman, Epicurean Hospitality Group, Centennial
Then: Same

“We added to our family of businesses 10 years ago with a casual restaurant concept; Mangia Bevi that has breakfast and lunch service and holds events and is connected to a beautiful banquet facility called Palazzo Verdi. Two years ago, we started a new destination management company (DMC) branch called E5 Events, which is a full-scale corporate orchestration company, completely separate from Epicurean Catering,” says DiPasquale. “I have moved out of the day-to-day operations of our company, and my daughter is our director of human resources.”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» I have been involved in coordinating major events as a caterer, so I have seen the industry change where our clients want complete orchestration.
» Corporate events have changed with a lot of the clients looking for street fairs, live music and interactive foods.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» I am always inspired by a motto that I came up with 37 years ago: “We are only as good as our last customer and team experience, make it the best.”
» I love the hospitality industry and mentoring the next generation of hospitality professionals.
» The ever-changing environment of large-scale events and the challenges they present have always interested me, along with setting the standards, creating new methods of cooking foods fresh on-site and encouraging team engagement. 

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» We moved into the DMC part of our industry because I see future corporate clients wanting to deal with hospitality professionals who know all aspects of events, including food, beverage, entertainment, transportation, décor and lighting.
» The future will continue to challenge companies to provide boutique-style customer service with capabilities for large-scale customer experience.
» Full culture training for hospitality companies: team empowerment, promoting from within, gender equality, and educating and cultivating future leaders.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Encouraging the next generation of hospitality professionals running the Epicurean family of businesses, expanding our community outreach through Epicurean Cares, feeding and repurposing foods for the needy, and making a major difference in the culinary and hospitality community by lecturing at universities about events, hospitality and culinary. 

Now: Senior Vice President/Team Director, ConferenceDirect, Broomfield & Palm Desert
Then: Regional Vice President, ConferenceDirect, Denver

“I still work full time for ConferenceDirect, but after my best friend passed away four years ago my husband and I decided life is too short, so we now winter in Palm Desert, California from November to May,” says House. “I have booked over $100 million in room revenue for the company, so I was given a new title a few years ago!”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» Technology first and foremost has catapulted this industry. My very first hotel leads were sent over the fax machine! 
» I still believe it’s the relationships we make that matter most, so I am grateful this part still seems to play an important role.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
I love the flexibility of running my own business with ConferenceDirect, but enjoy having the backing of a large organization when it comes to the day-to-day operations.

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» Technology will continue to play an important role.  
» As planners, we have to find a way to better market our meetings; there is a ton of competition out there so we all need to be better at promoting and showing the value. 
» Social media will be exploding in the coming years, even more so than today. 
» I worry about room blocks with the sharing economy being so strong. I have several meetings already booked into 2025/2026, and I just hope the buying behavior of attendees staying in room blocks doesn’t change too dramatically. 

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Retired and enjoying sunny skies on the golf course and watching my nephew in whatever sports career he chooses!

Now: Registrar, Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Harlingen, Texas
Then: Convention & Tours Manager, American Birding Association, Colorado Springs

“ABA ceased to offer conferences and conventions in 2010, and I was referred to a position in South Padre Island, Texas by our chair of the board, so I went for the adventure. I managed the South Padre Texas World Birding Center on the island for just over a year; became the nature tourism manager for Chambers County for a year, expanding my outdoor experience beyond birding; and was recruited as the executive director of the Texas Tropical Trail, part of the Texas Heritage Trails program,” shares Bulow. “I am currently semi-retired and doing contract work for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, Texas.”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
Not only has the technology improved, the information highway is at full speed. Social media has been the driving force.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» The hospitality industry is still the best and most pleasurable field to call “work.”
» I cannot put a price tag on the relationships I have made in this industry; they are strong, forever and unwavering.

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» Despite the virtual progress in technology, there is no replacing the importance of people meeting in person.
» Relationship building is the keystone to success, and therefore I foresee continued growth in the meetings industry.
» I see the meetings and events industry expanding in the fields of recreation and social groups.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Sitting on the beach with an umbrella drink in my hand.

Now: Founder, CampExperience Network and Global Sisterhood Network; Creator, Boost Power Radio, Englewood
Then: Founder, CampExperience Network, Englewood

“I still run my CampExperience Network, now 5,000 women strong and in its 14th year.  We have expanded to include four networking events every month all over Denver and 16 social events, in addition to the annual fall retreat the third week in September,” says Wiersma.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» The delivery of our “products” now is much more 24/7 accessible. 
» We have a broader reach with technology. 

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» I wake up every day on fire for the next most fun and impactful way to support women! In 2019, a Global Sisterhood Network was launched with 70 thought leader interviews. 

Predictions for the industry’s future?
Authentic experiences will continue to build relationships and relationships build business. Events still break through the clutter and provide the fiber of a happy and funfilled life.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Traveling and interviewing global sisters, leading worldwide adventures, making a positive difference for others, doing super fun art, and loving my family, Doug and Sarah Lane.

Now: Owner, Bowman and Associates, Grand Junction
Then: Director of Sales, Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau

“After retiring from Visit Grand Junction in July 2018, I started my company Bowman and Associates. I have been working as the interim executive director for Visit Durango since February 2019,” says Bowman.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» More and more small destinations are competing in the meetings market.
» Smaller destinations primarily deal with third-party planners now. 

Why have you stayed in the industry?
My primary focus is now developing rural tourism, which may or may not include pursuing the meetings market, dependent upon the destination.

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» Smaller attendance for meetings overall.
» Condensed meetings due to diminishing budgets.
» More and more wow factor to attract attendees. 

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Traveling and still being of service in the hospitality industry. 

Now: Senior Special Events Sales Manager for Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver
Then: Special Events Manager, INVESCO Field at Mile High, Denver

“It’s been a career-changing experience in planning events to include the Broncos Hall of Fame, Broncos Ring of Fame and Super Bowl 50 Ring Parties,” emphasizes Martinez. “The experiences have opened up a new creative side and allowed me to really think outside the box.”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» With the number of new venues entering the market, the competition has vastly increased through the years. It’s about marketing the uniqueness of your venue and what makes it stand apart from the others.
» Keeping up with the trends and focusing on the needs and wants of your consumer.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» My favorite part is selling the vision of possibilities when hosting an event at Broncos Stadium or when planning our own Broncos organization events within the stadium.
» From the event theme, lighting and drape to the food and entertainment, it’s not just a football stadium, there’s so much opportunity available to transform the indoor and outdoor event spaces.
» The opportunities are endless and I enjoy making the visions come to life!

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» The trends will continue to evolve. It’s taking guests out of their everyday life and providing them with a four-hour experience they’ll never forget.
» It’s all in the little details of an event that make the biggest difference.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Involved in the design aspect of events … making a vision come to life and seeing it through. 

Class of 2009

Now: President & CEO, Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitors Bureau
Then: Same

“In my role, I have been a part of so many great things that have transformed Denver into one of the premier visitor destinations,” says Scharf. “Denver has become a top-tier convention and meeting destination, and we are improving our product daily.”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» The shared economy and technology having greater impact, with Airbnb disrupting the hotel industry and Uber and Lyft reinventing local transportation. 
» Hotels have become more savvy in recognizing traveler needs and adapting to more interest in lifestyle tourism, with local branding and amenities throughout lobbies and guest rooms. 
» On the content side, many groups are bringing in speakers with broader human-interest topics rather than just industry related. 
» More meetings are experimenting with different setups where programming and meeting room sets inspire interaction. 
» The use of teleconferencing, where you can deliver the most relevant and up-to-date information on cuttingedge topics during the meeting, has continued to rise.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» The product has improved across the board, with new hotels and a dining scene that’s reached its breakthrough moment with more James Beard award winners in town and the exposure that comes with hosting season 15 of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
» An expansion of international flights into Denver International Airport, which has a new great hall and 39-gate expansion to look forward to.
» Denver is adding new meeting product with the new Mission Ballroom, the upcoming Colorado Convention Center expansion, new museums and the opening of Meow Wolf in 2020, followed by the rebuilt National Western Center and entertainment districts attached to two sports stadium districts. It’s hard not to be a part of it!

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» The travel and entertainment industry is going to be the top economic dominant sector for several decades, as people want to travel and experience new things and new cities.
» It is one of the few industries that will continue to transform both the personal touches and experiences, while also incorporating technology that deals with mass customization and more 3D virtual tourism products 

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Playing more golf and traveling.

Now: President & Owner, Cas Strouse & Associates Corporate Meetings and Events, Parker
Then: Meetings & Events Director, CH2M HILL, Englewood

“I left corporate and started my own meeting planning business five years ago and haven’t looked back. I feel extremely blessed to have made the transition from corporate to an independent business woman,” emphasizes Strouse.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
Meetings continue to increase in scope, size and budget but not the lead time to source and execute.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» When I realized it was time for a change to move out of corporate and start the next chapter, I knew I wanted to stay involved in the industry. If it wasn’t for this industry, I don’t think I would have tried to start my own business. 
» There are so many great people who are mentors, peers and friends; I couldn’t imagine not staying connected and involved.

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» We will see the meeting industry continue to grow. 
» I believe experiences at meetings will become more engaging with all the technological advancements, so creativity will be intensified. 
» No matter how much technology progresses, the relationships will always be the most important part of a meeting.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Healthy and enjoying retirement with my husband while continuing to travel the world to see all the wonderful places and people we haven’t yet encountered.

Now: Vice President – Business Development & Partnerships, ETA, Denver
Then: Corporate Meeting Planner, RE/MAX International, Denver

“I have moved from the planner side to the supplier side and have been with Event Transportation Associates (ETA) since 2010. We manage transportation systems and traffic engineering for events ranging from corporate incentive travel to large conventions, festivals, sporting events and large political events,” says Bohner Shelley.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» The economy was just starting to rebuild at the time of the 2009 Hall of Fame article. The meetings and events industry also was starting to move into a positive position.
» The industry has not only fully recovered but has come back stronger with even more of a need for in-person meetings and events.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» I’m inspired by our industry as it brings people together … I believe that when people meet face-to-face, those connections push relationships and business forward.
» I also love that we are constantly managing several tasks and putting out fires.
» Having to think and react under pressure makes every day and every event a new adventure.

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» Both planners and suppliers must continue to be innovative in creating new experiences and new products. Technology will continue to play a huge role in that innovation in both web-based and face-to-face meetings.
» Web-based events are becoming more convenient, however I still feel they won’t take the place of in-person meetings and events.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Continuing my niche and having involvement in the community and industry I have such a strong passion for.

Now: Senior Director of Development, The Alzheimer’s Association – Colorado Chapter, Denver
Then: Owner, Nancy Thompson Events, Denver

“I had my own event management business for almost 18 years and decided almost two years ago to close the business and take a job with one of my former clients. I am happy to be there!” says Thompson.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
» The industry has grown so much, and there are so many innovative and creative things happening at events now. 
» Technology at events has gotten so amazing.
» Cool and unique venues drive attendance and creative guest experiences help sustain events.   
» I love seeing all the creative new menus caterers and hotels are offering—always keeping up with the latest trends. 

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» I was able to make a career change that still keeps me involved in large fundraising events for the association while working for a great cause that I really care about.
» Customer service continues to remain a high priority and thinking outside the box keeps things fun and interesting.  

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» There will always be a demand for good events that bring people together to learn, exchange ideas, raise money, feel uplifted and create community. 
» This industry seems to keep up with innovation, technology and the latest trends, and that will be important to its future.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Retired and enjoying attending events as a guest!

Now: Manager – Events & Meetings, KPMG LLP, Denver
Then: Senior Catering Sales Manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver

“I honestly always thought I would be working in hospitality, but actually doing events for a large corporation is just a different version of hospitality. You have both internal clients and external clients, and you strive to exceed their expectations. You just don’t have a sales goal,” shares Coleman.

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
When I switched jobs nine years ago, the nation was not in the best economy. Budgets were tight! But any planner can create an amazing event on a huge budget. It’s when there are budget constraints that I truly enjoy getting creative and striving for high impact/low dollar aspects to my events.

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» I feel so grateful that I live in a community like Denver that really values relationships in the meetings and events industry.
» It’s nice to have worked for the same company for nine years and still feel passionate about what I do. I’m so lucky to have stakeholders that allow me the space, flexibility and creativity to develop strategic events. Predictions for the industry’s future?
» The power of in-person connection will continue to grow stronger in the future.
» The emphasis on the environment and a community/CSR focus will continue to grow.
» There is value to technology, change and social media, but as humans we still strive to achieve the basic age-old feeling of physically connecting and loving/being loved.

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Continuing to feel a deep need for purpose, specifically for those who are less fortunate. Who knows where that will take me in 10 years?

Now: Senior Director of Convention Sales, Visit Colorado Springs
Then: Same

“I could not be happier being right where I am, even though it is in the same place I have been for 22 years!” says Reak. “Watching Colorado Springs thrive and become one of the fastest growing cities in the state has been very exciting with the Olympic and Paralympic Museum coming on board next year, which will be a game changer for not only our city but the state as a whole. This is what keeps my passion burning.”

How has the meetings and events industry changed?
It has changed in the way planners source their meetings and how everyone wants an experience incorporated in their meetings.  

Why have you stayed in the industry?
» For me, it’s passion. I love working with people, both planners and hoteliers.  
» There is nothing more rewarding than marrying the planners with the perfect destination and venue.    

Predictions for the industry’s future:
» We will see millennials making more of the decisions and the need for meeting and event professionals to learn how to engage with this group.  
» Airbnbs are not going anywhere, and the industry will need to figure out how to work with this growing segment.  
» Demand will continue to grow with less full-service properties coming online, and competition is going to be fierce.  
» With the trend of experience being top of mind when booking a meeting, destinations and hotels will need to become more creative to remain relevant.  

In 10 years, I hope to be …
Retired and spending time traveling the United States in our RV with our two dogs.