Most people would be pulling their hair out. But for Lee Smith, president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), great challenges create amazing memories.
“In 2009, Phoenix was the host city for the NBA All-Star game and my hotel, Hotel Valley Ho, hosted the T-Mobile Shot of a Lifetime event,” says Smith, director of catering and conference services at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. “This event had a lot of moving parts from pre-production, custom food and beverage options that really reflected the overall feel of the night, not to mention a complete transformation of our hotel pool for the talented Katy Perry to perform at.”
Coordinating all those moving parts and making them seem to gel flawlessly is what memories are made of.
“My favorite part was seeing everyone so energized and working together to bring this event to life,” Smith says. “When you have the right people in the right roles that are enthusiastic and supportive it creates a magical and memorable experience.”
And guiding the right people in your circle of support is exactly how MPI, the organization Smith leads in Arizona, helps its members boost Arizona’s economy while driving the state’s hospitality industry. Az Business magazine talked with Smith to see what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure as president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of MPI.
Az Business: What attracted you to the meeting and event industry?
Lee Smith: I enjoy meeting new people and establishing connections with our industry peers; these relationships are vital to the future and continued success of our industry. It is important for us to engage and educate our planners, suppliers, destination management companies and all those in the meeting and event industry so we can come together and transform the way we do meetings. When we meet, we change the world.
AB: How did you get started professionally in the meeting and event industry?
LS: Back in 1999, I accepted a summer internship for the Walt Disney World College Program in Orlando, FL which is where I got my first glimpse into the meeting and event industry. Upon the conclusion of that program, I moved into catering and conference services at the Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort followed by my transition to resort sales for Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort before I moved out to Arizona back in 2003.
AB: How has MPI helped to enhance your professional career?
LS: MPI has fulfilled me both personally and professionally in ways I never thought possible. Because of my involvement, I’ve been able to establish new connections with various planners, suppliers, destination management companies, and so much more. When I am asked, what is it about MPI that I love so much? I answer without hesitation: the people. It’s the people that make being a part of this organization so special and unique from any other organization out there. The camaraderie, the authenticity, the feeling of walking into a room and being genuinely welcomed with open arms.
AB: How have concerns over safety and security impacted meetings and events?
LS: Both planners and suppliers are now re-evaluating their risk management plans, some even establishing those procedures for the first time. As a supplier and hotelier, we are seeing more planners requesting what our emergency procedures are, contact info for local authorities, and even the addition of contractual verbiage. There is a level of awareness that has surfaced throughout the industry not out of fear, but rather being proactive in establishing a solid plan in the event something happens.
AB: What other trends or issues do you see impacting meeting and event planning the most?
LS: Ever changing technology will continue to have an impact on meeting and event planning; staying ahead of this curve is challenging at best. In addition, social media has more ROI than traditional advertising; printed advertising and marketing is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Additionally, social media is being used as a platform in regards to real time guest feedback which is a double edged sword as both positive and negative feedback spreads faster than ever and sometimes there are consequences.
AB: What is Arizona’s reputation as an events destination?
LS: I think Arizona is underrated and people don’t realize that we have so much to offer. Arizona, as an events destination offers plenty of activities to supplement an event experience from various cultural activities to off-riding in the desert; or from professional sporting events to hiking one of our many beautiful mountains while watching one of our serene sunsets. Arizona also boasts an array of culinary concepts, local wineries and craft breweries; the Grand Canyon state offers something for everyone.
AB: What are your goals as MPI Arizona Sunbelt Chapter president?
LS: My focus is our members. It is because of our members that we are a successful chapter and we wouldn’t be here without them. It’s important that we keep them engaged, excited and enthusiastic about their membership. The best way we will do that is by providing quality education, networking, community outreach and volunteer opportunities. We have an amazing leadership team that is working hard to create these experiences for our members.