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Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: Lisa Lopez

“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, a weekly interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.

These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level. It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.

In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professionals Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates interviews Lisa Lopez, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Javits Convention Center.

Karen: Hello Lisa. Thanks for participating in this interview, I am excited to catch-up with you.

For our readers, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background.

Lisa: Thank you, Karen. I am the Director of Sales & Marketing for the Javits Convention Center and I am excited to represent Javits during a pivotal period in the building’s history which includes the 1.2 million square foot expansion opening in 2021. I joined Javits just over a year ago after 11 years with NYC & Company as Regional Vice President of Sales.

Karen: What is your current situation, and how does it differ from the past few months?

Lisa: Our administrative team has been working remotely since March. We had an incredible group of individuals return to the building to erect and support the medical station operation. However, the sales team has been able to continue working productively from home. For me, that means working from my home in the Hudson Valley. Our days have been very busy working with existing clients to adjust their show schedules while promoting our expansion to new customers. I can’t wait to get back to the City and to Javits.

Karen: The Hudson Valley is such a beautiful area and a great place to have a remote office. I totally understand your desire to get back to NYC and Javits though. How is your current situation transitioning now that New York has opened in Phase 3 and today, Phase 4.

Lisa: Our team can work from Javits two days per week, if they desire, now that we have entered the Reopening Phases.

Karen: Under the circumstances, it is great to have that option. What is the norm for you these days?

Lisa: I would say that the norm is that there is no norm. We have all had to get very comfortable with change, as every day seems to bring a new challenge. I feel very lucky to have joined an organization with such strong leadership. Alan Steel, our CEO, and Doreen Guerin, our Sr. Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and our entire Executive Team have been masterful during these challenging months. Their expertise, and the skillfulness of our staff, allowed Javits to support New Yorkers at a critical time in the COVID fight. The Javits medical station was erected more quickly and less expensively than similar facilities while serving the most patients. I am so proud of the recognition our team received from the more than twenty government agencies involved with the operation.

Karen: We have all been so impressed and proud of the huge undertaking at the Javits during the critical few weeks of the COVID fight and the recognition is so well deserved. What an integral part the Javits played in helping manage the fall-out of the pandemic. You mentioned earlier that your team now has the option to work from the Javits two days per week and the rest remote. How do you keep connected with your team?

Lisa: I worked remote for NYC & Company for the first eight years of my career from both California and Minneapolis. When the need arose to work from home in March, it was like riding a bike. I dusted off the old equipment and got right to work. Thankfully, there have been so many great tools introduced to the market for remote workers since I last worked remotely. We live on Microsoft Teams!

Karen: Tell me a bit about your experience with virtual events or networking/happy hours.

Lisa: I have been participating in several internal and industry virtual events. Recently, we had a virtual retirement party for one of our beloved employees who had worked at Javits for over thirty years. I’ve learned that physical separation does not stop our need to meet and celebrate.

Karen: That is true, there should always be a reason to meet and celebrate – and 30 years is a huge milestone. What are your three personal essentials to weather this crisis?

Lisa: I have been in the events industry for so many years and have weathered a few storms, but this crisis is different than any of us have ever experienced. My three personal essentials are the support I get from my team, my friends (most of whom are in the industry), and my family – particularly my husband, Steve.

Karen: Having family, friends and colleagues who are supportive is key. And what are you doing to keep yourself sane and healthy - both mentally and physically?

Lisa: When the crisis was imminent, I had my twenty-five-year-old nephew and his girlfriend leave their midtown apartment and come stay with us. We’ve now been quarantined together for four months. An unexpected joy has been to have this time with them that would have not otherwise happened. We have been cooking and gardening together and their energy has been very positive.

Karen: That is great. I hear so many wonderful family stories – truly the upside of this downturn. I think we have lost a bit of that family community over the years – and it is good that families are rekindling those bonds. What do you do to escape the reality of the situation now – in terms of TV or books?

Lisa: Like the rest of the world, I think I’ve been through all of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu! I really loved Season 3 of Ozark and Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever series was light and fun.

Karen: Ozark has been on the radar of so many people during this time. What is the first thing you want to do, or place you want to go once travel restrictions have eased?

Lisa: I can’t wait to see my parents. They live in California and we’ve not been able to be together during the crisis. I can’t wait to hug them!!!

Karen: Is the Javits Center still dealing with cancelations or rebooking?

Lisa: Sadly, the crisis is still affecting live events and we are still experiencing movement in our calendar. One of the strengths of Javits are the annual shows that have held their events in the building for many years. The relationships that have developed with show managers over the years are extremely strong and allow us to work together to find solutions to difficult problems. We are so lucky to have their support and to have been able to reschedule, rather than cancel, many of our events.

Karen: I am so glad to hear that. That is the true value of relationships. Of course, the city depends a great deal on those annual shows and events – as do all the hospitality partners. Are any of your clients considering virtual or hybrid events?

Lisa: Many of our clients have hosted virtual events in 2020. We are seeing a strong trend toward hybrid events as face-to-face events regain momentum. Javits has invested in a state-of-the-art network in the past several years. Our technology infrastructure is second to none and ready to support the needs of virtual events. We are busy developing packages to support virtual events to make the transition seamless for our clients.

Karen: This is really good information to have and to share. Any thoughts about how the Javits Center will be set up going forward for the annual trade shows and exhibitions and other events that choose to come back to the live event arena?

Lisa: Our focus is twofold. We are readying ourselves for the return of our customers and their events to the building and we are also developing an interim strategy to target smaller meetings that may need more space for physical distancing. We are challenged to be more cost effective and nimble than ever before.

Karen: In addition to the physical distance opportunities that the Javits Center provides, are there new protocols you are developing for health and safety measures?

Lisa: We are fortunate to have leadership at Javits who has experience not only as venue managers, but also as show managers. This wealth of operational experience allowed us to create a comprehensive plan to outline the safe return of live events, which was shared with our customers and vendors. A crew of workers have sanitized much of the building and we have replaced our HVAC system with a new HEPA filtration process in preparation for reopening.

Karen: You mention you are working to be more cost effective. How flexible are you being with regard to booked/postponed events, and, hopefully, new bookings?

Lisa: We are analyzing data to determine the best pricing structure moving forward. We have tried to exhibit as much flexibility as possible to current and prospective clients. One of the most difficult aspects of the current situation is trying to envision where we will be in three months, six months, etc. to ensure that the structures in place will support the business needs.

Karen: Where do you anticipate an increase in costs?

Lisa: I think one of the immediate cost increases that customers may incur are those related to cleaning. Many of the new protocols require much more labor than previously needed.

Karen: How are you positioned for reopening, when the city allows for this. What are the priorities you are focusing on in order to get back to business?

Lisa: Our foremost priority is the health and safety of our customers, vendors and employees. We believe we have an excellent plan to ensure that happens. Our other big priority is the opening of our expansion next year. Thankfully, work has been able to continue during the crisis and we are seventy-five percent complete. The added space couldn’t come at a better time when more space for events may be needed. If I’m having a low moment in the day, I just look at those gorgeous renderings and am immediately uplifted thinking about the amazing rooftop events we will have in our new pavilion space and the bounty of produce we will grow in our one-acre rooftop farm. The expansion is a much-needed addition to the building and will allow us to welcome many new events to the City.

Karen: We are all very excited to know more about the details of the expansion and the much-awaited rooftop farm. It’ s amazing to know that you are 75% done despite the pandemic. So much of the world has been on hiatus for the past 4 months. Please keep us updated as to the progress and to the eventual opening date of the expansion. We are all excited to know more.

Thank you, Lisa. I really appreciate you taking the time. I am hoping that as we anticipate Phase 4 of the reopening of our city, that the Javits will also come back stronger and more effective than ever and that an even greater body of clients will decide to support the city with their events. Anything you would like to share as parting words?

Lisa: My first year at Javits has not been anything like I envisioned. However, I am grateful every day to be working in such an iconic building, with New York City hospitality professionals that are the best in the industry, and in the greatest City in the World. We will be back stronger than ever!

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