Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: Liz Boylan
“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 talks to Liz Boylan, National Sales Manager at Discover Long Island.
Karen: Hello Liz. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. We are happy to be showcasing another aspect of our great state. Please provide a brief intro and an outline of your role with Discover Long Island.
Liz: Hello Karen, thank you so much for this opportunity! My name is Liz Boylan, and I am currently the National Sales Manager at Discover Long Island working on the meetings market. Discover Long Island is Nassau & Suffolk County’s official destination marketing management organization charged with furthering the region’s vital tourism economy bringing meetings, events, sports & travelers from all over the world to our island. I was lucky enough to start my CVB journey at NYC & Company, and then transition out here to DLI. Long Island is where I was born, raised, still currently reside and love promoting!
Karen: NYC & Co is certainly a great launch pad! And the fact that you are living, working and promoting where you were born and raised is wonderful and certainly gives you an edge. Liz, what is your current situation and how has this pandemic affected where and how you work?
Liz: Myself and my team, which is only 10 of us, have actually been back in our Hauppauge office since June. When COVID first hit, we immediately started working from home from mid-March until it was safe to come back. Our office has taken all the precautions and more to ensure we are comfortable being here and they have been very accommodating if we feel the need to work from home. But I am definitely glad to be back on the usual office schedule and have a sense of normalcy again.
Karen: I am so pleased to hear that there is some level of normalcy, at least in your work environment. What are you seeing in your market segment as we transition through this time?
Liz: Obviously, the meetings world has changed drastically, along with most things we know - like our usual routines. When we started working from home, myself and my other sales colleague began to check in with clients right away to see how they were feeling and what needs they may have at the time. We have been tracking the change in meeting & group dynamics from the start to get an understanding of how things were going to look. As our typical days changed from our usual sourcing of meetings & client events, we began putting even more of a focus on checking in on clients as well as on our hotels. My day to day consists a lot of speaking with hotel partners daily, seeing how they are doing, making sure they have the right resources and getting them to participate in our DLI weekly webinars & information sessions. We want to make sure our hotels are up to speed with the current climate, as well as make sure clients can come to us here for the right hotel information. We also have been curating more marketing materials that have been able to highlight what our hotels are doing and the state of the destination overall. I have actually really enjoyed diving a bit more into the marketing side of things and working more on a partnership level to make sure they are getting the love they need on the right platforms for clients and tourists to see. We want clients to have all the right information when they are ready to meet again on Long Island!
Karen: With all the changes we are all currently implementing, it is vital to ensure we make the time to constantly check in with clients and colleagues. And changing the focus from sales to marketing is also important. We too have adopted that stance to make sure that accurate information is communicated to all parties. What are you doing from a mental and physical health perspective in order to keep sane during this time?
Liz: The number one thing that keeps me at peace through all of this is having the beach so close, and being able to go whenever I want to. I always was grateful growing up and living in a place where the beach was less than 20 minutes away, but this summer I am extra thankful to be in a place where the beach is so easy to get to. Whether it is swimming or just walking/running on the beach for miles, having the ocean right in front of me is one of the best, most relaxing things I could ever ask for at this time.
Karen: What a big plus that is – specially now with our heat wave! And a huge selling factor for the region is the proximity to the beach. What is the situation now on Long Island with regard to cancellations and rebookings?
Liz: At first, we saw many clients cancelling or postponing events in March through July - while we were all waiting for group gatherings to look safe again. Many people were holding off for the Fall though to make their final call on events later in the year. Some larger events that were slated for the Fall are now starting to postpone unfortunately. Many of our hotel partners have been primarily working with clients on new dates in 2021 for events that were to happen within the last few months. However, we have seen some more local organizations looking for small trainings and meetings now that gatherings of up to 50 are allowed to happen. With the local market being top focus right now, it has spurred some optimism seeing that local organizations are still looking to meet even - if it is at a smaller volume.
Karen: You mentioned earlier you really enjoy the beaches of Long Island. dWhat is your absolute favorite spot?
Liz: This is definitely a hard question! Am I allowed two? (One on the north shore and one on the south shore?)
Karen: Of course., 😊
Liz: One of my favorite places, only 15 minutes away from where I live on the South Shore, is Long Beach, which some may be familiar with as it is only about 45 mins outside NYC! The boardwalk was just rebuilt after Sandy and is absolutely stunning. There is nothing like watching a sunset over the ocean while grabbing the classic Marvel ice cream on a summer night in one of our most vibrant neighborhoods. For when I want to be surrounded by a different water view and some history, I absolutely love heading to the Sands Point Preserve on the North Shore. This is where Gould & Guggenheim both used to live in the early 1900s, so you can walk the grounds of the classic Gatsby-esque estate overlooking the LI sound and get a great picture of what it was like during the “roarin’ 20s”.
Karen: I know Long Beach very well and used to go out often, although I have not been in a few years. I clearly need to experience the rebuild firsthand. I have not been to the Sands Point Preserve and will definitely add that to my list of “must dos” on Long Island. How are you communicating the message of trust to potential visitors that Long Island is safe?
Liz: We are constantly updating our travel information to Long Island all the time on our website and other communication platforms to answer questions travelers may have before they even ask them. When COVID hit, we created resource pages on our site with new guidelines, activities that are safe, emergency hotel offers and the current state of business on Long Island. Now that we have moved along through the phases, we continue to provide the most up to date information on our Travelling Confidently page. This outlet consists of information on travel advisories, what companies that have taken our safety pledge, how to get here carefully, where people can dine now and information on other Long Island happenings that can now be enjoyed safely. Our sales team has also been providing information to clients with updates on the state of Long Island and what our partners have been doing to prepare for the return of travel. Communication is so important, so we are continually staying up to date with our partners and sharing the right information transparently to all.
Karen: Now, more than ever, keeping everyone continually informed, especially in this phase of recovery is important to regain trust. I imagine your members are also developing new protocols for social distancing and health and safety measures. Anything you would like to share?
Liz: We have been actively working with our partners the last few months to ensure that they are ready with new guidelines and protocols NYS has put out. I can confidently say that our hotel partners across the island have been preparing and working hard to ensure the safety of every guest since the start of the pandemic. We actually had barely any hotels close, so our hotels were able to enact new cleaning protocols right away and create atmospheres that encourage social distancing.
For example, one of our hotels out east, the Southampton Inn, has really upped their cleaning game by utilizing a “sterilite” UV & ozone light machine to further disinfect rooms - definitely going above and beyond the new cleaning measures. They also have created to-go picnic baskets and to-go bags with books to encourage guests to enjoy their outdoor space safely & distantly. Another of our hotels that sits on a 55 acre estate, the Mansion at Glen Cove, will now be utilizing their expansive outdoor space with tents as needed to have guests distanced outside, which I think is great for upcoming events. They have also revamped all their meeting specs for each meeting room to meet new requirements. I love how creative hotels like this one has become with really using all the space they have to make events safe. One more example of great new changes is The Greenporter Hotel on the North Fork. They have outfitted all their conference space with new air filtration systems and have started to utilize their outdoor space as meeting space. I am so proud of how fast and innovative our hotels have been in response to what is needed for travelers throughout this time and moving forward.
Karen: Do you anticipate an increase member services costs?
Liz: One of the things I really love that our team is doing for businesses right now is actually offering free membership to hospitality entities, who aren’t current members, to our new Community Partner Program. We want to lift up and support as many organizations in the industry which are affected by COVID as possible, and make sure they are able to benefit from our network at no cost for the rest of the year - especially those who have never have worked with a CVB before. We want to make sure they, along with our annual members & hotels, receive all the proper information and resources needed to get back to business properly right now. It has definitely created a more eclectic network for our current partners to work & collaborate with moving forward.
Karen: How is Long Island positioned for reopening? What are the priorities you are focusing on in order to get back to business?
Liz: Long Island has always been a great destination for meetings & tourists alike to enjoy the outdoors right outside NYC with numerous parks, gardens and beaches. Right now, we are capitalizing on our beautiful geography & countless outdoor activities, especially for small groups and incentives. With so many different hotels with outdoor space in easily accessible areas, we are encouraging travelers to check out our hotels and then when here, enjoying being out in the open – whether that means going to a winery, state park or the beach. We also have many amazing downtowns in both counties, so we are working to promote these more prominently. Since a lot of our focus is shifting towards locals and the drive market, we are enacting new marketing plans that are highlighting all of our vibrant downtowns & amazing partners within these areas. This island is truly made up of so many wonderfully different neighborhoods, so we want to shine a light on these places people may not have known about before that is right in their backyard.
Karen: We have often combined New York and areas of Long Island in our incentives and events. And I think now, more than ever, it makes sense to continue that trend so clients can experience both city and island life as we work towards the new normal for our industry. Do you have any further insights you wish to share with our readers?
Liz: The last few months have definitely been an unimaginable time - one I never would have thought could happen in my career in hospitality & tourism. I think we all agree this has been an uncertain time for everyone. But from all of this, I have seen such great strength, creativity and optimism from my Long Island partners, my team and even old NYC peers I used to work with. People I have met in New York hospitality between both Long Island & NYC are some of the strongest & smartest people I could ever be lucky enough to know. I like knowing that I can go to most industry peers and rely on them, and like to know that I can be there for clients, peers & friends when they need it as well. While we still are figuring this all out together, the drive to be more innovative and keep moving forward is amazing. We will most certainly get through this by working together and building each other up, and I am so thankful to be within a network of people who do just that.
Karen: Thank you Liz, it was a pleasure to hear your perspective and understand what Discover Long Island is doing. We can’t wait to book our first program back in Long Island.