Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: David Strang
“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 Professional Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates talks to David Strang, the Director of Global Accounts at Conference Direct.
Karen: Hello David, I am so pleased you were available for this interview. We have been in this industry for many years and have seen a lot. I am looking forward to hearing your perspective. Before I am going to ask you, how you have coped during this truly unprecedented time, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
David: Thank you, Karen!
Hello, David Strang here. Almost 25 years in the industry and still loving every minute. About 22 of these years was spent on the hotel side doing everything from Meetings Concierge to DOS to Global Sales. Enjoyed stints with Hyatt, Omni, Fairmont and Jumeirah hotels. Recently transitioned over to the Meeting Professional side and never looking back. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some of the best hospitality professionals in our industry over the years. Thank you all for making me a better person and professional.
Karen: You have left your footprint on the hotel industry, that is for sure. And that can only be a huge benefit for your clients - having you as an expert who understands the hotel side when guiding them on sourcing, negotiating and planning their events. How and where have you spent the last six months?
David: Hunkered down in South Eastern Ct on the shores of Long Island Sound. Sounds rough right? Well the first 4 months were no picnic. Cancelling, rebooking and negotiating definite programs is no picnic. And brings in no revenue sadly. But the summer was amazing and getting to spend quality time with close friends and lots of beach and boat time have calmed the soul.
Karen: It has been a challenging time for sure – but it is important to realize that through the darkness there have been some bright spots like spending time with family and friends and breaking out of the normal routines.
What are/were some of the items on your agenda as Director of Global Accounts for Conference Direct and how have you supported your clients during this crisis?
David: My goal since starting with ConferenceDirect has been to make things easier and less stressful for my over-extended clients. It really is that simple of a concept. Before the “Fall” – I ran with sourcing, contracting, site selection, site inspection processes for my clients delivering detailed communications so they can make informed decisions. The meetings world has gone mostly quiet as we all know but I am still working to be a very useful resource in negotiating force majeure and advantageous rebooks that minimize future attrition/cancellation risks for my clients in a very uncertain meetings landscape.
Karen: That is truly a valuable skill set – especially as we are all working through new contracts and requirements. You mentioned earlier that you have almost 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry. How do you think our industry will transition over the next five years?
David: Five years seems like an eternity. Five months seems like an eternity. I think this is the fundamental issue right now. No one knows where we will be as a meetings industry short term or long term. Most industry “experts”, including ConferenceDirect think we will be back to normal business activity by middle of 2023. That seems like a realistic goal but again – who knows! I think the meetings landscape will continue changing over the next few years and this will impact what we look like five years from now.
Karen: Middle of 2023?! I was hoping the perspective would be a little more positive and immediate :) But I guess the big question is, what does “normal” mean? Maybe this disruption will shape a new landscape - for an even better “normal”.
Let’s change the topic for a bit: Is there a fun or interesting anecdote you wish to share from your time in the hotel industry, with a client, or during a time you traveled for business?
David: We are all so privileged to be in our industry. So many amazing experiences on FAM Trips etc. This includes the African Safari this past February with Dragonfly DMC just a couple of weeks before the world descended into darkness.
But I have to say that my 2 years organizing Jumeirah Hotels client events around a very young, talented and charming 18-year-old Rory McIlroy will always be very special. I was paid to travel around the US with Rory and entertain clients – US Open, Masters, and more golfing events etc - really? I didn’t tell my boss, but I would have
done this for free. Certainly, did not struggle getting attendance to our client events as hoteliers often do.
Karen: I love these stories. An African Safari is certainly a great way to end a chapter, if you consider that all travel came to a halt right after that. And I am sure our dear friends from Dragonfly Africa pulled out all the stops to create a great experience for you all.
I am sure you have joined many webinars in the last couple of months. Are there any key take-aways you wish to share that may be valuable to the hospitality community at the present time?
David: Yes – so many I have lost count. But the ones that stand out are webinars and zoom presentations that are organized, well done with some interaction but not over the top. Live Virtual tours work well. I was on a call this week with a hotel chain and they bounced around the world live to unique and beautiful hotels – Managers took us on quick and impactful site inspections. Recently I was on a destination site and DMC that became too interactive. They had us doing virtual scavenger hunts, interactive games with other attendees. They were trying to keep us engaged but if you do one of these – please tell us ahead of time so we can be prepared. Keep things short – no longer than an hour please.
Karen: This is the big question at present..... How do we create engaging virtual content to stay connected with our audience. I actually like the idea of the virtual scavenger hunts and other interactive activities but understand that the audience needs to be well prepared, and the time well managed. What were three of your essentials to aid you in working through this situation in the past few months?
Stick to your routine. Get up early, make your bed, regularly engage with friends and colleagues
Engage in exercise and work on physical and mental health
Don’t take it all too seriously – otherwise it will overwhelm
Karen: It can be overwhelming, for sure. How have you been working to keep yourself fit and mentally healthy?
David: I am not a young dude anymore. But trying to stay active every day and keep moving a lot. Walking 10K steps a day is a goal – more if possible. I am also an active sailboat racer – this has kept me quite busy this Summer. Winter is coming – rejoining my gym next month and reengaging with my personal trainer is the goal. I won’t do it on my own lol.
Karen: The 10k steps has also been my goal which was easier when I walked to the office every day. What is the first place you are going to visit once restrictions are fully lifted?
David: Ugggh my city for 30+ years NYC needs all of us. I will be going to my favorite local haunt on 44th and 9th called Etc Etc. Daniele is one of the few remaining independent restaurant owners left in NYC. While waiting for reopening I bought several gift certificates to help him through this dark time. Anyone in the city – you can order take out from EE or better yet, stop by for a visit. Shameless Plug: EE has a great private space too when you are ready to book dinner events again through Shackman. 😊
Karen: I like the fact that you picked a restaurant in the city and one that we have worked with for so many years. How do you think New York can regain trust with travelers so that they feel safe enough to visit our great city again?
David: I lived through the early 80’s with crime, filth and chaos and loved every minute of NYC. Yes, it was a tad scary at times, but it was alive and the energy palpable. The city is strong, resilient and will come back better than ever. I do think this pandemic has made us all slow down just a bit – take a needed break from the wild ride we were all on over the past 10 years. NYC needs to slow down too – it will reinvent itself and show the world the wonderful creative life force that makes it the most amazing city in the world … And perhaps a little less corporate domination might not be a bad thing for NYC.
Karen: Thank you for this great New York plug. It does bring tears to my eyes!!! I feel the same and hopefully the world will again recognize what a great city this is. It would have been fun to interview you during the 80s – I am sure you would have had some great stories to share. I too have watched the change in the city over the past 35 years and have seen its many faces – and once this pandemic is done, I am looking forward to the new face of New York City.
What are two of your strengths and why are they important for what you are currently doing?
1.Building and maintaining lifelong relationships - The concept of Relationships can often be overused. But I think I have built a strong healthy list of friends and colleagues over the years. Not just work acquaintances but people who I can reach out to when needed. One of my favorite things in my roles as a meeting planner is to be able to give business to dear colleagues who I have known and worked with over the years. Makes my job easier as I know and trust the person who will be delivering for my client.
2.Honesty and integrity – this is something that is very important to me. Especially these days when many are just looking for a quick win or quick $$. I am a resource for my clients and provide them honest and thoughtful advice. I am in this for the long haul and my clients appreciate it.
Karen: You know, that is always been our approach too. Honesty, integrity and long-lasting relationships are priceless and are the foundation of our business. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t share these same values anymore. What permanent changes do foresee in the hospitality industry post-Covid, and how should our industry respond to those?
David: I don’t think any change in our industry is permanent. Remember when we all thought Cvent would put us out of business or Marriott was going to rule the world. Short term remains tenuous and stressful for all of us – clients are not willing to commit to anything before Q2 2021. I do remain very positive for the long term of our world and our industry. Perhaps we could be looking at smaller regional events vs. huge conventions. Possibly hybrid meetings to include a mix of live and virtual attendance. Also thinking there will be a big shift in the way we entertain, engage and present to the younger attendees coming up. Traditional programs of the past will need to change, and Hotels, DMC’s, and event planners will need to be able to react.
Karen: Thank you David! These are very powerful words - and leave us with a lot to think about. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. I would love to get together with you for a drink or dinner soon again – maybe on 44th at Etc. Etc. 😊 Stay safe, David.
David: Thank you Karen, I appreciate the opportunity here and looking forward to meeting again in person soon.