Alexandra Collins – Visit Winston-Salem

Alexandra Collins

Senior Sales Manager, Visit Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Describe your job.

I am a passionate promoter of Winston-Salem, N.C. As a senior sales manager, I have the pleasure of attracting groups of all sizes in the national association and corporate markets to our sophisticated Southern city. I accomplish this by telling the story of our welcoming destination and enticing groups to meet with us while, in turn, creating a positive economic impact for our community.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

It chose me. In retrospect, I’ve always been a planner and, at heart, I revel in creating spaces for people to collaborate, network, and have a good time. The reality that this has become my career is thrilling and fulfilling.

How did you get started and what got you from there to today?

Like so many of us, I did not originally envision this as my career path. I was a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in psychology and communications. A lifelong friend told me he was moving to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I thought he was joking at first, but after some thought, I decided it would be an exciting adventure. I landed a job at the front desk of Frenchman’s Reef, a local Marriott at the time. Immediately, the hospitality bug bit me, and it was like drinking seawater from a firehose! I learned operations and how departments are interdependent. I was hooked, and I moved on to working weddings for a year. After three-plus years, I relocated back home to Winston-Salem and joined the sales team at our Marriott, Embassy Suites, and Benton Convention Center. Sales is where I hit my stride in earnest and that led me to join the Visit Winston-Salem team in 2016.

How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?

We are in the relationship business, and I believe that relates to us, the suppliers, as well. By attending tradeshows and industry events and dialoguing with peers, I gain copious amounts of knowledge and new ideas. Of course, continuing education and keeping abreast of publications are crucial, but I find human discourse to be paramount.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

Active listening and compassion. The ability to listen—really listen and hear what clients are saying—is vital; not just waiting to speak but listening. Especially after the pandemic, everyone needs more compassion. Yes, organizational skills, multitasking, and staying composed under pressure are essential. However, in these stressful times, compassion is key. We all have bottom lines to meet and goals to achieve, but implementing the human element to our business relationships will only result in trust; and that translates to future opportunities.

What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?

It’s not the situation, it’s how you react to it. I learned this valuable lesson through some excruciatingly trying events and weddings. In any event—wedding, meeting, or sports tournament—something is bound to not go according to plan. It is how we as hospitality professionals respond to the challenge that matters. We must stay calm, keep our wits about us, and use our expertise to handle issues appropriately. This too shall pass, and I guarantee another group or challenge will quickly follow. Stay calm and keep on.

What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?

“Do not assume. It leads to assumptions.” This is almost comical advice, but it rings true. Always listen and hear your client or hospitality partner. Do not guess what a planner or group finds important. Ask those open-ended questions. Extract what the planners value, and find a way to make it a mutually beneficial outcome.

Describe your biggest professional success.

For me, it is not one identifiable, precise moment. It has more to do with longevity over my career and comes from a place of humility. It is the knowledge that we are job creators. By successfully bringing events to our destination, we as hotel and CVB sales professionals support job creation. The essential staff that make our operational world turn—the dishwashers, housekeepers, servers, local shop owners, restaurant hostesses, and banquet teams—all rely on us to generate business so they can work. It is one of my greatest pleasures to walk into a convention I have booked and know, I hope, I have had some modest part in the creation of those support roles. They may not know I exist or the years it took to book that convention, but in the end, if I can create even one more paycheck, it is an exceptional feeling and drives my passion for what we do.

Share an anecdote about a meeting or event that did not go as planned and how you handled it.

Something that did not go as planned? How much space do I have? When I was working in weddings in St. Thomas, a bride shipped (yes, shipped) her wedding dress to the resort. It was lost in transit, and the bride was devastated. Never to let a hiccup like that ruin a wedding, my team and I worked together and found a solution. We had several weddings that week and asked another bride if we could borrow and dry-clean her gown (after her wedding, of course). She agreed, and we were able to provide a gown for our distressed bride. Nothing a few safety pins couldn’t handle. A prime example of: It is not the situation, it is how you respond. There is always a solution. Maybe not the ideal one, but one that will get the bride down the aisle.

What is the best part of your job?

Again, to me the best part is the humble knowledge that if we do our jobs correctly, we cultivate job creation throughout our cities. It is fulfilling and an honor to do so.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Spending time with my two young boys and husband is my top priority. We try to travel more as the boys get older. As a full-time working mother, I find the ceaseless pursuit of the ideal work-life balance is a constant. I am fortunate to have direct leadership that allows me and our team to create that personal space and time.

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