Mariya Baker – Explore Branson

Mariya Baker

Director of Meeting and Convention Sales, Explore Branson

Branson, Mo.

Describe your job.

As director of meeting and convention sales for Explore Branson, I manage and oversee sales operations with one main goal: to drive and increase the economic impact of meetings and conventions in the Branson area in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. And we have seen that happen by leaps and bounds in the last two years.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

It was indeed serendipity, a string of events leading one to another. My first travel/tourism/hospitality job was with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). I was just out of college (majoring in linguistics) and wanted to travel the world and meet people. My college friend and I saw an ad that NCL was recruiting in our area. Fast-forward a few weeks, I was onboard the Norwegian Wind sailing in Hawaii beginning my career.

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

Originally from Ukraine, I have made Branson my home for the last 14 years. Before my move to the United States, my job with NCL had me working with international multicultural teams and traveling all over the world, from remote islands in the Pacific to the most popular global vacation destinations. After moving to America, I continued my tourism and travel path and worked at Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center, Welk Resort, and now the local CVB, Explore Branson.

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

I read industry publications, attend educational sessions and professional development seminars at conferences, register for webinars, and peruse LinkedIn. Also, networking with industry peers—we learn so much from each other.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

Communication skills are critical. Other essential skills include teamwork, time management, leadership, flexibility, relationship building, and, most importantly, the ability to make magic happen, which takes all the skills I possess when something goes awry.

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

Keeping in mind an old proverb, “This too shall pass.” Nothing, neither good nor bad, lasts forever; all life’s circumstances are temporary. This proverb applies to any stressful situation one will encounter throughout life.

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

Over the years, I have received a lot of top-shelf professional advice that helped steer the trajectory of my career, helped me through some tricky situations, and might help others:

– Begin with the end in mind. This advice has taught me to think about how I want something to turn out before I get started. When you begin with the end in mind, you gain clarity. This approach will help you become more efficient, and you’ll be able to plan and strategize for the best route to your goals.

– Venture outside your comfort zone. A healthy amount of discomfort keeps you on your toes and pushes you to learn and do more. The rewards are well worth it.

– Never stop growing. Self-growth is key to enjoying a fulfilling life and having a successful career. There are always new skills to learn. One of the best things about life is that we never have to stop learning, and life will never stop teaching you new things.

Describe your biggest professional success.

Getting my certified meeting professional designation. Also, volunteering my time and serving on various industry boards and committees, including the Missouri Society of Association Executives Board of Directors, Destinations International Convention Sales & Services Committee, and Destinations International Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

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

A few years ago, I oversaw a large banquet with more than 600 guests. The room went completely dark when the company owner took the stage to deliver his speech, and I just closed my eyes, took a deep breath, said a prayer, and the lights came back on. As we later found out, the DJ who was supposed to play after the CEO’s speech blew a breaker. Sometimes, not reacting and taking a deep breath is all you can do!

What is the best part of your job?

I get to share the story of Branson with meeting planners across the United States and Canada. I also have the pleasure of working with a talented team.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love spending time outdoors. In my off hours, I enjoy days on the lake, fishing, and soaking in the beauty of the Ozarks. I like hiking adventures and mushroom hunting with my non-human best friend, Yasha, our family’s Miniature Schnauzer.

I also love reading. One of my favorite professional-development books is Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark Winters. The book details the integral roles of the visionary and the integrator and explains how an effective relationship between the two can help you and your team thrive. Visionaries have groundbreaking ideas, and integrators make those ideas a reality. This explosive combination is the key to success.


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