Meeting Professional to Watch: Dawn E. Vinson

Dawn E. Vinson, Executive Director         

University Aviation Association

Memphis, Tenn.



Can you provide some of your background as a meeting professional?

Since leaving aviation and joining associations, I started in the education departments, and education means meetings. Lots of meetings—whether its seminars, workgroups, testing sessions, committee meetings, board meetings, conferences, and exhibit halls. Conferences can generate 45 percent of annual revenue. But more importantly, this may be the one time a year you interact face-to-face with your members. Their entire opinion of the association’s value may be based on the content and experience of conference, so you become very invested in the success.

What was the most challenging/fun event you have been involved in to date?

UAA hosts a hangar party when in cities that has an airport in close proximity to the host hotel. The hangar party is much like a new car show—but with trainer aircraft. The logistics of hotel, transportation, caterers, and airport staff are challenging, but well worth the effort.

How has COVID-19 affected you personally?

Our conference manager lost her sister-in-law to COVID-19. One day staff are safe-at-home working feverishly to convert our live conference to virtual, and the next day, a team member has lost a close family member in her 50’s. It made the pandemic significantly realer for everyone on the team.

Have you or are you in the process of planning any virtual/hybrid events? If so, which platform are you using?

We have converted our first event, the 73rd Annual Collegiate Aviation Conference & Expo, to a virtual event via EZTalks. We had to break down the three-day conference into smaller portions now available every Friday over a six week period. The conference presenters, seminars, and guest speakers were manageable. The part that is lost is what attracts people to attend conferences – the networking events and the exhibit hall. Our exhibit hall is usually bursting at the seams with aircraft simulators and crew in uniform wanting to discuss, so the level of camaraderie that permeates the aviation industry can be lost in a virtual environment.

Are you in the process of planning any in-person events in the remaining months of 2020?

No, as the aviation associations have a season; spring conferences, summer airshows, and winter conferences. As collegiate aviation, we are also constrained by fall breaks, spring breaks, mid-terms, finals, and graduations. We work closely with our sister associations and can’t move our dates around without stepping on important college dates or another association’s industry event. Every aviation industry live venue event has cancelled through January of next year.

What do you see as the future of the travel and tourism industry?

No industry has been harder hit than aviation and travel. Gloves, masks, and a move to single-use items may become the norm in the near future. Long term, we will need to see technology aide in decreasing touchpoints and add a layer of hygiene; touchless toilets, contactless check-in, and facial recognition at customs.  The tourism sector will reopen quicker than business travel, and domestic and tourism travel will rebound as countries expand their travel bubbles.

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