Joan Orentlicher, CMP, Assistant Vice President, Meetings, Conferences and Travel
LOMA and LIMRA
Can you provide some of your background as a meeting professional?
I was born a meeting planner, starting with managing my youth group events, and continued when I was a gopher while in college for the University of Texas Conference Center. Yes, that was my unofficial job title. Once I realized this was a profession, my goal was to work in every aspect of the meeting planning industry, leading up to my favorite and present spot, association planner.
Why did you choose to become a meeting professional?
Love of travel, meeting new people, exposure to other cultures, and a desire to serve. I was also very curious as to what was happening behind the scenes of big events such as Super Bowls, the Olympics, and I have been able to experience all of these and more.
What was the most challenging/fun event you have been involved in to date?
If I have to choose one, it was working on the Grammy’s in 1997. I was a contractor for a large beverage company hired to arrange the travel and hotel, distribute show tickets, transportation, and after show gala for 1,000 contest winners and their guests. It was wild.
What are the greatest rewards of being a meeting professional?
Having the experiences most people only dream about or see in a sitcom. It is a great life.
How has COVID-19 affected you personally?
I decided on the first day we were sent home to work remotely I would use this time as an opportunity to become the healthiest ever by eating only smart foods, no sugar, and no alcohol. I also do strength training twice a week and the result has been a 30 pound weight loss and toned muscles. On an emotional level, the most stressful part has been cancelling more than 100 meetings so far, and knowing the trickledown effect of so many people losing their livelihood, many of which are close business friends. I lose sleep over this every night.
Have you or are you in the process of planning any virtual/hybrid events? If so, which platform are you using?
I have never been as proud of my staff as at this time. We all had to become virtual meeting masters of various conference platforms and turn ourselves into TV-like producers. We have miraculously managed hundreds of webinars and five virtual conferences. Do not get me wrong—we cannot wait to get back to live meetings. Virtual is a placeholder for now—not a long-term plan.
What do you see as the future of the travel and tourism industry?
We have a long way to go before people can meet in person and accomplish the objectives of attending a conference. We need to be able to safely network, enjoy private and group conversations, build new relationships, and break bread together. I am a believer we will have a treatment and vaccine by sometime next year and if our customers have the budgets, they will flock back to our meetings. One thing my crystal ball shows me is more diversity at our future conferences including the hired contractors, speakers, and attendees.