Natalie Fleet, CMP, Senior Vice President, Meetings
American Association of Airport Executives
Can you provide some of your background as a meeting professional?
I’ve been with AAAE since January 1998. I started out as a meetings coordinator, quickly realizing meetings was my passion. I earned my CMP in 2006 and climbed the ranks to my current position as senior vice president of Meetings, running the day-to-day operations of the department.
Why did you choose to become a meeting professional?
I fell into meeting planning as a lot of my peers did. I worked for an association while in college, went full-time after graduation and became good friends with the director of meetings. She took me under her wing and I provided on-site support at a few meetings. When she left, months later she asked me to join her at AAAE.
What was the most challenging/fun event you have been involved in to date?
For several years, I worked on the aviation industry’s premiere Green Conference. The creative committee always came up with fun ways to highlight sustainability for airports including a fashion show showcasing clothing made out of airline seat covers; partnering with concessionaires who provided locally-sourced food and beverage; and coordinating airport tours spotlighting indoor urban gardens and sustainability construction projects.
What are the greatest rewards of being a meeting professional?
It is the satisfaction knowing you were instrumental in creating the best experience for attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and staff. I love when I lead a team of professionals who all have an integral part in producing a successful event.
How has COVID-19 affected you personally?
The hospitality and aviation industries are close to my heart and profession so it has been so heartbreaking to see both suffer dramatically. The furloughs, layoffs, emotional and mental tolls and financial hardships have given me survivor’s guilt. I have turned that into giving back as much as I can.
Have you or are you in the process of planning any virtual/hybrid events?
AAAE was planning to produce a hybrid event at the end of September, but pivoted to virtual month out. We used Communique for this virtual meeting. We have found virtual meetings are more challenging and stressful than in-person meetings as we learn how to use them.
Are you in the process of planning any in-person events in the remaining months of 2020?
We are planning to hold two accreditation academies which are week-long study courses that assist our members achieve their A.A.E. designation. Survey responses indicated the in-person experience is more valuable than an online course as there are study groups and dedicated time to focus on the course outside of work. We are doing all we can to make it a safe in-person environment for everyone.
What do you see as the future of the travel and tourism industry?
Being in the aviation industry, I am extremely optimistic we will persevere and come back to pre-COVID numbers, albeit taking a few years. We will most likely need to make permanent adjustments such as social distancing, frequent sanitization and, patience. I cannot imagine life without travel; it is an integral part of our culture and economy.