CEO, Rhanee Palma & Co.
Describe your job.
My job is to equitably bring brands to life through the power of events. As a business event strategist and curator, I work with company leaders to use events to accomplish goals and generate growth. I also work with destinations to coordinate with local hotels, vendors, and intellectual capital to further enhance the attendee experience by celebrating the hyperlocal.
What made you choose the meetings and events industry?
The meetings and events industry is the perfect place for me to bring my interests and passions to fruition. I entered the industry in a non-traditional manner. My hospitality career began when I worked for The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Bridges from School to Work program. This program assists transitional-aged youth with disabilities to enter the competitive workforce. Many of my students organically thrived in the hospitality industry.
As a previous DMO chief sales officer, I have an intimate understanding of how meetings can generate economic impact for a destination, and I understand the impact travel has on enhancing someone’s life and perspective. Knowing all this, I started my own agency to culminate my extensive experience in nonprofit as well as destination and hotel sales to create win-win-win situations among clients, suppliers, and the entire meetings and events ecosystem.
How did you get started and what got you from there to today?
My rapid growth in the meetings and events industry started when I left the nonprofit world and joined the hotel sales world as a regional sales manager for Marriott International in March 2013. Responsible for selling more than 130 hotels in the Western Mountain Pacific region, it was a natural transition to move into proactive sales with heavy account management. This sales executive position was where I was able to sell the entire Marriott portfolio all over the world. That gave me my first taste of working with hotel ownership groups and senior hotel executives and presenting a business strategy to owners. I loved analyzing data and using that information to make business decisions that would have a heavy impact on the hotel.
Organically, I was asked to take the helm as a director of sales for Visit Oakland in California. In the five years I was at Visit Oakland, my data-driven decision making put the city on the map. When I was promoted to chief sales officer, I was the first Filipina American to hold a C-Suite position at the organization and one of the first in DMO and CVB history. In October 2021, I decided to open my own agency to holistically bring my clients’ brands to life through the power of events.
How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?
Learning is never finished. I am a voracious reader, and I’m always pursuing continued education; I have earned the CDME credential and am in the process of pursuing my CMP. I also read about and research new meeting trends and draw inspiration from other disciplines. Despite all this, I find I learn the most when I have mentees to support and guide through their professional journey.
What essential skills should every industry professional possess?
Listening is an essential skill. In addition, it’s important to be knowledgeable so that you can operate more like a consultant. My clients and supplier partners trust me to negotiate the fairest and most realistic terms. By listening and applying my expertise, I am confident I maximize my clients’ dollars while also providing a win for suppliers.
What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?
Breathing has saved me many times. It gives me the chance to stay present in the moment and to calm my mental saboteurs. When I feel overwhelmed, it’s typically from going too fast. Stopping to breathe and meditate is a foolproof way of recentering my thoughts to be solution focused.
What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?
Be a mentor and a mentee. Never stop learning, and realize learning comes from everywhere. Model behavior and go out of your way to uplift others.
Describe your biggest professional success.
I’ve been fortunate to have many professional successes. As a meeting planner, I was able to successfully execute the largest grassroots Super Smash esports tournament this spring. That involved successfully aligning tournament plans in accordance with 11 different city ordinances. Among the reasons I consider it my biggest success is the tournament was supposed to take place in January, but two weeks before the event, 40 percent of the staff and talent (including me) had COVID-19. My personal experience was a blur because I was very ill, but I still managed to negotiate fair cancellation terms and coordinate with 24 other tournament organizers to find new dates in April that would not interfere with other tournaments. Lastly, I supported my clients with fundraising efforts and successfully raised more than $250,000 for cancellation fees and had a successful event that exceeded the goal by 1,000 attendees.
Share an anecdote about a meeting or event that did not go as planned and how you handled it.
Recently, I was the conference chair for an educational program put on by the Northern California Chapter of PCMA. For some reason, multiple speakers dropped out of the program. Two days before the event, I was able to curate a successful new format for the meeting. I found two panelists to discuss sustainable menus from the lens of a caterer and a destination. I instructed the moderators to engage the audience to make them part of the panel. Not only was the audience engaged, but also there is now a new coalition of destinations, hotels, and meeting vendors to reimagine and create sustainability for the Northern California region.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is finding win-win-win situations for all parties. I love when conference attendees are delighted and inspired by where we host meetings.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to travel the world with my family. I am an avid scuba diver, and I am now starting to get into hiking.