Valerie Drake – Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort

Valerie Drake

Senior Sales Manager, Associations, Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort

Panama City Beach, Fla.

Describe your job.

In my role as a senior sales manager specializing in association groups at the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort, I bid on large conventions, provide resort tours, negotiate contracts, and periodically travel to visit clients and attend trade shows.

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

My uncle was a travel agent and then started a B&B with my aunt when I was 10. I took an interest, and they kindly let me learn the entire process, from taking a reservation, to cleaning a room, and interacting with guests. Additionally, my uncle sometimes invited me and my cousins along on work trips where he’d tour hotels, be upgraded to beautiful rooms, and receive fancy amenities upon arrival. I loved it all, and it quickly became my career focus. After various hospitality jobs and graduating from Niagara University with a degree in hotel management, I landed a job in a hotel sales office and knew that was the department for me.

Do you have a favorite type, size, or style of event to plan, or do you like variety?

I love buyouts, having one group take over our resort. It’s an enjoyable challenge for me to fit everything together like a puzzle, making the perfect event flow while utilizing every beautiful area of our property.

What’s your best experience of turning lemons into lemonade?

We were hosting a repeat charitable golf tournament that ended with a beach party on our private bay beach. However, a few days before the event, we had a bad tropical storm that temporarily engulfed most of our little beach and didn’t leave room for this 250-person dinner party. We moved the party to our pavilion and lawn area directly behind the resort, but now the beach party was no longer on a beach. We were all disappointed, but at the end of the night, we realized the new location had been a grand success. It’s still gorgeous, wasn’t nearly as much work to set up, and the party attendance far exceeded previous years because it was now in an easily accessible location. Everyone loved it so much that the following year’s party was moved to our pavilion/lawn area, and it remains there today.

What’s your proudest moment so far in your career?

Ironically my proudest moment was earning the title of director of sales. I say ironically, because I had wanted that title and responsibility for years, but shortly after earning it, I realized it was wrong for me. I missed my clients, the relationships, and the thrill of getting a signed contract, and I took no pleasure in the reporting, staff management, and meetings required of a director. I humbly asked for a demotion about 18 months later and am so much happier. I gained knowledge, but most importantly, I realized what was best for me.

How has your business adapted to the ongoing uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic?

The pandemic has been a lesson in adaptability for us all, but in the last five years, our property has survived a two-year renovation, a Category 5 hurricane resulting in 10 additional months of renovation, and now a global pandemic. Adaptability is our motto! I have come to face these challenges with an open mind for the never-ending lessons to be learned. These experiences have strengthened relationships with my clients, forced me to expand my creativity, and helped me stay focused on the blessings all around me. Continued personal growth is a priority of mine, and with each new adversity, I feel stronger and more prepared to tackle the next challenge.

What are the essential skills every newcomer into the industry should possess?

A “can-do” attitude. If it’s not illegal, everything is possible for the right price, so think big. Be flexible and stay positive. Changes are inevitable, so never burn a bridge.

What is your best advice for industry newcomers?

Although my degree might have helped get me get an interview, it takes hands-on experience to be successful. Every day is different, so dive in and try to learn every aspect of the operation.

When you are not creating events for your clients, what do you like to do?

I had my first baby in March 2021, and I am loving every minute of motherhood. I also love going fishing and doing anything related to the water, so living in Panama City Beach is a dream come true.

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