If you are like me, you have spent the last 7 months on dozens of ZOOM calls and webinars. It was during one of these webinars that I had the opportunity to hear Mai Lim with Station Casinos speak, and I immediately knew she was a kindred spirit! I stepped outside of my comfort zone and reached out to Mai and made a lasting connection. Several months later, I knew she would be the perfect person to interview and share a message of hope and endurance during this pandemic year.
KF: Tell us a little about your career journey and how you ended up in Catering/Sales?
ML: First, thank you so much for this opportunity I really enjoy these types of conversations and getting to know and interact with different folks in our industry.
I’ve been in the industry 20 years in America. I grew up in the travel & tourism industry because my mom and aunt owned a travel agency in Asia. So, I feel like hospitality is in my blood. My family migrated from the Philippines to the United States in 1999 and managed & operated elderly care homes in California. Even though it was a care home business, it was still hospitality because it was all about the care and service of our residents. That was my first job exposure in the US.
I attended college for Hotel and Restaurant management back in the Philippines so after a couple of years in the US, I decided to move to Las Vegas to pursue a career in Hospitality My first job in Vegas, was as an airport shuttle van driver for an off-strip hotel. It was quite an experience as I had only had my US drivers license for a little over a year, I was new to the city and I didn’t know my way around the city at all!
Shortly after that, I was able to get a front desk position, then started working my way through different positions and eventually ended up in Hotel Sales! I have been so fortunate to work for such great companies and have amazing mentors. I continue to stay connected with my previous bosses and colleagues. I really feel those connections have helped me grow my career because there has always been someone willing to teach me and share their expertise with me.
Currently, I am the Corporate Director of National Accounts for Station Casinos. I manage third party & key accounts for all 10 of our hotels in the Las Vegas Valley. I am also in a dual role as Director of Sales for our flagship property, Palace Station. Additionally, I serve on the board for MPI Southern California Chapter as the VP of Membership. I have been on the board for about 8 years now and have served in different positions
KF: Wow, you have been a busy woman! What an incredible journey your career has taken. With so much experience under your belt and now juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, what do you love most about your job?
ML: What I love is the ability to connect with people and that we get to help elevate different types of industries by hosting group business at our properties. I take great pride that we are chosen to be a part of all the conferences that we host. The variety of industries that we work with and get to be exposed to is exciting. One day it might be a pharmaceutical company launching a new medicine and the next day a fashion launch for a spring collection! Not only are we a part of someone’s travel experience, but we can also be a part of someone’s education and growth. The energy of working with different types of people (with various programs)is what gets my blood pumping!
KF: I agree, the energy that we get from working with our clients is something special and I miss that in-person connection. It sounds like Vegas is making some strides in the direction of bringing back those in-person events though. What is the update for group programs at your properties?
ML: Yes, for what seemed like the longest time our max allowable group gathering was only 50 people, which for Vegas is crazy when you have millions of square feet of function space. Thankfully we have officially been given the green light to now host events of up to 250 people in one function space and up to 1,000 in multiple spaces with proper safety guidelines in place
KF: That is exciting progress to hear and really feels like there is starting to be a light at the end of this tunnel! When it comes to the impact that pandemic has had on your properties, I know you have the experience of your 10 properties, and you are exposed to many other venues through your work with MPI. Can you share with our readers any safety measures, unique ideas or creative ways you and your team have evolved your services to adapt to the constant state of change we are going through?
ML: Oh yes, there has been so much we have changed. I find it interesting how creative we can become when we are forced to not be complacent. I actually look at this whole pandemic in that way, with a positive outlook. For so many years our industry has had a mindset of ‘this works, so why change it?’ Then this pandemic hit and we realized, ‘oh my gosh we have to re-do & rethink everything!’. I call this the “Great Reset of 2020”
For Station Casinos, our immediate focus was implementing all the safety measures for our guests and team members Temperature checks, masks in public areas, minimizing all our touch points, increased sanitation methods, changing the cleaning solutions we used in all of our spaces, etc… Since we are a gaming operation, we have an exceptionally large operation because we have a casino floor, so immediately we put safety protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety
With regards to our function space, right after Las Vegas opened after the shutdown, we were able to still host quite a few social events. Smaller reunions, graduations, weddings, birthday parties etc… have continued since all the group business and corporate meetings have completely canceled or rebooked. How we prepared and executed for these social events has given our teams the opportunity to train and think differently and get ready in the new ways of servicing larger gatherings and conferences. We put our emphasis on individual food servings with an elevated experience. While we strive to ensure everything exceeds our standards of excellence, we have to change the way our presentations and service has been like instead of china, we have to use up-scale disposable food containers for safety reasons or have changed to more individualized serving rather than buffet So far, we have been so fortunate that we have stayed ahead of this and learning to execute properly. We grow from each experience and now have gradually been hosting smaller corporate meetings
We are also prepared now to do live web streaming or hybrid meetings. We feel this style of meeting is really going to stick around for a while. We see a movement toward still hosting some of the guests safely in-person, while more vulnerable guests would be able to attend virtually through our streaming services. This required us to revisit our entire infrastructure and deal with bandwidth requirements so that we can successfully accommodate those needs moving forward.
Also, with spatial distancing in place, we must be creative with our space, different kinds of set-ups, and how we can accommodate requests. For instance, for a wedding, families want to stay together. We look at how we can do that and keep them safe. We work with the bride and the households and how we can keep them together. It’s quite a bit of extra work and detailing on our part but at the end of the day it’s making our guests happy and safe and that’s what we are here to do. The focus for us has always been the safety of our guests, as well as our team members, and most importantly delivering the “wow” whether it’s a social event or a conference
KF: That is commendable how you are going above and beyond to care for your guests and ensure that families can socialize together for such a special event as a wedding. Do you use a software program to assist you in organizing those details on your floorplan?
ML: absolutely, we use Social Tables which allows our clients to have a visual of what their floorplan is going to look like and the full layout of their guests. We are also offering Virtual Site Inspections now so clients can tour our properties from the comfort of their home/office. We are working with a company right now that will enable us to send you a link and you can walk with us through our spaces and see everything that we have to offer!
KF: That sounds like a huge benefit to your potential clients. It’s encouraging to know that you have been able to successfully host events through the pandemic and still create memorable experiences for your guests. That encouragement is actually the message that I aim to communicate in these articles, so I want to give our readers Three Gold Keys to our readers
Key 1: What is your best advice to other sales professionals and business leaders?
ML: Be transparent and authentic regardless if it’s in good times or bad. Because if you are true to yourself, people will gravitate and trust you. Be trustworthy and work hard! Control what you can and These are the things you can control, especially in this time when so much feels out of our control.
Key 2: Do you have any favorite resources/software programs/online tools that you could share with other sales professionals and business leaders?
ML: Right now I’m re-reading a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It focuses on personal freedom. I genuinely believe that when you are good with yourself and you’re grounded, you are better for other people.
Online, I love to read about our industry through MPI, ASAE, PCMA, & Smart Meetings through their websites. They really have some great articles that give you insight to the pulse of the industry. I encourage sales professionals to read and stay informed about what is going on.
My number one resource is my network. I talk to a lot of people all the time about what they are going through, what they are seeing etc.. Use your network because they can really help you navigate through these hard times. What I am going through right now in Vegas might be completely different then what my colleagues in Texas or Southern California are going through. Once a week I touch base with someone not located in Vegas but in a different state and do a pulse check on them personally and professionally It’s amazing what you realize for yourself when you reach out to others not to mention it strengthens your connections.
Key 3: Do you have a motivational quote that encourages you during difficult times?
ML: Yes, as you can probably tell by now, I look for the positive in everything. I surround myself with positive quotes. The quote that I have really been replaying over and over for myself throughout this pandemic is
“Peace over Panic. Faith over Fear. Wisdom over Worry”
This quote always calms me down when the panic and anxiety come, which it does. Just like everyone else, I have lots of worries (personally and professionally) but I take a moment and repeat this quote, almost like a mantra, it helps me stay grounded. I really hope that it can help others too!
Author: Kate Foster, CWC, CMP