“I’ve always had a fascination with the hotel industry,” recalls Jennifer Chase, managing director of events for the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “At a young age, I knew hotels were it for me.” Throughout her lustrous career, Chase has held 26 positions, starting in culinary operations with the Marriott Hotel group and working her way up to food and beverage and marketing and sales roles at Millennium Hotels and Hilton Worldwide Hotels (as well as positions with restaurant groups and clubs like Planet Hollywood). Fifteen years ago she settled in with IHLA, starting off in educational development and now hosting a series of recognition events for members, including the 30th Annual Hospitality Gala in 2018.
ILM+E: Any favorite events you’ve planned?
JC: One of my favorites is the Stars of the Industry program. It recognizes 11 department levels of hotel employees, from the heart of the house all the way up to the general manager and hotelier of the year, that put in hard work to make their property successful. In the Chicagoland market, we had 1,000-plus people attend in 2017, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. We also have the Ambassadors of Hospitality awards in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association Show to showcase hospitality leaders who have made a difference and a positive impact. The best part is we bring in top hospitality students from colleges so they can see how they can go from what they are studying to becoming a successful leader. We like to celebrate the current and future managers and leaders in our community.
ILM+E: What challenges arise in planning events for such a niche audience?
JC: You have to be creative with your budget. These are the best of the best. Hotels have a job of entertaining, so when you bring everyone together from this industry, the bar is high. We have to come up with innovative and cost-effective solutions to create memorable experiences. We do that by looking to new partners that want to showcase [their products] to this niche audience. The other challenge is continuing to keep costs low for members to attend and provide educational programming and resources.
ILM+E: How does hosting these events translate into attracting more visitors?
JC: I think we provide something bigger collectively as an industry, and celebrate and promote all the good accomplishments. Members can belong to something bigger and create a marketplace for exposure and networking opportunities . We are here to provide community and create a stronger voice together.