Meet Elaine Williams, Director of Sales at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans
There is a pretty good chance that if you have ever planned a meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans you have met Elaine Williams. If you haven’t, Williams wants to meet you.
Williams, the Director of Sales at the ENMCC, makes it a point to try and meet every client that contracts at the center. Her sales team is responsible for selling new business as well as servicing national association and corporate accounts.
Williams and her team have been busy this year selling the future and rescheduling the cancelled 2020 business, attempting to keep it in New Orleans.
“We are trying to rebook these events. We are not trying to penalize the meeting planner and force them to stay in New Orleans when we know it may not be possible,” said Williams who has been in the industry for over 25 years, 13 in her current position. “But, how can we keep you in New Orleans on the calendar? So, if that means your next (available) year is 2024, then that’s it. This is a relationship business and you don’t want to damage those relationships.”
And, while most sales teams for convention centers and hotels view the COVID-19 impact on their business as a unique, once-in-a-lifetime situation, this unfortunately is not a new scenario for Williams.
“I think New Orleans has a little bit of an advantage on how to work with clients during these crazy times because of (hurricane) Katrina,” recalled Williams of the impact to New Orleans’ 2005-2006 meeting season. “We’ve already had to do this, not to the same scale, but in New Orleans we’ve already had to move clients around, work with them on housing, etc. Now on a different scale, we are all back at it doing it again.”
Because of the challenges for meeting planners rebooking around other contracts and trying to maintain historically similar dates for their events, Williams says give and take is the key to a successful resolution. “We have been telling clients there needs to be flexibility on both parts. We are going to be as flexible as possible moving conferences around. And since the calendar is ever changing we have been able to find a way to accommodate event organizers,” she said. “So if your conference is in October, and right now I don’t have anything in October, let’s look at the end of September. Let’s see if there is any way you can book in November.”
Challenges for many planners are bylaw requirements forcing their conferences to only meet on certain days of a specific month or only in certain months. Williams thinks this a great time to take another look at some of these restrictions.
“Right now is a time for event organizers to be reviewing their bylaws. It is a time for event organizers to be reviewing, in my opinion, everything. Because nothing should be off the table. Flexibility is key right now. As long as we can be flexible, this industry will come back.”
Williams had to be a little flexible herself when settling on her career path. She had many interests and had her sights set on working in the medical industry conducting drug trials. During high school and college, she worked at a neighborhood wedding facility, helping setup for weddings and ultimately working in their office.
After college, she moved on from working weddings and went full time as a clinical research associate for the LSU Anxiety and Mood Disorder Clinic. However, the owners of the wedding facility soon found themselves without a general manager and offered Williams the job and she took it and has been in the hospitality business ever since.
In 1996, Williams moved to the ENMCC and, other than one year, has been a fixture in that building. She initially worked with Aramark as a sales manager rising to director of sales and ultimately interim general manager. An offer from the ENMCC in 2007 came at an opportune time as Aramark wanted her to move to Ohio, but New Orleans is home and staying in the city and with the ENMCC was important to her.
“Not only can I stay in New Orleans, but I can stay in this building,” said Williams stressing the convention center’s importance to the city. “It’s the economic engine, in my opinion, of the hospitality industry in New Orleans and New Orleans’ industry is hospitality.”
And the next time you are doing business at the ENMCC don’t forget to introduce yourself to Williams.
Notes: Williams went to LSU her first three years of college and completed her last year at the University of New Orleans majoring in psychology and minoring in math. She is married with four children three daughters (ages 16, 13 & 9) and one son (21-years-old).
What Have You Learned Most During This Stay-At-Home Time: “One, I found out I could work from home and I never ever thought that was a possibility,” Williams said. “Number two, I have a great family. I didn’t realize just how cool my kids were.”
Honors: In 2005, she received the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation by the Convention Industry Council. In 2016, Williams received her certification in Exhibition Management (CEM), a globally recognized designation that demonstrates the highest professional standard throughout the exhibition and event management arena.
Favorite Comedy: My Cousin Vinny