As someone who learned the meetings and events industry from the lofty skyscrapers of Las Vegas, Danielle Babilino, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Hard Rock International, is a self-proclaimed hotel brat. And we can’t blame her, with several industry titans surrounding her career success including Fountainebleu Miami Beach and Wynn Las Vegas.
A 13-year run at Bally’s, where Babilino started in hotel sales, marked her intro into the hospitality industry. Babilino then moved to the luxurious Mandalay Resort Group to help with pre-openings, including the original Mandalay tower and 1.5 million-sq.-ft. convention center, followed by the renowned hotel. MGM now owns Mandalay.
Most recently, Babilino took on her current role with Hard Rock International. She manages all hotel sales and marketing incentives, sales training, customer events, sales program implementation and the recruitment and retention of sales professionals. Here, Babilino lets us in on her career transition and what’s in store for Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos around the world.
Tell me a little about you and your recent position change to senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos?
I really enjoy building teams from the ground up and putting all the processes in place to run a hotel and destination marketing organization. [In my new position,] there is not a boring moment to say the least. My responsibility is to build up the global sales organizations of the company, where we presently have 29 hotels. I am also responsible for managing the properties that are in the pipeline to open over the course of the next couple years. Next year, we have six hotels opening. There are three that are the licensed model: Maldives; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and London in Q1 of 2019. As we roll later into the year, we open three of our managed properties: Madrid, Budapest, Hungary and New Orleans.
What is Hard Rock doing to attract more meetings and events?
We are working at the global level to really define more branded programs for our MICE customers. From a meetings’ perspective, there is not a lot of meeting space available. However, New Orleans has about 350 rooms and has 10,000 square feet of space and it’s right on the fringe of the French quarter, not too far from the convention center. Each one of the projects has taken into consideration the destination in which they are in. And based on what they are offering, the property will be segmented. What we are trying to do at the global level is to take some of our wonderful programs that we have utilized, from a transient perspective and pull them into MICE-branded programs.
What are some of the programs you are developing to cater to MICE customers?
We are trying to create a corporate social responsibility program geared as the MICE market in conjunction with Clean the World, and it will be a test model in a couple of our properties next year. If they are well embraced, then we will put it into a branded program for all of our properties. Part of what is interesting about Hard Rock is that we have our own foundation, Hard Rock Heals. So, we already have a philanthropic organization that we support at the brand level. We’re trying to take it down into that relationship and speak to our MICE customers because wanting to give back seems as that is a common core value. We’re also working with our brand folks, Sound Of Your Stay, which we offer to the transient guests and we want to pull that in and offer it to the MICE customer.
Are there any new trends that hotels like Hard Rock are doing differently—first, to get and keep events, and then, to make them more memorable?
Our brand is very experiential, and it’s centered around music and entertainment. It speaks to each generation differently. A meeting at the Hard Rock will not be “cookie cutter.” That seems to be a trend that transient and MICE customers are looking for. That is why customers keep coming back time and time again. Each hotel is different, and has its own personality even though it is revolved around the Hard Rock brand.
What was the most interesting event you ever had to put on?
This goes way back when I was at Mandalay Bay with a 1.5 million-sq.-ft. convention center with 3,000 rooms. We had a company coming in and we only had two hours to do a full tour of the building and serve lunch. It was very well timed, but also experiential. With the help of our entertainment department, we toured them through the property. There were vignettes in each area and then they were all given construction tool belts where we stored their lunch. They were able to eat and walk and talk and explore the building. We broke them into teams, of the 50-60 people, and it was a scavenger hunt with a form to be filled out at the end of the tour. It was educational, a way to tour them through the property, a way to create relationships with the various team members, and make it a fun, competitive activity.