David Peckinpaugh began his hospitality career in Colorado and has served in leadership positions with a number of heavy hitters in the meetings industry, including Experient, Helms Briscoe, and the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’s now president of Maritz Travel Company, which acquired Experient last year, turning the corporate incentives house into a diversified meetings and events firm serving the corporate, association, trade show and government markets. Maritz is also investing time and resources into the area of experiential design. Peckinpaugh is serving as co-chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, working on creating a strategic framework for meetings professionals to communicate the value and importance of their industry. Peckinpaugh talked to Collaborate about Maritz’s business evolution, what makes the hospitality industry special and the trends we’ll continue to see in coming years. How did you first get into the hospitality industry? My first year out of college I was a charter captain in the Virgin Islands. The second year I was a ski bum and worked at Sitzmark Lodge in Vail, Colo. I was a night auditor and front desk clerk, and I got to ski 130 days that winter. That was my first hotel job, and I did that a couple winters there. My first hotel [sales] job was as a national sales manager at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in 1984. I had originally intended to be an attorney. My dad, brother and brother-in-law are all attorneys, and I thought that was my path, but I’m glad I discovered that was not what I wanted to do. I was the first outside sales rep at The Broadmoor, and I was very fortunate to start my career at that property. What did you learn about the industry at that first sales job at The Broadmoor? I learned a couple great lessons. Back then, The Broadmoor was one of only 26 five-star hotels in the U.S., so to start my career at a top-service hotel was a fabulous experience. Learning true hospitality and true service and being mentored by a couple individuals in what I would call the traditional, old world style of hospitality was an incredible stroke of luck. Chuck Magill and Sigi Faller taught me the importance of customer focus and service, and that has stuck with me throughout my career. I also learned the importance of attaching your personal brand to your work brand. The two are often seen as being separate instead of being supportive and closely tied to one another. To what do you attribute your continued success? I think it’s passion for the industry, this hotel and hospitality industry that gets in your blood. For me, it’s never been about the money. It’s been about the challenge and the opportunities the hotel industry offers. In it, you may not end up being independently rich, but you will be rich in experiences, in customer relations and in professional relationships. I’ve heard from friends I have in many other industries that the hospitality industry is unique. Even in the competitive set, it’s typically very friendly. There’s more sharing and collaboration among competitors than I see in any other industry. That makes this unique. We have a shared passion to elevate the industry and make all of us better as individuals and organizations. With the foundation of training I received at The Broadmoor, I established a path for myself. I’ve made a number of moves, and not all have been planned. The other guiding tenet I’ve followed is do not shy away from opportunities or challenges. I don’t look back and regret any of those moves. Each has offered a different opportunity for personal and career growth, and striving to be better has served me well. What has happened with Maritz since you became president? If you go back to June of 2011 [when I took over], Maritz was a company coming out of three of the most difficult years in the history of the travel company. It’s been around since the late 1950s, and 2008, 2009 and 2010 were its three most difficult years. Between the AIG effect and the economy, this company was hit hard. When I came in, it was the start of the recovery. The company was 100 percent corporate-focused and historically had been viewed as an incentives house and market leader in strategic meetings management, but I saw an opportunity to expand the horizon and move into adjacent markets and become thought-leaders in experiential excellence and design. We’ve spent two years moving down that path. The acquisition of Experient [in 2012] was the single-most important shift we’ve made with the business, which has moved us into the association, trade show and government markets. The second important shift has been our relationship with Jim Gilmore [author of “The Experience Economy”] and the internal work we’ve done with experiential design. We’re moving more from meetings management and logistics to a company focused on the delivery of exceptional experiences. Are the meetings and incentives industries back? Yes and yes. I’ll give you an indicator. We just finished our fiscal year projections and 2013 will be a record year for Maritz Travel. In 2014, we expect significant double-digit growth across all sectors. Corporate is back. Strategic meetings management is back. The incentive market is back. Just this week, one domestic auto company came back and launched incentive events—it was one of the big three. You see commercials are back from AIG. These are all true signs of recovery. One of the interesting trends is the short-term nature of meetings, and corporate meetings in particular. Lead-time and booking windows are as short now as they’ve ever been, and that’s going to continue. What are some of the other trends in meetings and events? One of the evolutions of meetings is the move from content focus to what I would call community focus. It’s a marketing 3.0 mindset. It’s a design mindset. I also think it’s a move in how we look at audiences. Internally, we used to refer to attendees as “pax.” We’ve shifted, and the language is now around “guests.” It sounds minor, but it shifts the entire focus of how we design and execute events. There’s also the idea of community, and the infusion of social media is one of the drivers of that. I just got back from PCMA [Convening Leaders], and they’re doing a great job with design experimentation and execution. A lot of it is centered around design and the development of communities. It works in many different ways. It talks to a new and emerging young generation in the industry. It talks to society and our desire to be with individuals with like interests and people who think like us. At meetings, we’re attempting to create long-term communities, and we’re developing those communities even within our meeting structure.