Rhanee Palma, CDME, believes in Oakland, California. And Visit Oakland believes in its new chief sales officer. When promoted in November, she became one of the first Filipina-Americans to join the C-Suite in the CVB/DMO space. With an activist’s passion and her own diverse life experiences, Palma, a 2019 Connect Sports Game Changer, is committed to increasing Visit Oakland’s presence and legitimacy in the meetings world through collaboration with the city’s stakeholders.
Why is Oakland a good fit for you and why are you a good fit for Oakland?
Oakland is an incredibly civic-minded, working-class community rooted in political and social-justice activism. I identify with this because I am a first-generation Filipina-American immigrant who came to the United States under political asylum during the Marcos dictatorship and majored in Women and Gender Studies/Ethnic Studies in college.
My strong tie to Oakland is because I grew up professionally in this city. My first college internship was at the Education Theatre Program for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, and all my major career accomplishments have and are taking place in Oakland. In many ways, I have a strong affinity for this great city because this is the place that has created the most opportunities for me to personally and professionally develop. It’s my duty to give back to this historically misunderstood place that advances people who look like me.
What excites you most about your new position and how it intertwines with Oakland’s future?
Since my tenure with Visit Oakland, I’ve built on the solid foundation that my predecessors have laid out. Over the past three years, I’ve implemented strategic initiatives focused on unifying our hotel community, increasing Visit Oakland’s presence and legitimacy in the meetings world and creating systems that make it as easy as possible for our clients to do business in Oakland. It’s incredible to be a part of a community that has been and still do the daily grind to collectively overcome the overwhelmingly negative public misperceptions that Oakland has been riddled with. I am extremely excited to be in a position where I am fortunate enough to be one of many incredible (predominantly women) leaders that will play a part in this new development phase focusing on growth for Oakland.
What early career experiences affected you the most?
My nontraditional hospitality career started in the nonprofit sector as an employer representative for the Marriott Foundation office in Oakland. I placed transitional aged youth with disabilities into the competitive workforce. This is the job that profoundly shaped me.
Did you know that 70% of high school graduates with a disability remain unemployed? Mentoring students with disabilities in the Oakland Unified School District and Berkeley Unified School District gave me my first glimpse of the impact a job has on a young person. More specifically, I saw firsthand how a service sector job mobilized my students to become contributing members to society while uplifting their entire families. I have many former students who I helped place in entry-level hotel/service positions that are now in management roles!
What did you learn from working for Hilton and Marriott?
My experience in group sales and business development for both Hilton and Marriott have prepared me with being able to foster closer, high-producing relationships with our hotel partners for Visit Oakland. I am a better partner to my stakeholders because I have the ability to relate with the daily reality of an entry-level sales manager while understanding what hotel leadership needs to perform well for their respective hotel ownership groups. Meetings and overnight visitors to hotels also put people (like my students) to work.
What’s your favorite food and which restaurant do you go to for a girls' night out?
My favorite food is hard to classify. I enjoy discovering the local flavors of a destination, especially when locally sourced, organic ingredients are used. I love how chef Nelson German of alaMar describes his cuisine as a reflection of his journeys because different cultures have shaped him and his cooking styles. I strongly identify with this.
For a girls’ night out, I appreciate eating at fine dining restaurants that curate exquisite, seasonal tasting menus with the most impressive presentations. My three favorite restaurants that come to mind are Commis (Oakland), Atelier Crenn (San Francisco) and Boragó (Santiago, Chile).
Are you a sports fan? What’s your favorite team and why?
Currently, I am obsessed with esports and more specifically, competitive Fortnite. My favorite team is 100Thieves. Aside from being on my son's Arkhram’s team, I respect how the organization intersects competitive gaming, entertainment and apparel into its lifestyle brand. Its rallying cry is to go after what was not originally given to you and to give your 100% in pursuit of it. I also appreciate that they invest 100% into its players, 100% into its competitive drive to be the best and to give 100% back to the community. In many ways, this esports team heavily aligns with Oakland’s brand.
What separates Oakland from its Bay Area neighbors?
Oakland has a strong sense of place. There is soul, substance and a strong sense of pride in our richly diverse community. It is a progressive, working-class city that has been the launching pad of social movements as well as social innovation. Oakland is fueled by incredible urban energy that pays homage to our legacy. Mayor Libby Schaaf always talks about Oakland’s “secret sauce.” She’s referencing our legacy of diversity. Moreover, it is more than diversity. It’s the special and seamless inclusivity that you experience only in Oakland. Oakland is a place where creative artists, intellectual minds and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, from all over the world across multiple disciplines, collaborate to make the world a better place.
What advice would you give other women and diverse candidates about advancing in the CVB/DMO industry?
The best advice that I can give is to take care of and invest in yourself so that you can stay tenacious and confident when pursuing your career endeavors. I have had to fight for and creatively insert myself in every single role I have had in hotel sales and the DMO/CVB space. Instead of being discouraged or even bitter, I took every single turn down as an opportunity to learn how I can better strategically place myself to become a more competitive candidate.
In addition, it is incredibly important to be able to dream big and to stay positive so that you can be creative in finding your agency to get a seat at the table. It is imperative to ask for opportunities that will equip you to grow. Seek out as many opportunities to enroll in continued learning and pursue a professional certification. I made sure to make a business case to pursue my CDME, and I also made sure to produce results to justify the spending.
Lastly, I’ve also been blessed to have an incredibly supportive family, amazing bosses, and an extensive network of amazing mentors/ colleagues/friends who continuously guide, inspire and support me. I make sure to also find ways that I can give back and to help uplift others—as many have done with me.