Meeting Planner Profile: Joe Nishi

Joe Nishi, Chair of Canadian Council at MPI Foundation Canada and Regional Director at Meeting EncoreName: Joe Nishi

Present: Chair of Canadian Council at MPI Foundation Canada and Regional Director at Meeting Encore

Past: In sales and marketing for such hotels as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., Sheraton Centre Toronto and The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver

Expertise: 18 years of hotel operation and sales leadership experience

Specialty: Identifying properties for clients; handling back and forth communication from the proposal stage right up to finalizing the contract

CM&E: Tell us about yourself.

JN:  I was born and spent most of my childhood in Burnaby, B.C., a suburb of Vancouver.  I attended Burnaby Central High School (the same high school as Michael J. Fox).  My mother still lives in the house I grew up in. I have a brother who lives in Japan and sister who lives in Calgary.  I live in one of the best cities in Canada: Burlington, Ont., with my wife, three kids and two cats.

Tell us about your work.

I’ve been part of Meeting Encore for just over 2 years. We’re a Meeting Site Sourcing company based in Toronto – the first site sourcing company in Canada. The company was founded in 1990 by Linda Genest, a former hotel executive, and was so successful her husband Greg Genest left his hotel career and joined Meeting Encore soon after. Since then, we’ve expanded our sales efforts and have clients based across Canada, as well as some in the U.S. Our mission: save our clients time and money by handling their research, RFP, meeting site sourcing, and contract negotiating needs.

How did you get to where you are today?

I attended Douglas College and Simon Fraser University expecting to become an accountant, but quickly realized that was not my calling. So I worked full time in the Burnaby Public Library system during the day and a Japanese restaurant at night. A friend suggested we go to Japan for a year and when I got there, I had the choice of working in a Chinese restaurant, a gas station or a hotel. I chose the hotel option – and loved it! My work colleagues were like family; everyone worked and played together. As a bellman (or “page boy”), I had the glamorous job of opening doors for  guests, cleaning ashtrays, and carrying luggage. The hotel world – I knew I’d found my calling.

When I moved back to Vancouver, I went to hotel school at the Vancouver Community College,     worked part-time at Hyatt Regency Vancouver, met my future wife, and quickly rose through     the ranks working in various management positions in front office, housekeeping and     reservations. In 1996, Manuel Sousa, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Regency     Vancouver, convinced me to move into sales, handling the Canadian association market. A few     years of sales calls in winter months in Toronto and Ottawa toughened me up to the point     where I knew I was ready for more.

I was promoted to the U.S. and became associate director of sales at the Hyatt Regency San Diego. In 1999, Mark Andrew, former GM at Hyatt, called and said you need to see the renovations at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver. I did and loved it! I left Hyatt after 10 years and became director of sales and marketing at the Westin Bayshore. From there, Starwood transferred me to Toronto to be director of sales and marketing of the Sheraton Centre, and in 2004 I became the senior director of sales leading the Starwood Global Sales Team in Canada. In December 2008, I left Starwood and joined one of Starwood’s top clients: Meeting Encore.

Walk us through a typical day at work.

I love what I do! We have a fantastic team at Meeting Encore. All of us rose through the ranks to senior hotel leadership positions within hotels across the country, so we all speak the same language. Most of my time is spent enabling my clients to be more efficient and effective at their jobs as meeting planners. A typical day starts between 7:30 and 8 a.m. at our Meeting Encore office in Port Credit, Ont., 20 minutes from Toronto’s city centre. I review hotel/venue RFPs, evaluate property options, prepare and create client proposals, and negotiate the terms and conditions of client contracts with my supplier partners. When not in the office, I’m on property site inspections, at client presentations, or working on MPI Foundation projects. I’m in my last term as chair of the MPI Foundation of Canada Council, in which I’m fortunate to interact with senior leaders on the Canadian Council, raising funds that support our industry by funding research, scholarships and education here in Canada.

List some challenges when seeking the perfect venue.

Some of my pet peeves when selecting the right venue to fit my client’s needs are websites that are either hard to read, too difficult to navigate, or don’t mention basics like ceiling height, pillars or natural light in the meeting room. Flexibility is key, especially when it comes to hotel contracts, and I waste a ridiculous amount of time dealing with poorly written contracts and correcting basic typos.

Why are you good at what you do?

I think my clients as well as the hotel sales people I work with appreciate my vast hotel background and experience. I believe that ultimately my client’s needs are the most important aspect of the process, however there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. I’m fair, respectful and professional, and I always take both the client’s and hotel’s needs into consideration when negotiating contracts. The outcome has to be a win for both parties. “Contract bullying” is not part of my chemistry nor that of our team at Meeting Encore. A good friend of mine told me once that “Your job descriptions change, but your reputation stays with you forever!”

Who are some of your notable clients?

I’m so lucky to have great clients! Hoffmann-La Roche, Canadian Medical Association, Investors Group and Novo Nordisk, to name a few.

What have been some of your biggest achievements?

I’m most proud of seeing people that I’ve either hired, mentored or worked with over the years become successful and move onto greater challenges. Also, being recognized as Sales Team of The Year with Starwood in 2007, joining Meeting Encore in 2008 and my involvement with the MPI Foundation since 2003.

What do you like best about your industry?

The passion and creativity of my industry colleagues. Put a bunch of us on a patio, beverage in hand and look out – we can solve almost any industry-related problem thrown at us.

Kidding aside, I love the fact that essentially what we do is create opportunities for people to learn, grow and build relationships. What could be better than creating great experiences for others?

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