by Alex Palmer | March 14, 2018

A successful event is largely a product of the efforts of individuals working behind the scenes, dedicated to making everything go off without a hitch -- even if they aren't the first to get the credit when all goes well. 

Northstar Meetings Group and the Singapore Tourism Board yesterday honored six such people, "Unsung Heroes" of the meetings industry. During an awards ceremony on the final day of Incentive Live, held in the new Park MGM Las Vegas, a banquet captain, an airport duty manager, an executive administrator, a pastry chef, an A/V technician and an executive secretary were honored for their dedication as part of the inaugural Their Passion Made Your Event Possible program

"With this program, we are making the connection between events and the multitude of people behind the scenes who make those events possible," said David R. Blansfield, executive vice president and group publisher of Northstar Meetings Group. "These are the people who are the backbone and lifeblood of our business, but too often they aren't celebrated. We're rectifying that here today."

Passion Made Possible winners were selected through a multi-step judging process in which planners, hotels and other members of the meetings community nominated individuals deserving recognition -- whether due to work they had done for a specific crucial event or over the span of decades. From these nominees, a handful of finalists were selected by a team of judges. Six winners were selected: three from Singapore and three from the United States.

"We wanted to celebrate the achievements and efforts of the men and women who work so hard behind the scenes, and that spoke to our true identity as a country," said Ambrose Tham, MICE specialist, Americas, for the Singapore Tourism Board, an organization whose tagline, "Passion Made Possible," was the inspiration for the program. Prior to the announcement of the winners, Tham played a pair of videos emphasizing the importance of passion in Singapore's meetings offerings and connected this to the work done by the honorees.

All of the winners and their stories are told through text and video on the program's website, Blansfield emphasized that he expected this year's program to be just the first of many and urged those in attendance to nominate the Unsung Heroes with whom they work.

The U.S. winners were: Jesus "Chuy" Enriquez, banquet captain at the JW Marriott Austin in Texas, who has worked at the nearly 1,000-room property since it opened in 2015, overseeing all of its event F&B and who was nominated by Shelby Olivier, program manager of Red Velvet Events. Jenny Haase, executive administrator for The Leadership Circle/Full Circle Group, was nominated by multiple people, including her organization's vice president of business development, for helping to execute almost 25 leadership-certification programs as well as an annual summit, coordinating speakers, gifts and site selection. Lisa Belliveau, who has served as executive secretary of the Osteopathic Medical Societies for 25 years, was selected for her work planning the organization's two annual conventions, 10 dinners and medical clinic in Jamaica, and for stepping up to the role of convention manager for the 2017 convention when the founder of OMS faced a family tragedy.

"It was a total surprise," said Belliveau. "I didn't know that [Osteopathic Medical Societies founder] Dr. Ken Webster had nominated me, and when he got the announcement of my selection, he called me into his office and teared up when he was reading it."

The winners from Singapore were: Irene Soh, pastry chef at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore, who oversees a team of 15 chefs as she serves as many of 10 functions a day at the massive property. Rudy Sufri Bin Kasmuri, A/V technician for the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, was recognized for supporting almost 1,000 conferences and events each year with expansive tech offerings, including the world's largest high-definition video wall. Mohamed Bashir BinAbdullah, duty manager of the lost-and-found at Singapore's Changi Airport, was cited for his dedication to helping reconnect travelers through this major international hub with their lost luggage.

During the ceremony, each of the four winners in attendance -- all three U.S. winners as well as Singapore's Bin Abdullah -- was brought on stage along with his or her guests (including family members and those who nominated them) and congratulated by Blansfield and Tham, with each winner spotlighted for their hard work. 

Memorable Experience
The awards capped a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas during which the winners took part in a range of activities and joined in parts of the Incentive Live program -- all beginning with a warm welcome from Northstar staff upon arrival.

"When I first arrived, it was like, 'There's paparazzi waiting for me!'" said Bin Abdullah. "I was so emotional. I hadn't had something like this happen except for maybe on my wedding day."

This included taking part in a culinary tour care of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours; a behind-the-scenes Las Vegas experience (including a visit to the Neon Museum Las Vegas and a ride on the LINQ's High Roller) care of AlliedPRA, and a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon via Maverick Helicopters.

"The helicopter tour was so stunning, I had to stop thinking about the work I had to do and just put my phone on airplane mode and be present in the moment," said Haase. "The foodie tour was wonderful."
In addition to those activities, the winners joined for the high-production events that took place during Incentive Live, including the welcome reception at Bellagio Las Vegas, complete with dancers and a circus-themed performance from singer Fernando Varela; and an evening function at Chateau Nightclub at Paris Las Vegas. The honorees received VIP treatment throughout, ensuring that these hard-working individuals, who do so much to ensure that attendees enjoy top-notch service at events, were treated to terrific service themselves.

"I've spent all these years in this industry serving conferences and dinners, but I've never been on this side of it," said Enriquez. "It feels really good."