Connections Housing Partner Spotlight: Kelli Orpen, Marriott International
Connections Housing Partner Spotlight is a new series that shines a light on the incredible leaders we have the privilege to work with across the event and hospitality industry.
This month we’re excited to talk to Kelli Orpen, Group Account Manager, National Group Sales, Marriott International.
Where’s Your Hometown?
I was born in Chicago, but raised in the Poconos in a small town called Stroudsburg, PA.
How Did You Get Your Start in Your Career?
My “first hotel gig”, was the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in the Poconos. My husband was the beverage manager and I worked the front desk. It was my first job out of college.
What Attracted You to the Hotel Industry?
I always knew I wanted to travel. I have always had a passion for it. I went to East Stroudsburg University, and the first two years of study I was undeclared. I had no idea what I wanted to do. The summer before my third year, I got a letter from the school telling me I needed to declare a major. The second letter I opened was from the Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism department asking me to come meet with them and consider them for a major. I did and the rest is history.
Fun Fact—Something That People Do Not Know About You?
Probably that my major in college and my entire career was a freak accident. Had I not gotten that one letter that one day, I would have never selected this major on my own. It changed the direction of my life.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing hotels right now and how is Marriott addressing it?
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and enhancing our health and safety protocols to help associates and guests feel confident while in our hotels is a focus. As we emerge, we must build demand among customers who are worried about safety or who are questioning whether they need or want to travel the way they did before the pandemic. Marriott’s strong and longstanding culture is also important as we rebuild.
What are some of the innovations/changes/enhancements Marriott is making to boost meeting planners' confidence in a hotel’s ability to help protect health/safety during the pandemic?
Through Commitment to Clean, Marriott has added to its already rigorous cleaning protocols at our hotels to help give our guests confidence when staying with us. The Marriott Bonvoy Events Connect with Confidence initiative provides materials to meeting planners on how to plan and hold meetings in this environment, including how to hold hybrid meetings, what is needed and how to plan. Marriott is also making available to meeting planners optional health protocols including COVID-19 testing.
As guests and groups start to come back, are you hearing feedback about specific hotel health/safety protocols, in particular, that is especially positive/that groups/guests really seem to like?
On our Connect with Confidence portal we share learnings from meetings that have been held at our hotels. There are testimonials from planners giving very positive feedback from these events. For example, customers shared they were pleased with the higher levels of cleaning and distancing protocols communicated prior to the attendee arrival. One group provided their attendees a video of what it would actually look like at the hotel prior to arrival so they would know what to expect.
It seems that events/meetings are starting to feel increasingly confident about hosting live events in Q3 and Q4 of 2021 and, of course, on into 2022. Does that reflect what you’re seeing? Or are you already seeing meeting planning activity pick-up for certain properties/geographic and/or demographic groups?
We are seeing volume in leads increasing slightly and are optimistic that as more vaccines are given this volume will continue to increase. From a group perspective we have seen youth sports, collegiate sports, production companies, telecommunication companies and vaccine-related business coming to our hotels. We are seeing leisure travel coming back first, especially to drivable locations.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the hospitality/hotel industry?
It’s a great industry to work in. The reward of helping people when they are away from home feel comfortable and achieve the purpose of their travel is great. While the last year was a difficult one for the hospitality industry, if you are passionate about travel and people then this is a still a great industry for you!