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Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: Liz Gilbert

July 27, 2020

“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, a weekly interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.


These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level.  It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.     



In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professionals Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates talks to Liz Gilbert, Senior Director of National Sales at Hornblower Cruises and Events.


Karen: Hello Liz.  I am so delighted that you agreed to participate in our series.  We go back many years in this industry in the city and it is always a pleasure to spend time chatting to you.  Now, it is even more important to connect under these very trying circumstances.  Please introduce yourself to our readers and provide a little background as to your role at HCE. 


Liz: Thank you Karen I am happy to be a part of this interview series of our industry. I’m Liz Gilbert, Sr. Director, National Sales for Hornblower Cruises and Events (HCE). I lead National Sales efforts with a significant focus on Third Party and Corporate Planners as well as large Travel Trade Accounts.  As a twenty-year veteran of the company, I am incredibly fortunate to work for an organization that highly values industry partnerships and the importance they play in driving business. 


Karen:  Please tell us a bit about your current work situation and how the current situation is affecting your colleagues. 


Liz:In those locations where we have restarted operations, my front-line colleagues are working incredibly hard to get our businesses back up and running while delivering the great experiences we are known for. While for office-based roles like mine, we have adopted a flexible approach, in line with local regulations and enabling crew members to continue to work remotely should they wish.  For someone who usually travels a lot, I’m already quite used to working on the go, and have adapted to the ‘new normal’ by alternating working from my home with spending one or two days each week in our Chicago head office. I’ve also become a huge fan of Zoom video calls!


Karen:  Clearly this seems to be the way of the future in the new work environment – combining both remote and in-office hours.  What has changed now for the New York market since the city has transitioned in Phase 4 of the reopening last week?


Liz:It’s going as well as can be expected. We are thrilled to be back operating in one of our largest markets, where we typically operate a wide full range of dining, sightseeing and charter experiences in New York and New Jersey too. With the phased reopening of the city, we utilized our considerable assets as best we could, particularly over the last few weeks. For example, prior to restarting our dining cruises on July 24, we created a new product offering called Roof Top at the Dock – an exclusive, dockside pop up cocktail experience on the open deck of Spirit of New York.  This initiative allowed us to tap into the pent-up demand for socially distanced, open-air activities in the local market.  


Karen:  I like the idea of the Roof Top at the Dock - and combined with a guaranteed water view and skyline view, it is a great concept.  What is the norm for you these days? 


Liz: I’ve accepted the unpredictability of the new ‘normal’!  Personally, I’ve learned to be more flexible and adaptable in my role and its challenges. It’s heartening to know that I’m not alone in this and my fellow travel professionals are going through this too. At Hornblower, we already have an innovative mindset, and, in line with our entrepreneurial beginnings have continued to focus on being fluid and nimble when it comes to operating in this increasingly ambiguous environment.


Karen:  Innovation and flexibility are certainly key these days as we all try to “pivot” to accommodate this “new normal”.  I know HCE has many operations around the country.  How do you keep connected with your team?


Liz: I work directly with colleagues across North America, so while I may not be meeting face to face, we use a variety of methods to stay in touch throughout the day. I particularly love video Team calls… and have been having fun with the variety of backdrops you can use!   


Karen: The backgrounds are fun!  We just had our own team challenge where each person had to use a location in New York as their background – and we all had to guess where it was.  It was a fun diversion for a meeting. 


What are you doing from wellbeing, mental health perspective in order to keep sane during this time? 


Liz: In these stressful times, it’s critical to take care of yourself, and those around you. For me, nothing clears the head and sets me up for the day ahead than my one-hour walk along the Chicago Lakefront with my two mini-golden doodles every morning before I start working.   And in my downtime, I have a ridiculously guilty pleasure of watching trash TV- especially TLC programs!


Karen:  Nothing to feel guilty about.  We have all had to find some sort of escape from the reality of this situation and TV watching is very high on the list of most people – especially when we were all in lockdown.   As long as I have known you, you have been on planes to various tradeshows and meetings around the world, and I am sure you are feeling the travel restrictions quite keenly.  Once the restrictions have eased, what are your plans?