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Engaging inspiration, education & celebration

The who’s who of the wedding and event industry elite came together for the first time in The Bahamas for three days of inspiration, education and celebration at the luxury wedding and events business summit Engage! 19.

The 27th edition of Engage! was an intimate atmosphere that blended structure and downtime, allowing for candid networking in a non-client, non-competitive environment which allowed for an open exchange of ideas, information and strategies for facing the challenges of the international luxury wedding and event industry – across three hotel brands: the Rosewood hotel, SLS hotel and the Grand Hyatt, all within the Baha Mar Resort with a diverse collection of global speakers – a mix of past favorites and new faces to the Engage! stage.

A 36-strong speaker list commanded the intimately designed sessions in order to create the optimum mix for networking and meaningful interaction for summit attendees that represented a global cross-section as well as a strong Bahamian presence of the wedding and events industry with one thing in common – they all service high-caliber clientele who want to increasingly up their game. The intimate sessions and experiences were designed to create a myriad of smaller group opportunities for attendees to elevate the conversation and share challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.

The speaker field showcased the likes of Cindy Novotny, an icon in the hospitality industry, founder and owner of Master Connection Associates (MCA), an international training and development company specializing in sales and leadership; Simon T. Bailey, a breakthrough strategist whose life’s purpose is to teach one billion-plus people how to be fearless and create their future, who equips companies with the tools necessary to effect cultural transformation resulting in higher employee engagement and platinum customer service experiences and who also challenges individuals to dig deep to find and release their inner brilliance; Hayley Paige, head designer for Hayley Paige, Blush by Hayley Paige, Hayley Paige Occasions, La Petite Hayley Paige and Hayley Paige Red Carpet at JLM Couture who has received global recognition for her collections; and Rebecca Grinnals, president of Engaging Concepts Inc. and co-founder of Engage! Summits who is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the business of weddings and honeymoons, and is a sought-after industry consultant, speaker, trainer and business trend expert.

Novotny delivered a message that delved into leadership and development of a great culture in an organization.

“Whether it’s hotels, whether it’s press, or whether it’s a dress shop – the owner definitely makes a difference on the employees.”

A veteran Engage! speaker, Novotny started out with Engage! founders Kathryn Arce and Grinnals and has spoken on business matters at all but two of the summits. One of her messages this year was that everything you do in life makes an impression on someone, and that leaders have to think about every word that comes out of their mouth, every roll of their eye, every time they don’t answer an email from a colleague and that everything they do makes an impression, so they all should be good impressions.

She also described the Baha Mar Resort as “mind-blowing”.

“I feel like I’m in this entire village; you walk to the ice cream shop over here, the dress shop over there, but I’m never leaving the property, but I’m getting 10,000 steps in, so it’s one of those things that is magnificent in how you feel not in a big high-rise hotel…you’re not in some big convention center because there’s so much outdoor with indoor.”

Bailey was also an Engage! veteran, having taken to the stage for the 14th time since having spoken at the first Engage! This year, his message centered around everyone having the potential to be the spark to customers returning.

He shared from his new book “Be the Spark: Five Platinum Service Principles for Creating Customers for Life” that, based on his research, every resort, every hotel, anybody that is in the consumer-facing business has a man or woman inside that organization that makes it come alive.

He said customer service is three things: beauty, brilliance and love.

But after more than a decade of engaging at the summit, his message has had to continually evolve for him to stay on the cutting edge.

“I’ve had to move from 1.0 to 2.0. I’ve had to discover how to become an original voice, instead of an annoying echo speaking here for the 14th time. So, I constantly have to up my game and keep my research on the cutting edge with where things are going because if not I’ll fall behind, and they’ll disengage me,” he said.

Bailey, who visited Baha Mar when it first opened, was on his second visit to the resort, which he said he found magical.

“[Last week Tuesday] morning I got up and walked on the beach, and it was absolutely amazing. Engage! attracts luxury event planners who have exquisite taste and have seen the best of the best, and Baha Mar has not disappointed at all. Baha Mar is one of those places that you need to know about as a destination and experience. And it’s not just coming to Baha Mar, but it’s the spirit of The Bahamas that you sense and feel while you’re here.”

Paige, who was in her second appearance at Engage!, said she did not only want to make an introduction about her business and who she is, but take her turn on stage to take it to the next level.

“There is such a dense community of industry professionals and creatives, and it’s not only inspiring to be around people that are really hustling in this industry, but trailblazing, but I also love that there are people that are aspiring and wanting to learn more about how all of us came to be. And it’s so important for me to page it forward and give knowledge to young talent and to give that back is really something special and powerful and I don’t take it lightly,” she said.

No stranger to Bahamian shores, it was her first time at Baha Mar – a resort she described as “extra”.

“I love that there is just such versatility here, and so much to do. There are activities galore, a sense of luxury, [but] there’s still a sense of culture and community. There’s so much for everyone to really participate and enjoy.”

The wedding dress designer said the vibrancy she met in The Bahamas and Baha Mar has inspired her to return home and create and bring that sense of vibrancy into her collection. Her gowns are available locally at Five Seasons Bridal Boutique.

Grinnals and Arce in 2008 created the innovative series of luxury wedding business summits which twice a year bring together hundreds of the wedding industry key influencers, thought leaders and tastemakers from around the globe to connect and exchange ideas.

“We felt that there was something missing in the luxury wedding and event industry for people, the luxury couple, their friends and family and wanted to create a safe environment, a business-to-business conference where they could come and share ideas and best practices, get inspired, have a little bit of fun, because these people are planning parties all year long and it’s fun to celebrate them and what they do and let their hats down. It helps that it’s in a spectacular location,” said Arce.

Arce spoke to Freda Malcolm, director of romance for the Ministry of Tourism, attending the first Engage! in 2008 and recommending the duo bring the summit to The Bahamas, which she said had been on their radar ever since.

“It’s taken us 26 events to get here, but we’re here.”

Grinnals said it was incredible for them to showcase the best of The Bahamas in the events industry.

“The reason it’s important is our 400 attendees from around the world now know with confidence they can come to The Bahamas and have first-hand experience of all the incredible service, the location, the talents, and so when they bring weddings back or big events, they know exactly who to work with and that they have all the confidence in the world. And Baha Mar has been an extraordinary partner of ours.”

Arce also spoke to Wildflowers Events and Occasions, a Bahamian company which partnered with them for Engage! 19 and who were able to showcase what they do organically at the summit and get to know planners and vendors from other parts of the world, making that connection.

Cacique, which also partnered, was in attendance along with personnel from the Ocean Club and Atlantis, networking and getting exposure to the education to elevate their business to better serve the people coming to the island.

Grinnals and Arce said the takeaway from their summit is for attendees to be authentic and true to who they are and to continue to evolve.

“Weddings are never going to go away, celebrations are never going to go away, and you always have to be creative and thinking outside the box and trying to be creative. So, this group comes together and helps each other come up with new ways to celebrate families and celebrate couples,” said Arce.

“If we just stay doing what we’re doing all the time, we’re never really going to grow and there’s a lot of opportunity for growth strategy,” said Grinnals.

Engage! 19 is one of the biggest to date with over 400 participants; Grinnals and Arce started the summit with 75 attendees.

Shavaughn Moss

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.
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