Cindy Delaney, founder of Delaney Meeting & Event Management. Photos: Karen Pike Photography.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine There's a natural tendency for people to want to get together, whether it's for business or play or family. That's why it's not surprising that of all the economic sectors badly hammered by COVID, the travel and hospitality industries took the worst hit.
Business travel — including corporate, group and government — is the hotel industry’s largest source of revenue.
And according to a report issued last month by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs, “The hotel industry is projected to end 2021 down more than $59 billion in business travel revenue compared to 2019... That comes after losing nearly $49 billion in business travel revenue in 2020.”
The report concluded that “Business travel revenue is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.”
Clearly, once COVID hit in March of 2020, the carefree days of jetting to distant places for meetings, conferences, conventions and trade shows vanished overnight.
So if you make your living creating these events, what are you supposed to do?
Well, if you're Cindy Delaney, who has built a million-dollar business as an event, convention and conference planner based in Winooski —with reach across the US, including Hawaii and Alaska — you instantly embrace the digital and carry on.
Delaney, 58, founded Delaney Meeting & Event Management in 1997 after a career in hotel sales.
Since then, she has steadily increased her business, expanding the range of events and the depth of her services.
“We manage about 50 events a year,” Delaney said. “The typical one, that's probably two-thirds of what we do, would be a multi-day conference at a destination, regionally or nationally, where there's workshops, a keynote speaker or two, board meetings, meals, social events and a trade show. That's a typical event.”
Before COVID, the company was making “a little over a million dollars a year,” Delaney said. But COVID has changed everything.
“Due to COVID, it was probably down 20-to-25 percent last year,” Delaney said. “It could have been a lot worse. Look at the wedding industry and the hotels, and you know, we did better than most. We got some loans, thank God, and that helped a lot.”
Adapting To The Unknown
When the pandemic hit, Delaney's business changed overnight.
“I was actually in Omaha, Nebraska, when it hit the fan,” Delaney said. “I was with a group of about 1,200 people. And I can remember flying home Saturday, the 14th of March 2020, just hoping to God I was going to get home. We did have people get sick with COVID at that event. We just weren't prepared for it. We had hand sanitizer that we had gotten, but we didn't have masks or any of that. And so, after that week, we all had to be very, very fast on our feet to figure out how to keep doing what we are doing.”
The first thing Delaney and her team did was examine streaming platforms.
Photo: Cindy Delaney, founder of Delaney Meeting & Event Management. Photo: Karen Pike Photography.
“We took about a month to really learn all the platforms that were out there and tried to decide what were best,” she said. “We had events coming up in April that had to be canceled. We had one or two in May that went virtual by the seat of our pants. We didn't really know what we were doing. But my entire staff took the month to just sort of regroup and learn as much as we could. We had a database of about 30 platforms. We ended up narrowing it down. We now use three, primarily. One is kind of bare bones and the other two are a little higher-end, and they do different things for different clients. But you know, it took us a while and we still have staff that are a little uncomfortable in Zoom. But we're getting better at it.”
By April of 2020, the company had shifted to virtual conferences.
“We got pretty good at doing that,” Delaney said. “We're probably doing 40 virtual events this year. And we're now transitioning into what's called a hybrid, where there's a portion in-person and a portion that is virtual. That's not a good financial choice. When you're all virtual, you make a lot of money because overhead is so much less. When an event is hybrid, you have a much bigger expense because you've got the virtual piece and you've got the in-person piece. And when you're in-person, you do pretty well, in general, if your numbers are strong.”
Delaney's staff builds virtual platforms that are essentially interactive web sites.
“So you can have everything that you would have at a normal event — a trade show, a keynote speaker, a meeting — where you can see people and talk to them,” Delaney said. “It took us a while to get our head around it. The first really big one we did was in July of 2020, and it was a learning curve. We learned a lot from that first one, and then they just got better as time went on.”
Socializing is one of the most important parts of out-of-town meetings, so Delaney's team had to figure out how to do that electronically, too.
“It's been hard trying to find creative ways,” she said. “People have been on Zoom all day, and to have them come back on Zoom just to drink with their buddies is difficult. We sometimes have 30 or 40 people. Sometimes we have a sponsor for a trivia event. Or we have a magician. Or we have a bartender. For example, we were supposed to go to Santa Fe. And because we weren't there, we brought someone in from Santa Fe, a bartender, and someone from their Tourism Bureau. And they did a little dog and pony show on Santa Fe, because we're going there in '23 — we moved the conference out.”
That bartender was especially entertaining, Delaney said.
“He taught us how to make a special kind of margarita,” she said. “We told the participants what they would be making and to get the ingredients. People loved it. But we only had 40 people out of 600, because most people are tapped out by the end of the day. We're always looking for something new, you know.”
Award ceremonies have also been challenging.
“How do you honor the winners in a virtual setting?” Delaney said. “We tried having social hours after the ceremony, but people just didn't show up. So we're still kind of working on social. You can't force that stuff.”
Sweating The Details
Delaney is articulate and passionate when she talks about her work. The phrase most often used by people to describe her is “detail-oriented.”
Not surprisingly, that's also the first phrase she uses to describe herself.
“I like having my hands on a lot of things at once,” Delaney said. “I like to juggle a lot of things. I'm pretty active. I love creating something that someone gets to enjoy, and that's essentially what we're doing.”
Delaney clearly values her relationships with her clients.
“I'm relationship-centered,” she said. “We wouldn't be where we are today without the relationships we have, and the referrals we get, and the word of mouth, and just the fact that our clients have used us for 15 years. We're pretty lucky, really, but it's taken a lot of work building and nurturing those relationships. I don't take them for granted — at all.”
One of those relationships is with Lisa Chase, the executive director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center at UVM. Chase has worked with Delaney on various projects for over 20 years; she calls her “generous, compassionate, capable, ambitious and caring.”
“She's also an athlete,” Chase said. “Even when she has conferences, and has to get to the registration desk at the crack of dawn, she's out there, running or walking or skiing before her event.”
Delaney has a team of 11 people working for her — and all of them are female.
The business itself is essentially female, she said.
“We've had very few men apply over the years,” Delaney said. “And let me preface this by saying a lot of my staff have been here a long time. So we don't have openings that often. It just seems to be a female field to some extent.”
This type of business is built on creativity, Delaney said.
“That's creativity in the business sense,” she said. “Event planning, I think, is extremely detailed. And I don't want to say anything that would be not PC, but I think women are very detail-oriented. They're creative. They like going to events. They get energy from doing it. And we just don't see as many men doing that. There are a lot of men who work in the hotel and resort field. I would say that's easily 50-50 of the people that I work with, when I go to a hotel. But there's not as many in our world of independent meeting planning. It's mostly women.”
Those long-lasting relationships have to be built slowly.
“Men and women are both good at that,” she said. “And I don't know if that would have been any different if we had men on our team. It's a cultural thing. Hospitality and gratitude are important to me. That and getting to know your clients. So when we hire someone, we look for those qualities.”
Delaney's company occupies a select niche in the conference and event world.
“We work with associations,” she said. “Mostly, we have nonprofit clients. For example, right now we're working on the national meeting of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. They're a national association of wildlife agencies like our Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is a member.”
So, no weddings?
“Definitely not weddings,” Delaney said. “We've never done one. And we will never do one. We did a bar mitzvah once and it was a disaster. We don't even do galas anymore. We used to help the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce. But it's not the best use of our skill set. We're better with multi-level conferences, where we're doing the business side of the conferences. So marketing, fundraising, running the managing the books, registration, logistics, and then we might have a host committee that brings in all the programming and the social stuff. We're better when we manage a conference than a social event.”
For the client, Delaney's team scouts locations — often in cities they don't know — and coordinate a multitude of details with the chosen hotel and other off-site venues.
“Say we have a dinner at a museum,” Delaney said. “We are arranging bus transportation. We work with the audio-visual company at the hotel. We do the marketing. We have a graphic designer and a web mistress on staff. We do the fundraising. We have a person who does sponsor sales and fulfillment. We do program coordination.”
The client develops the program content.
“They do it because we're not subject-matter experts in the field,” Delaney said. “But they would rely on us to help keep the programs organized. We make sure we give them the tools to pull it together. If people submit a workshop application, we'd collect the proposals and give them to the conference holder to read and say yes or no. And then we might help them put them into a schedule. And we work with host committees. And if it's an event going to Oklahoma, there'll be a local team usually there that we'd work with.”
Delaney's team also handles the financial side of the conference for her clients.
“We're the fiscal agent for a lot of our clients, and we're with them through the whole planning process,” Delaney said.
The bottom line is that conventions and conferences are money-makers.
“Our clients are nonprofits, and we have to make money for them,” Delaney said. “That's a business in and of itself. They've got an income and expenses, and we have to manage that. In the end, I have one client that wants me to make $300,000 for them. And one that wants me to make $200,000.”
Part of this income comes from registrations; another comes from sponsors.
“In most cases, we have a list of sponsors,” Delaney said. “Because we have annual events, we've got existing lists. This particular one that's coming up, the Fish and Wildlife convention, it's relatively easy to raise money for them because people want that audience. They want state agency directors who spend money and have influence. So it's not that hard. Some are harder than others.”
Conferences are planned far ahead.
“So if it's an event for 2024, we might find the hotel now, and then not pick it up again till 2023,” Delaney said.
Although Delaney began her business within Vermont, her clients come from all over the country now.
“I would say at this point, we still have a handful left in Vermont,” Delaney said. “We love the Vermont clients. A lot of our clients are in the conservation world, but we have other industries as well. And it's all been word-of-mouth. So if we do a good job, we're likely to perpetuate that relationship for years. And that is the whole point for us, really.”
Delaney was born in Pittsburgh and raised in South New Jersey. Her mother was a Montessori kindergarten teacher, and her father was in sales.
“He was also a stockbroker at one point,” she said. “So various jobs. But most of the end of his career, he was in sales for a large Canadian paper company.”
She has one older brother, now a radiologist, and two stepsisters and a stepbrother. She is close to all of them.
Her mother died of cancer when she was 11.
“My father, during my formative years, was raising us alone with my grandmother at times,” Delaney said. “And I've held a job since I was 13 years old. I mean, I cleaned houses, I babysat. We didn't have a lot of money. We had family who had access to things that were nice, but neither my parents came from money. So I had a very strong work ethic from the beginning. My brother was the same way.”
As she grew older, Delaney took on jobs that demanded more responsibility.
“I was a swim instructor and a lifeguard,” she said. “I was a hostess and a bus girl in a restaurant. When I was in college, I was an assistant to one of my professors, doing some construction on this house one summer. I did some marketing for a restaurant one summer. So it was a variety of things. And I worked through the school year, even though I always had a full load of classes, and usually a sport. In high school I had a job on the weekends or whenever I could.”
Delaney learned early to be independent.
“I had to,” she said. “When, as a young girl, you don't have a mother, you sort of have to learn how to take care of things. So it served me well. And I think the importance of family is huge. That's why I'm so close to my steps, because they've been in my family longer than my mother. They've been in my life for 45 or 50 years. So I would say that family values and a strong work ethic are what I got from my early years.”
After high school Delaney went to Skidmore College, but she took a break her junior year to go to the University of Vermont. And between her junior and senior year she spent a month at the Cornell School of Hotel Management.
“I was trying to get things on my resume, since Skidmore didn't have a hotel program,” Delaney said. “I knew I wanted to go into hotels and resorts and I needed something besides a few internships. So I went there and it was a great experience. I was the only undergrad. Everybody was a professional. So I learned a lot.”
She decided to work in the hotel industry because of an early love of travel.
“So I thought that would be a good way to keep doing that,” she said. “When I was at UVM, I took a course on resort marketing. I was already going down that path when I took that class, but it sealed the deal. I just knew I wanted to be in the tourism and hospitality industry. My stepsister, who was a year older, had gone down that road, and it was just something interesting.
She graduated from Skidmore with a degree in business administration.
“I knew I was gonna have to pay off my student loans, so business seemed like the prudent choice,” she said. “I liked it, but I didn't love it.”
Because of that, Delaney took a minor in studio art and gave her creativity some room to grow.
“It allowed me the freedom that I didn't really have in business,” she said. “Business is more black and white in the classroom. Art gave me the freedom to explore creativity. It was a great combination, because those creative skills have served me well in business as well.”
It was photography that turned her on the most.
“I tried everything, but photography more than anything,” she said. And that's still an interest today.”
Back To Vermont
After graduation from Skidmore, Delaney returned to southern New Jersey and took a job doing marketing and sales for a restaurant.
“And then I just didn't want to live at home anymore,” she said. “Not after four years away at college. So I went to New York and started looking for jobs. I would go up for the day and knock on doors. I ended up getting a job with the Omni Park Central Hotel. And that was my first job in hospitality.”
The Park Central was an upscale hotel right off Central Park.
“It was a great learning experience,” Delaney said. “But I didn't love New York. New York in the mid '80s was not fun. It was expensive. It was not safe. And so after six months I realized my lifestyle wouldn't allow for that kind of life. So I applied for jobs in Vermont. I had four interviews and got two offers.”
Delaney took a job at the Smugglers' Notch Resort, first selling bus tours and then conferences.
“The conferences were in their offseason: spring, summer, fall. Not winter,” she said. “So all winter, I would do the marketing and sort of get myself prepared for the summer. And then the summer was just servicing the groups when they came. So it was fun.”
She spent the next 11 years learning the hospitality industry from the inside.
“I ended up meeting my ex-husband there,” she said. ”And so I stayed at Smugglers’ for seven years, and then went to the Sheraton in Burlington for four years.”
Out On Her Own
In 1997, Delaney decided to form her own company. The first six months were rough.
“I interned, so I got paid,” she said. “It was with the University of Vermont's Continuing Medical Education. They put on conferences for physicians. I learned a lot from them. And I sold sunrooms for Otter Creek Awnings for three or four months, just to make money because we couldn't take a step back financially. So I learned for three or four months what I needed to know that I didn't know already. And then I started to get clients.”
By the end of her first year, Delaney was earning what she would have been earning if she had stayed at the Sheraton.
“And it just grew from there,” she said. “We don't have any clients from that initial year, but we had one of them until last year.”
Learning while you go comes naturally to Delaney.
“It's funny, but every time we try something, and it doesn't work, we try to learn as a team from that,” she said. “But there have been times when I've trusted someone — kind of a leap of faith on an event that maybe never happened before. And we're going to do our best to make it successful and, in the end, the client stiffed us.”
Experiences like these have taught Delaney to write fuller and more detailed contracts.
“We now have a contract with a payment schedule,” she said. “We're starting to get money upfront, if we need it. We get paid right away. We don't wait until they make money anymore. That was a hard lesson that broke our trust. We're a little more cautious, I think, with contracts if people don't pay us on time, I usually go in and talk to the client, versus one of my staff, because I think we need to know how serious it is.”
Some clients ignore invoices.
“It's hard to manage a business when you don't have the cash coming in,” Delaney said. “So that was a hard business lesson.”
Sometimes the hotel lets you down.
“You think it's gonna work out and it doesn't,” she said. “Either they don't have enough staff, or the food's terrible. You try everything you can, upfront, to make sure that it's going to be okay, but you just never know. So we now have the right, if a hotel changes brand, to get out of the contract completely if we don't feel that they're going to maintain a level of quality. So yeah, those are the kinds of things you'll learn along the way. All of our contract clauses with hotels came from being burned at some point. Twenty-five years is a long time to not have any mistakes that you don't learn from, you know.”
It wasn't always smooth sailing with the events, either.
“A few years ago I managed a conference of 450 people at Snowbird, Utah, in April,” Delaney said. “The day before the meeting, I went for a run in 70 degree weather. The next morning, the hotel was on lockdown and I could hear loud booms in the distance. We had gotten three feet of snow overnight, and there was avalanche danger. The booms were the charges setting off controlled avalanches. About a third of the attendees were not able to get to the meetings until mid-day.”
Another year she put on a meeting in San Antonio where the entertainment was to be the nightly emergence of over one million Mexican Free Tailed Bats from Bracken Cave.
“The host wanted to take the VIPs on a dinner field trip to see the bats,” she said. “It sounds super cool until you have a dinner event near the cave and have to smell bat guano throughout the meal. Many of the attendees were biologists, so they were unfazed. But I had a moment of panic.”
One time, at a retreat, a group of senior-level fish and wildlife leaders decided to take a fly fishing trip.
“One of the guys hooked one of the women in the nose while he was casting,” Delaney said. “We had to perform an extraction very carefully. Another time at a reception where we were featuring kids doing archery, one of the VIP’s had had a few drinks, and was using a bow and arrow. He took off the top part of his right index finger using the bow. That required a quick trip to the ER. They were able to reattach it! I instituted waivers for all recreational activities after these two events.”
When the pandemic seemed to abate this past summer, Delaney and her staff switched to hybrid events. While most of the conferences occur online, some people also fly in for group meetings and events.
“We think that's going to happen for a while,” Delaney said. “What we've learned from going to virtual is that our attendance at a lot of events doubled in size. So from 600 to 1,200 people, because all of a sudden, there was no barrier to getting approval for travel. So a lot more people can go. And there's been a lot more exposure to the organizations that are putting on the meetings. So now we've got all these new people that are interested in us.”
How does she plan to retain their interest?
“Eventually, they'll become in-person attendees,” Delaney said. “I think that's our challenge. Another challenge is keeping profitable in this interim stage. How do we make sure we're charging enough so we're keeping our costs down, but still delivering a good experience virtually and in-person? That's the crystal ball question. But I think we're going to be in a hybrid situation for the next five years. More will go back in person, but they'll be a hybrid in a lot of cases, just because it opens the door to so many more attendees.”
Many of Delaney's clients postponed their conferences. If the pandemic really comes under control, from 2022 to 2024 will be really busy for her company.
“It's been hard booking further out at this point,” Delaney said. “Say '22 gets cancelled because of COVID. We need to have a place to move it to because we've already got a contract with a hotel. So we haven't been going too far out with anybody because we just don't know where we're going to go with COVID. Most of the events that were canceled in 2020 and 2021 were just moved out.”
While I was writing this story, Delaney was preparing for the big annual meeting of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in mid-September, to be held in Providence, R.I.
Delaney has been working with the association for many years. She met its executive director, Vermonter Ron Regan, when he became the director of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department in 1999, under Gov. Howard Dean.
“We were actually hosting a major national meeting that year, and my predecessor had had the good wisdom or foresight to hire Cindy to manage the meeting,” Regan told me. “So I stepped into my new job, met Cindy, and have known her and worked with her since 1999. And in fact, she continues to manage that same meeting, which is the annual meeting of my organization. So yes, we go way back.”
The national offices of his association are in Washington, D.C, but members come to the conferences from all 50 states plus a few Canadian provinces, federal agencies and conservation nonprofits.
“They all attend the meeting,” Delaney said. “So they come from all over the country, wherever we are. This time, we'll be in Providence, R.I. So the first three days next week will be all virtual. There will be 60 committee meetings, all virtual. And then over the weekend, 75 people will travel to Providence and be in person through Tuesday, and it will all be broadcast to everybody who's still on the virtual platform. So it's a real hybrid event.”
Delaney and her team run the logistics and flow of the meetings, Regan said.
“Obviously, I have a team and a staff, but Cindy's on point for securing the location and venue — usually three to four years out for the meeting,” Regan said. “She's on point for negotiating the contract. She takes care of all the meeting space requirements, the special meals, the associated events which might include field trips, or special trips for spouses and guests.”
The technology for setting up a hybrid meeting is complex.
“Cindy is involved with the technology side, especially in this hybrid world,” Regan said. “She manages the registration process. She helps maintain the website for the annual meeting. The list goes on and on. She is very much a detail person. She wants to get things right. And she really is motivated by trying to ensure the best possible meeting for her client. So even in this virtual world, and virtual-hybrid world, where we're test driving new things, some of which we've never done before, her filter is to try and do it in a way that it's still going to provide a great and positive experience. Whether you're at the meeting in person or not.”
Because Delaney has done such a good job for his organization, other clients have sought her out, Regan said.
“She was subsequently hired by the Wildlife Management Institute to do their big national meeting, which is called the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference,” Regan said. “And my organization shows up in force for that major national meeting. And then there are four regional associations of fish and wildlife agencies not owned or managed by my group. They're independent. But they have all hired Cindy to put on their meetings. She has developed, I think, quite a niche in the conservation space, at least with regard to how fish and wildlife agencies play in it. That's because people saw her doing a good job.”
Delaney's people skills are “second to none,” Regan said.
“She's very direct if you need to say something negative to somebody, which isn't that often,” Regan said. “But she's very good at working with people. She knows how to make it all come together and work well. “
By the time I was nearing deadline with this story, the conference was over. It went well, Delaney thought.
“The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Annual Meeting had 925 people virtually and 75 in person in Providence,” she told me. “The high points were the success of the in-person event as a hybrid model. The technology was seamless and people were very impressed that we pulled it off. Also, having people meeting in person was such a joy to watch. Many of them have been friends and colleagues for a long time and hadn’t see each other in 18 months. Overall, I was satisfied.”
Agritourism In Vermont
UVM's Chase works with Delaney, who is on the board of the Vermont Convention Bureau, on the yearly Vermont Tourism Summit, the annual conference for Vermont's important tourism industry.
“When I started working for UVM, almost 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was go to that conference and get involved with the planning and being on the board of the conference,” Chase said. “And that was how I met Cindy because she was managing that conference along with many other projects that she does.”
Chase is currently planning an international agribusiness conference for Vermont that keeps getting postponed; it is currently scheduled for August of 2022.
“And I'm working with Cindy's team to plan that conference because she has just such an incredible team and so much knowledge and experience with events. When we were first planning it, for October of 2020, we anticipated having around 500 people from about 40 countries come to Vermont. Of course, the pandemic has changed things. We've been hosting virtual events in the meantime, which has really grown our net worth and our reach. However, we're uncertain about exactly what an in-person conference or a hybrid conference will look like in August of 2022.”
Chase is responsible for the conference coming to Vermont. It's booked for the Hilton Hotel on Battery Street in Burlington, and will give a big boost to the local economy.
“It's a follow up to the First World Congress on Agritourism, which was held in Italy in 2018,” Chase told me. “And my supervisor at UVM at the time, said, 'Go to Italy and tell them what we've been doing with agritourism here in Vermont, and bring the next conference back to Vermont.' So I went with that goal in mind. And I have to say the Italians were very surprised by the idea that the International Agritourism Conference might not always take place in Italy.”
Chase and her team won with the argument by pointing out that there were only five people from the U.S. at the first conference.
“We were saying there are a lot of people in the U.S. working with agritourism,” Chase said. “We told them, 'If you move this conference around occasionally, it will grow this network.' So the idea was 2018 in Italy, 2020 in Vermont, 2022 back in Italy. India was also very interested in hosting that conference. We were bidding against India. So every other conference would be in Italy, and then it will move. But, of course, the pandemic has thrown everything up into the air.”
Vermont Tourism In A Pandemic
Vermont's tourism industry is not dependent on business travel, but it, too, was hit hard by COVID. According to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in 2019, Vermont garnered $373,000,000 in tax revenue from tourism activity and generated 31,336 jobs. After COVID the numbers dramatically dropped.
“The pandemic has hit the tourism industry probably harder than just about any other industry,” Chase said. “And it's especially problematic for long-distance travel.”
Vermont was one of the most careful states, certainly, during the past year and a half. It became the safest state.
This past summer, when Vermonters were mostly vaccinated, there was a brief window of opportunity for travel and tourism.
“I think everybody finally felt like they could breathe and relax and travel for the first time in a long time,” Chase said. “And Vermont became, once again a very popular place to go in part because we are so safe. Plus, there are a lot of outdoor spaces, experiences on farms, things you can do where there's very little COVID. We're seeing a lot of visitations from the drive markets like New York and Boston, and that has really helped Vermont during the evolving pandemic. It will be interesting to see what the fall and winter will be like. I think Delta is making some changes in travel plans, which are certainly related to indoor gatherings. But I will say that all along Vermont, the travel industry has been very proactive in terms of making sure that they've got safe ways for people to be out there enjoying winter.”
Photo: Cindy Delaney, founder of Delaney Meeting & Event Management.
Delaney was an adjunct professor at Champlain College in 1999-2000, and has been a guest speaker for many years in their event management classes.
She has served on many Vermont boards, but has mostly dropped them to focus on her business. She currently sits on only one, the Vermont Convention Bureau.
“It's been a tough year and I need to focus on the business,” she said. “Board service requires a lot of energy, and as you get older, with the stress level, I just can't be spread too thin with boards. But I've always been on a couple at a time, mostly because they wanted my event experience. And they've been valuable. I've met a lot of people. I still am in touch with a bunch of them who might need something here and there. I encourage my staff to be on boards. If the Convention Bureau is mostly made up of hotel salespeople, I'm their customer. When I go to another city, I use a convention bureau. So I'm a good person to have listening in on how they're looking for business.”
Delaney has also been a long-time organizer of the Stowe Weekend of Hope, an annual retreat weekend for cancer survivors and their caretakers.
“I wouldn’t say I have an interest in cancer research, but my mother died at 43 of cancer and I have had many friends touched by cancer,” Delaney said. “My interest is in making their cancer journey a little easier if I can, personally and professionally.”
The town of Stowe generously supports the weekend, she said.
“Stowe lodging properties give us free rooms for first-time attendees,” she said. “Restaurants and shops give back a portion of their profits that weekend. It’s held the first weekend in May, and pre-COVID, it attracted 800-to-1,000 people. We are part of the coordination team. They also have a local coordinator and lots of volunteers.”
Besides working on the hybrid fish and wildlife conference, as I was writing this story Delaney was also negotiating contracts for five new pieces of business.
“I'm either in the process of giving them a proposal, putting it into a contract, or waiting for an answer,” she said. “So there's a lot of demand. We just hired someone based on that demand. You know, we decided it was time to add one more person because there's been so many new pieces of business out there. Some are simple, little one-day Zoom meetings, but they want to pay us to do that. So I'm feeling very hopeful at this point, much better than I did a year ago.”
Event planning offers Delaney social rewards.
“I wouldn't still be doing it for 25 years if it wasn't fun,” she said. “And I made some great friends along the way. My clients are very good friends. I hang out with them when I'm at the events. And to some extent, we stay in touch in between events. I know their spouses and their children, so it's much better than just a transactional relationship.”
Delaney is thinking about retiring when she reaches 65.
“So whether I sell my business to the employees or to a competitor or merge with someone, I'd like to see it keep going,” she said. “It's a nice place to work and we have a lot of clients that rely on us. So I'm trying to take the time, over the next few years, to line that up.”
After she retires, Delaney thinks she might run a nonprofit.
“I have that skill set,” she said. “Meeting planning is all those things. I think for the right cause, the right fit, it would be worth doing. But who knows? I may say I'm 65 and I'm done. I may work in a country club so I can play golf for free. I like to be outside. I want to spend more time riding my bike and skiing in the winter and hiking, go golfing, kayaking, whatever. So whatever that is and whether I make money out of it or not, you know, we'll see. I've got seven years to figure it out.”
Delaney has found one bright side to the pandemic: since she isn't traveling all the time, she's finally able to own a pet.
“Milo is a rescue from Mississippi and he is part spaniel, part retriever, and a very good boy most of the time,” Delaney said. “I adopted him in May 2020 because I knew I would be grounded for a while and could train him properly. He's my silver lining from COVID, for sure!”
Joyce Marcel is a journalist in southern Vermont. In 2017 she was named the best business magazine profile writer in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publications. She is married to Randy Holhut, the news editor/acting operations manager of The Commons, a weekly newspaper in Brattleboro.