The Big Interview: HBAA chair Louise Goalen

Louise Goalen is the current chair of industry association The HBAA, and has unique experience of working both on the venue side and in key agency roles. After many years with Ashfield Meetings & Events, Louise has recently joined growing agency Top Banana as head of venues.

Where were you brought up?

I was fortunate to be brought up in South America, living in Santiago, Chile and then in Sao Paulo, Brazil, until I was 18.

Your events career started on the venue side, at St Ermin’s Hotel in London. Had you always intended to go into events/hospitality?

Growing up, I was lucky to experience some great hotels all over the world. I remember being fascinated by the variation of people and service at these venues. The service levels in the UK never matched up to the high levels we experienced in South America. 

At 16 I was determined to work in the hospitality industry and studied at Westminster College in Vincent Square. I came out with an HND in Hotel Management and Industrial Catering and went straight into my first full time role at the Stakis St Ermins.

How did the move to the agency side come about?

I was working at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate and Peter McIntyre was my GM. He left to set up Procon Conferences and after three years asked me to join the agency which I did – and never looked back.

When did the move to Ashfield occur and what were your highlights of working there?

Ashfield Meetings & Events is the combination of three agencies that were bought by UDG; Procon Conferences, Universal CIT and WorldEvents.

I was one of the people who stayed throughout the whole journey and eventually relocated to its new home in Ashby de la Zouch. Procon Conferences was the first and smallest agency that was bought and one of the highlights was to be part of the team that brought all three very different businesses together to form one of the largest global meeting and events agencies today.

What were the biggest challenges of your agency career?

It was being part of the team that brought the three different agencies together and aligned all the services. All had different specialisms, systems and processes. All were privately owned and being absorbed into a Plc is challenging – it was a very interesting journey and one I was proud to be a part of.

Our industry has a proliferation of associations, so how did you come to get involved in the HBAA and what sets it apart from the others?

Part of my role at Ashfield was supplier management and, as the HBAA is the only association that speaks for the agency world working in partnership with the venues, it was a perfect fit.

I have been on the HBAA Executive Committee for five years and working with the other association volunteers is very fulfilling. Sharing industry best practice for the benefit of our clients is what we are all about.

Which HBAA projects are you keen to push to the fore and what are your priorities in the chair for 2017?

2017 is not only the HBAA’s 20th anniversary, it is Year 2 of the HBAA’s five-year strategy and our theme this year is Moving Forward.

My first objective is the revision of our Code of Practice to ensure it is kept relevant and up to date with our industry and more importantly with our membership.

I am also keen to collaborate with other industry associations to leverage our synergies to benefit our memberships.

We are also going to refresh our training and development and tailor this to our members’ different needs; and gain more traction for the benchmarking tool that we launched in the last quarter of 2016.

What do you think are the issues exercising members’ thoughts most at the moment?

The potential erosion of the commission base model that our members work with; the political and economic uncertainty; and event safety and security and data protection – we need to support our members as changes in legislation come into force in 2017.

What would you consider to be a successful year as chair of HBAA?

To have generated greater membership engagement and successfully raised funds for our charity – Beyond Food.

Do we have too many industry associations?

Our industry has many specialisations and different associations support these. If members feel they add commercial value to them then they are relevant and have a place in the industry association landscape.

Collaboration is key to forming a united voice to ensure we gain traction with our government.

What are the three biggest challenges to the meetings and events industry in the UK today?

The political and economic uncertainty is a big challenge to everyone. With Brexit looming over us there is great concern in the industry about the gap that is going to be created in the labour market. We need to plan for this, ensuring the levels of professionalism and service do not drop. Investment in training and development is key.

Advice to pass on to anyone starting out in the industry today?

The best traits of successful people in our industry are their passion and vocation. If you haven’t got passion and stamina you are probably in the wrong industry.

What changes in the law would benefit our industry?

We would welcome a reduction of VAT on hotel rooms as we have one of the highest tax rates in Europe. This would encourage business from outside the UK as well as keeping some of our events at home.

How do you spend your free time?

I like to crochet – this channels my creative mind in a very relaxing way.

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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