2019 Virginia Meeting Professional of the Year
Diane Malloy, Principal and founder of Convention Connections Inc.
Diane Malloy is known for performing white-glove inspections of VIP suites as late as midnight on the night before her convention clients check into a hotel.
“I may be a little crazy about all of that, but I will know when my client walks in, everything will be spotless,” says Malloy, who started Henrico County-based Convention Connections Inc. in 1994. “There is never going to be a perfect meeting. There is always going to be craziness behind the scenes. Our job is to make sure we take care of the craziness before the client gets there.”
Malloy’s personalized red-carpet service has made her the 2019 Virginia Meetings Professional of the Year. The annual honor is a collaboration between Virginia Business magazine and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association (VRLTA).
Malloy was selected from 16 nominees by a panel of judges from Virginia Business and VRLTA. She will be recognized at the 2019 VA-1 Tourism Summit, which will be held Nov. 17-19 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington.
Coincidentally, Malloy’s company plans the annual tourism summit, which is co-presented by VRLTA, the Virginia Tourism Corp. and the Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organizations. The event attracts about 500 travel and hospitality professionals each fall.
“Diane has a superb customer service philosophy, and she gives it her all,” says Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, who nominated Malloy.
Malloy’s company provides meeting planning services to national associations, corporations and large, international multilevel marketing companies. She and her husband, Marty, a co-owner since 1997, plan about 55 meetings a year. Their projects are chiefly citywide conventions held all over the country, plus Mexico and Canada, that bring in more than 5,000 people per event. One of the company’s larger events is the annual CrimeCon, which attracted 3,500 true-crime enthusiasts from around the world to New Orleans this spring. CrimeCon’s 2019 headliners included television personality Nancy Grace and the hosts of NBC’s “Dateline.”
Often, the Malloys work side by side on these events. “He is really an integral part of our business,” Diane Malloy says of Marty. “I am blessed with him as my husband and my business partner, too.”
Malloy knows what she needs to anticipate at conferences, thanks to her background with Marriott Hotel and Resorts. She began her career in hospitality working in sales for Marriott in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in 1988. “I started doing small meetings and was promoted to sales manager,” she says. “When my husband was transferred to Nashville, I worked at the Marriott there.”
The couple moved to Richmond in 1991, and she became a senior sales manager for Richmond Marriott. “I received great training at Marriott,” she says. “I had to spend at least a week working in every department. Now, when we are doing conventions, we can see both the hotel’s and the client’s side.”
She also is a consummate hospitality professional from the “standpoint of caring for other people,” Marty Malloy says. “That translates well in this industry and this business. She forms strong bonds with clients, but she can also get into the nitty-gritty details of executing conferences.”
Malloy always travels with what she calls her “Mary Poppins” bag, filled with everything she believes a client might need. She put the bag together after one client had her track down a special hairspray, which is now included in the bag whenever Malloy works with that client.
She never wants a client to be surprised or worry over details on the hotel side of a convention. “We are always looking for things to take off their plate, like pre-ordering room service for them,” Malloy says. “I don’t want them to have any stress. I want them to sparkle and shine.”
Berry was touched by Malloy’s creativity when he had to present a speech at the VA-1 Tourism Summit to promote the UCI Road World Championships held in Richmond in 2015. He told Malloy he wanted to ride in on a bike and appear to be fully tattooed, which he isn’t.
“She’s running the convention, and I had these crazy, off-the-wall demands,” Berry recalls. “She found the [fake] tattoos and got a bike from one of the hotel employees’ daughters.”
Malloy has planned the VA-1 summit for the past six years. “Each year we develop a theme and décor that encompasses and promotes each region in our great state,” she says. “We always need to come up with a flair and a twist to wow the attendees, and we love the challenge.” The theme of this year’s summit is “Curate, Connect, Captivate.” Asked how she’ll interpret the theme, Malloy demurs, saying she doesn’t want to spoil the surprise for attendees.
One of Malloy’s main focuses is to build relationships not only with clients but also with the staff at hotels where she plans events. One time, Malloy delivered a birthday cake for a bellman she had worked with on multiple events.
“She doesn’t do it from a business perspective,” Marty Malloy says. “She really cares about people. She’s very customer- and client-focused. She has a spirit to serve.”