June Picken is Director of Sales at Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire and is passionate about the events industry and building solid relationships with clients. She is a force to be reckoned with in the industry and last year received the prestigious Winner of the Woman Who...Excels in Business Award. We decided to ask a few questions about her experience and here's what she had to say to us:
1. Tell us about your background in the events industry?
I've been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years, most of my working life. I attended Henley College in Coventry and carried out my work placement at The Crest Hotel, Coventry (now Holiday Inn M6 J2) and was offered a position as junior receptionist after the completion of my course. I accepted the job and worked my way through the ranks on reception up to shift-leader then moved into the reservations manager position. Staying with Crest but at a smaller hotel, I moved into Conference Co-ordination and then moved into my first sales role as Accommodation Sales Manager with De Vere Hotels in 1991. I worked in numerous roles over my 11 years with De Vere including property Sales Manager, Regional Sales Manager and as National Sales Manager covering the Premier Lodge, Village and De Vere brands. In 2002, I moved to Warwick Conferences to set up their proactive arm and worked Nationally as Client Relationship Manager for just over 10 years. I joined Coombe Abbey Hotel as Director of Sales in 2012 and recently completed 5 years' service.
2. Last year you received the Winner of the Woman Who... Excels in Business award, is this one of your career highlights?
During my time at Warwick Conferences and Coombe Abbey the venues I represented had won a number of different awards. The Woman Who Excels in Business Award is the first personal award that I've won. Winning the award was very rewarding as I was nominated by 8 different people and even to be recognised in this way was fantastic. The judging process was quite tough and had to sit through a panel interview, I was delighted to be announced as the winner as it was unexpected and a great achievement. I'm grateful to have made finalist at the Woman Who awards again this year, it would be the icing on the cake to take the trophy home for 2 years in a row! Watch this space!
3. Given all your experience in the field, how has the industry evolved?
Not wanting to show my age - when I started out in my career everything was done manually. There was no computer system so all reservations, bookings, billing was done on a manual handwritten system. No direct dial telephone systems or mobile phone calls were made through a switchboard system and connected via a switchboard operator. No emails so it meant bookings were confirmed by letter or telex! Function sheets were produced manually with a typewriter. CRM system was a box card system. No sat-navs for field sales employees and they got to appointments using A - Z maps and were not contactable when out of the office. Reading this back it's so hard to believe that we were able to operate knowing how much we rely on our technology and are contactable now 24/7.
4. What trends do you see emerging in the corporate hospitality sector?
Businesses are shifting towards very short-lead times and organisers are more reluctant to commit to signing their contracts. Organisers are looking for the wow factor and want something different for each event, often events rarely return to the same venue twice.
5. What is unique about Coombe Abbey as a venue for corporate events?
Coombe Abbey was originally a Cistercian Abbey dating back to the 12th Century and is steeped in history. The location is Midlands centralised with great access from the motorway network, by train and air with Birmingham International Airport within a 20-minute drive. The hotel is set within 500 acres of stunning parkland with fantastic space for team-building activities and outdoor events. The approach is via a half mile long drive with a moat surrounding the building so it certainly has the WOW factor even prior to entering. Once inside the hotel is medieval themed with candlelit corridors, confessional boxes and even a pulpit in the reception area. The meeting spaces are traditionally designed in keeping with the building however they offer all the modern AV equipment and wi-fi as expected by today's business guest. All 119 bedrooms are individually designed with quirky features and no two rooms the same. We also offer medieval banquets and offer a themed experience rather than just a formal dinner. These take place in the setting of the Abbeygate which is our Baronial Hall making the event very authentic to the time-period. The hotel was delighted to receive the Gold Award for Best Unusual venue at the National M&IT awards in March 2017.
6. What is your favourite team building event?
Cocktail making masterclass - this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me!
7. What is your most favourite place in the world to visit and why?
My best friend has lived in Dubai for over 10 years and I've visited her on a number of occasions. She is in the hospitality industry and she's introduced me to some amazing experiences and places. Not only do I have a great time, I get to spend time with one of my favourite people too.
June is certainly passionate about delivering the best to the industry at Coombe Abbey Hotel and with her award success we're excited to see what she'll accomplish this year.