Meet Aileen Laracuente
Aileen was born and raised in Puerto Rico where she fell in love with the hospitality and tourism industry while managing a beachfront Bed and Breakfast in the west side of the Island in the town of Rincon. Although she already held a BBA with a major in Marketing from the University of Puerto Rico, a promised she made to her father and her passion for the industry drove her to pursue graduate studies in hospitality in Miami. She holds a Master’s in Hospitality and Food Service Management from Florida International University, is a Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS). She is a passionate and experienced hospitality and destination selling professional with skills in business development and account management.
During her time in Miami she worked for Hyatt, Sonesta Hotels, InterContinental and even a local meeting planning companies in operations. Upon graduating, the opportunity to represent her beloved Island of Puerto Rico took her to Chicago to work for Meet Puerto Rico, the Island’s DMO now known as Discover Puerto Rico. Before joining LatinPlus DMC Group she was Business Development Executive for Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For over 20 years, she has been an active member of the Meetings and Incentives association community. Her volunteer experience includes leading various committees for the Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA including Community Services Committee and Education, Golf and Events Committee as well as Board Member for MPICAC and member of Education Committee for SITE Chicago. She has won several awards throughout the years and has being nominated for many others recognizing her contributions to the Chicagoland Meetings Industry.
What did you wanted to be when you were a little girl?
I wanted to be a lawyer, I loved watching them argue cases on tv shows and being an avid negotiator myself from a young age, negotiating curfew, bedtime etc. I thought I would be great at it. That dream ended when I got job at the Bed & Breakfast on the beach and I realized I can get paid to work at the beach! I was hooked on the tourism and hospitality industry and never looked back.
Why did you move to the U.S.?
My Dad did his MBA in the states and experienced firsthand how important it was to be fluent in English. He was determined to make sure my sister and I were fully bilingual, so he made me promise that I would go to graduate school in the U.S. He passed away suddenly a year after I graduated college and a year later, I honored my promise to him when I was awarded a full scholarship to pursue my master’s degree in Hospitality and Food Service Management at Florida International University in Miami.
Tell me about a proud moment in your career?
When I moved to Chicago, I did not know anyone. I immersed myself into work and joined every industry association I could to build my network from the ground up. MPICAC, GMCPCMA, Association Forum and SITE Chicago. I immediately understood that to get the most value I had to be actively involved so I joined committees and became chair when there was an opportunity to lead.
My hard work paid off in spades. By the following year, I had made amazing friendships that I still have many years later and I was awarded the MPICAC President’s Award and Tomorrow’s Leader Award, making a name for myself in the Chicagoland MICE industry.
What is one of your most valuable assets?
My network, both professional and personal. Never underestimate the power of networking is the best advice I ever got from my mentor in Puerto Rico, Rick Hud. He taught me that my network would help me be successful in life and at work. He was right, my network has helped me close business, gain new clients and get me the interviews that got me all the jobs I have had in the last 20 years. It lifted me up when I was down, it taught me valuable lessons in leadership, perseverance, professionalism, and resilience.
Tell me about a woman you admire and why?
The first woman I go to for advice is my mother Isabel. Along with my father, she provided a loving and understanding upbringing where my sister and I could thrive. She showed us the value of hard work, the importance of honoring once commitments and to give back. Growing up, my parents where always involved in charity work, Lions Club, Rotary Club and local non- profits in our hometown of Mayaguez. Since a young age my sister and I would be participating donation drives, visiting senior homes to bring Christmas cheer during the holidays and volunteering at food pantries.
Once I moved to Chicago, I looked for opportunities to volunteer in my neighborhood at Inspiration Corporation whose mission is to help people affected by homelessness and poverty. I also volunteer at the Chicago Food Depository and Sarah’s Circle a day center providing services to homeless women. Being grateful for what you have and giving back was a value instill in me by my mother.
In this time of uncertainty, how do you feel about the future?
I feel optimistic and hopeful about the future. I take with me many lessons from this period. We were given the gift of time to be spend with family since we could not interact with others. It reminds us of the importance of taking care of our bodies to stay as healthy as possible. It reiterated the importance of in person human contact and connection helps so many of us thrive. For that reason, I am certain that the MICE Industry will come back strong as so many of us are eager to travel and reconnect in person with our friends and colleagues. Nothing will replace the feeling you get when you get to hug a friend or that of the firm handshake when meeting a new client. We will come back stronger and better than before taking lessons learned during this time into a brighter future.
Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou that keeps me focused when facing any challenge:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but You can decide not to be reduced by them.”
Contact Aileen at firstname.lastname@example.org