Meet Ashley Dukat
Ashley was born for the hospitality industry. As a teenager she knew exactly what she wanted for her career, and enrolled in the College of Hospitality & Tourism at Niagara University. 12 years later she would go on to gain invaluable experience in luxury and convention hotel sales and operations, and finally planting her roots in global event planning, masterfully designing and overseeing meetings, incentive trips, and conferences. With the world at her fingertips, Ashley decided to challenge herself further, launching Buffalo NY’s very first and only Destination Management Company. She spends her time attending webinars, virtual conferences, teaching at Niagara University, event planning as an independent contractor, and running events and data analysis for LatinPlus DMC Group. Having two small children at home, Ashley is the definition and WonderWoman (or at least she tries to be).
How did you end up in the MICE industry?
When I first graduated college I had no idea what this meant. I was clueless to the notion that I could still stay true to my passion and work for a tech company, bank, health services, etc. As I made my way through a few different work experiences, I took the transferable skills from one position that would ultimately lead me to the next one, where I learned a little more. I finally made the transition from "supplier" to "buyer" when a meeting planner position became available with a local bank, with which I had a wonderful relationship with the current coordinators. I was easily able to flip sides and leverage my industry relationships and apply my hotel knowledge to corporate event planning. Once I got a taste of travel and the more tedious details of the planning process, I expanded into a position that offered international incentives, high end meetings, and large conventions.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
It wasn't easy and took a lot of planning. After working with DMCs on a global level, every time I would come home to Buffalo I would wonder to myself, "why is there nothing like this here?". It didn't make sense; Buffalo is bursting with incredible culture, food, and experiences (to name a few), but we didn't have a company that offered full services to groups coming in. So, I fully analyzed the market, considered my relationships with local suppliers, and jumped. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I learned how to build my own website, open a business bank account, set up merchant services, got a lawyer and an accountant and went to town.
How did you overcome the challenges of being a younger "titan" within the industry?
Oh boy. I'm still overcoming this on a weekly basis. Let's just say I got scolded last week for being in the faculty office at the University I teach at because "students aren't allowed". It took a bit of convincing to show the admin I was actually faculty! There have been plenty of times when I questioned myself: for example, when managing a 300 pax restaurant on a busy Saturday night and you have a guest that immediately says upon seeing you, "great, a 12 year old manager". BUT, I just used this as fuel to keep me going. I realize my ambitions can be too much sometimes. So, I try to take a step back and ask myself, "can I handle this commitment? What will I gain/lose from this?". If that conversation I have with myself is a positive one, I let my confidence be my guide, knowing that I will own whatever the outcome.
What do you love about working with Latin American DMCs?
I could write a novel on this question. First off, the culture. The events I assist LatinPlus with are always filled with so much passion, energy, color, and music. I'm constantly chair dancing at my desk! I manage the data and run the registration, but I learn so, so much about the incredible destinations. Not to mention, my colleagues are so warm and friendly, and always willing not to laugh when I practice my spanglish with them.
How did you change or adapt in 2020?
This is a really reflective question for me. I left a job that I LOVED to open my own business in February of 2020, while 3 months pregnant. Great timing, right? I had a lot of momentum the first few weeks and then, boom, silence. COVID shut the world down. I travelled a lot with my last position, so I took the first half of 2020 to spend with my daughter, and prepare for the birth of my son in July. I needed that time to calm my soul and spend exclusive time with my family. As the light started to appear at the end of the tunnel, I started the grind once more, marketing my business on social media, attending all kinds of virtual industry events, polishing up my partnerships, and working along with LatinPlus DMC Group.
What do you do to relax?
I cook! I love to plan a menu with multiple courses, go shopping for the best ingredients, and chop/slice/sautee/season for hours.
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