Name: Heather Larson
Title: Director of Sales
Organization: Meet Chicago Northwest
Location: Schaumburg, Illinois
Birthplace: Neenah, Wisconsin
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin
Career History: Worked in sales at several downtown Chicago hotels, including the White Hall Hotel Chicago, the Drake Hotel Chicago and the Fairmont Chicago, and was manager of global accounts with HelmsBriscoe before joining Meet Chicago Northwest in 2010, where she has been sales director since 2014.
Heather Larson’s first job out of college was working for a corporate real estate agency that required her to cold-call businesses in person asking them about their real estate needs. While many people would find this daunting, Larson enjoyed the challenge; in her early years, she was always the top seller in her Girl Scout troop’s annual cookie sales.
“I was a scout for 12 years, so going door to door and hearing ‘no’ didn’t really bother me,” said Larson, who is now director of sales at Meet Chicago Northwest. “It’s not a skill everybody has; it’s a drive that is part of my personality to find that type of thing fun.”
It was on her calls to businesses that she fell in love with Chicago’s historic hotels, whose lobbies she would use to take breaks and gather her notes. “I just love the environment of the hotel lobbies,” she said. “There are so many grand hotels in the city of Chicago.”
When a sales position became available at the celebrated Bismarck Hotel, Larson applied and got the job, getting her foot in the door to learn the business. Over the next decade, Larson worked at the Whitehall, Drake and Fairmont hotels, where she not only became an expert saleswoman, but also hosted guests from Princess Diana to Tony Bennett, something she says has been a highlight of her career.
Making the move to Chicago’s northwest suburb of Schaumburg in 2010, Larson implemented marketing strategies for national corporate groups; group tour markets; and Illinois state associations, representing more than 60 hotels in eight suburbs, plus the convention center and local restaurants and attractions.
“We have a lot of meetings, conventions, amateur sports, reunions and adult education,” she said. “Our goal is to look for groups, companies and associations that really don’t need to be in Schaumburg, Illinois, or who maybe have never even heard of it and introduce them to why they should have their program here.”
Larson and her team create customized itineraries for groups, providing them with options for dining, outdoor activities and more. “We have lots of great attractions in the area that groups can take advantage of,” said Larson. “We publish a visitor guide, and our website is always being updated, especially right now during COVID. We have a special landing page that outlines which restaurants are open offering curbside pickup or takeout or have outside dining.”
For those interested in pursuing a career in hospitality, Larson has nothing but positive things to say about the industry, noting that it’s one of the few businesses that give people the opportunity to work their way up through the ranks from an entry-level position.
“There’s really no business like it,” she said. “It’s a lot of great people coming together who enjoy being with other people and whose main goal is bringing people together. What hospitality does is take care of them while they’re here, meeting their needs and anticipating their expectations before they even know what they need and really taking care of people in that way.”
Tips from Heather Larson
• Most CVBs will be more than happy to help you create an RFP for your meeting or event.
• The CVB can create a competitive analysis of hotel, restaurant and attraction options and assist with land transportation coordination.
• CVBs save the planners time and energy as one-stop shops for all their event needs.