I have been passionate about hotels since I was eight years old. With my dad being a legend in the hospitality industry, I strived to follow in his footsteps while watching his career take him to Egypt, Mexico, China and more. When it came time for me to choose my major at Florida State University nearly a decade ago, hospitality was the obvious choice. I did everything I was supposed to do. Got an internship, excelled in my courses and landed my dream job in the management trainee program with Fairmont Hotels. The thought of Canada had not really crossed my mind and I had my sights set on pursuing this program at The Savoy Hotel in London, England. However, the universe had a different plan for me that involved a country that was certainly closer but not familiar. Just a few weeks before graduation I received a call from the Regional Director of Human Resources at the one and only Fairmont Royal York that would forever change my life.
Fast forward to just one month later, I found myself living in Toronto trying to navigate the beast that is Fairmont Royal York. With over 1300 guestrooms, 30 meeting spaces and an average of over a thousand guests on any given day, this was no longer my internship. To put it lightly, I was DROWNING. My plan was to leave Toronto after this 18-month program and I would even spend my nights making Pinterest boards for all of the cities I would go to next. Yet again, the universe had a different plan for me. After a 14-month stint in the housekeeping department (which by the way is one of the most grueling departments in any hotel. Next time you are at a hotel, take the time to say thank you.), I was asked to help out the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for the final months of my program.
My first thought? WOW. I can work Monday-Friday now! My next thought? I am not sure what the Marketing team does exactly but…it seems fun. I had very minimal experience in marketing and public relations but I just knew, THIS is something I wanted to be a part of. Finally, my future plans aligned with the universe’s plans. As my program came to an end, the PR Coordinator role opened up. With no formal experience or schooling, the Regional Director and Marketing Manager saw something in me and took a chance.
When I officially started this role, it all started to make sense. I found my stride and excelled. This was no longer the 22-year-old Megan management trainee. After two wonderful years of growing, I saw an opportunity to create an entirely separate role for social media. As the hotel approached the completion of the largest renovation in its 90 years, the Regional Director took a chance on me again and created this role for me. I was on a HIGH from January 2019-March 2020 and on track to take on new opportunities globally with the company.
Again, we plan and the universe laughs. On March 16, 2020 I watched the hotel go from buzzing with hundreds of guests to…deserted. This was one of the most heartbreaking things I had experienced. The hotel that had given me so much and guided me to finding my passion was going through immense struggles right before my eyes. I was one of the lucky ones that was able to keep working and I had to keep moving.
22-year-old management trainee Megan was now overseeing nearly all aspects of the Marketing and PR team. I worked nonstop in my new role as the Media, Marketing and Partnerships Manager. Despite being so grateful for keeping my role, I felt my time was coming to an end (or a pause). Through connections I had gained at the hotel, small businesses were struggling and started reaching out to me to do consulting.
I had never considered myself an entrepreneur but seeds were being planted and I had a few very talented people who really believed in me. One year after this fateful day of the pandemic ravaging the hospitality industry, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I ended my longest relationship with my one true love, Fairmont Royal York and gave my notice.
My agency, Visualize Dream Bigger (VDB Communications) was built upon the belief that no dream is too big and no setback is too large. I am now able to take my experiences in social media, media relations and partnerships to a whole new level where I was driving the (pink) car. My experiences at Fairmont Royal York, growing up in hotels, my dad and a small circle of entrepreneurs (who I am more than grateful for) are the reasons why my agency has been able to bloom during this pandemic.
Do I miss hotels? Yes, every day. But the confidence I have gained through owning my own business and now expanding my experiences to many different industries has been the most transformative and rewarding experience of my life. This past year has been challenging on EVERYONE. The sleepless nights and the moments I feel like I am an entrepreneur fraud have made me so much stronger than yesterday (I had to do a Britney reference).
So, I want to say thank you to Fairmont Royal York and the people who have believed and supported VDB in this process. You all gave me the experiences, confidence and relationship building opportunities to not be afraid to always Visualize and Dream Bigger. Beauty can come out of difficult times and I am so proud that I took a chance on ME.
Written By: Megan Van Der Baars