Bay Area native Marykay Lui feels she has the best of both worlds in her job as national sales director overseeing the Northern California and Pacific Northwest markets for the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

Marykay Lui is a national sales director for the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau based in San Mateo. She is tasked with securing conventions and meetings business from corporations and associations from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest, and recently booked a software firm, Medallia, for an upcoming convention in Long Beach. (Photograph by Caught In The Moment)


A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Lui got her feet wet in the hospitality and tourism industry as an employee of the Westin Long Beach before ultimately moving back to San Mateo in 2010 to be closer to her and her husband’s families. Shortly thereafter, the CVB gave her an opportunity to stay connected to Long Beach while working remotely in her hometown.


“I was working in a hotel in San Francisco and then the CVB called me a little more than a year after that and said, ‘Hey, would you like to work for Long Beach again?’” Lui recalled. “It was great because I missed Southern California.”


Lui was tasked with focusing on corporate business in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which she admitted is a tough market to crack. “Corporate planners are very busy, don’t have time to chit-chat and [are] very transaction-based,” she said. “If I get a lead, time is of the essence. And if I don’t respond right away, the opportunity is lost. First impressions count, and many times there are no second chances.”


In addition to the fast-paced nature of Bay Area corporations – many of which are tech-oriented – breaking into that market can be difficult because those businesses typically use third parties to book events, according to Lui. Knowing which third party firms to develop relationships with is key in getting that business, she explained.


It can be difficult to capture the attention of major corporations in the Bay Area and Northwest because they typically gravitate toward first-tier convention markets such as San Diego or San Francisco, according to Lui.


Corporate planners still associate the name Long Beach with the city’s history as a Navy town to a degree, Lui noted. But, once she has a foot in the door and is able to showcase what the city now has to offer, that perception changes. “When they come out to see Long Beach they’re actually really surprised at all the changes that our downtown has undergone. So that’s really great to see,” she said.


Improvements made to the convention center in recent years help appeal to the trend of “experiential” meetings, in which attendees can engage and participate in conventions rather than sitting and listening. “Having all of the new space at the convention center offers these options and has given our city an edge,” Lui said.


Lui has brought in meetings business from Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health and Applied Materials, among other companies and organizations. Recently, she booked Medallia, a San Mateo-based software company, to hold its convention in Long Beach in 2018.


In addition to striking up relationships with new clientele by working trade shows and making office visits, Lui leverages social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram with the help of the CVB’s in-house social media team. The use of social media is particularly popular in the Bay area, and is a useful tool to get the word out about Long Beach, she explained.


Soon, Lui plans to leverage social media not only to advance Long Beach as a convention destination, but also to give back. She is attending the California Association of Executives’ (CAE) annual trade show, where various CVBs pitch their destinations for conventions, and has come up with a creative way to give back to areas in Northern California impacted by recent fires.


“The fires that we had in the North Bay, I mean, it was just devastating. The Hilton Sonoma burnt down, [as did] a lot of wineries,” Lui said. “A lot of families lost their homes and jobs.”


Lui had an idea to both engage people at the CAE event while helping out. “I thought, why don’t we do a social media push?” she said. Her concept is named “Post with Purpose.” For each tweet using the hashtag “MeetInLB,” the CVB will donate $5 to fire recovery efforts. “I am hoping it will be a big success, because I really want to do something to impact local communities,” she explained.


CVB staff are encouraged to take this kind of creative initiative rather than operating by a playbook of sorts, according to Lui. “That is why I love the job – because we’re given the creativity and the freedom to do what’s relevant in our market,” she reflected.