December 30, 2021 Land Based, Interview

Exclusive: Hard Rock's new Sales VP Donna Ward predicts "hybrid" future for land-based gaming

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Gaming America spoke with Donna Ward, the new Vice President of Sales at Hard Rock Atlantic City, to discuss her history, why Hard Rock and the future of land-based gaming.

Gaming America met with Donna Ward following her appointment to the position of Vice President of Sales at Hard Rock Atlantic City. Here is what she had to say on her inspiring journey from battling illness at 22, to helping to lead one of Atlantic City's largest properties.

Can you explain your professional history and what led you to Gaming?

In October 2021, I joined Hard Rock Atlantic City as their Vice President of Sales, overseeing the resort’s hotel sales operations including meetings and conventions. Prior to joining Hard Rock Atlantic City, I spent more than 35 years in sales roles throughout Atlantic City including Harrah’s, the former Trump Organization and Resorts Casino Hotel. Most recently, I was Vice President of Sales, Catering and Convention Services at Golden Nugget.

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from East Stroudsburg University and prior to entering my senior year, I signed an agreement with Marriott to enter their Management Training Program. I worked at two properties with their organization in Philadelphia and then was assigned to the Miami Airport Marriott. I loved the new adventure, but only a year into my job, and at the age of 22, I was given devastating news that I had ovarian cancer. I traveled back north to be with my family and receive treatment from the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.  My dad suggested that I remain close to home, and with Atlantic City booming, I looked into getting a job in that market. I was also dating the love of my life, my now husband who lived in Pennsylvania when an opening at the Atlantis Casino Hotel hired me as a Sales Manager 1987. I’ve been working in the Atlantic City market ever since.

What does your new position as Vice President of Sales entail?

I manage a team of sales professionals to bring meetings, conventions, events and other groups to the Hard Rock Atlantic City. This is done through phone calls, sales calls to customers, property site tours, dinners, show experiences, and attendance at trade shows and other industry events. Hard Rock Atlantic City is set on 17-acres with 2,000 sleeping rooms and more than 150,000 square feet of meeting and event space that can accommodate just about any type of function. Our standout venue is Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena that can stage general sessions of 7,000 people or 300-plus booth trade shows and expo events.

I also manage a team of convention service professionals to plan, detail and execute these contracted events. In addition, I work with Hard Rock International and our global sales office to maintain brand standards and maximize sales efforts within the brand. I’m also involved in the reporting of revenue production for rooms, food, beverage, audio visual and more.

You have worked for several high-profile brands – what sets Hard Rock apart?

Hard Rock Atlantic City absolutely by far has the best culture compared to any other company I have worked for in this industry. The brand sincerely cares about their team members as much as our guests and they go out of their way to create a culture of inclusion and diversity, rewarding every level of team member for the success of the property. It is no wonder that Hard Rock Atlantic City was recently named the best employer in New Jersey by Forbes!

What are your plans and ambitions for Hard Rock Atlantic City, specifically going into 2022?

Our goal for 2022 is to strengthen our meetings and events industry after the pandemic put a strain on our industry. It is important we continue to operate in a safe, productive way and also continue to work with our groups to meet their objectives. Our goal is to design compelling amenities that make attendees comfortable. We’d also like to expand Hard Rock Brand awareness to all market segments so that our assets, both domestically and internationally, are the first choice for leisure travelers and meetings planners. Internally, I’d like to continue to develop each of my team members to achieve the expectations of the property, our brand and their own individual goals.

As the land-based segment moves on from the last 18 months, are there any key innovations or changes you see on the horizon for the industry?

From an industry perspective, I strongly believe that we will continue to see an increase in hybrid options. One of the positive things to come out of the past 18 months is our industry’s resilience and ability to adjust and pivot. Since our return to in person events, we have found that there is still a percentage of people who’d like a virtual option for a number of reasons. I do think that as an industry, this is something we’re going to continue to see more, even after the pandemic has subsided. We have to continue to plan our meetings and events with that in mind going forward, while continuing to offer an incredible in-person experience to entice people to our properties.

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