Women at the Helm: Peggy Daidakis, Executive Director, Baltimore Convention Center

June 6, 2022

When asked how she started her career in convention facility management, Peggy Daidakis chalks it up to being in the right place at the right time. The much-respected convention industry veteran started her events career in the late 70s at the genesis of Baltimore’s meetings and events industry, cutting her teeth as an event coordinator and sales representative for the newly formed Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau (now Visit Baltimore), tasked with attracting conventions and trade shows to the soon-to-be-opened Baltimore Convention Center (BCC).  

“I was working as an aide to the mayor and was asked to help with setting up a new office for the CVB,” Daidakis explained. “I chose to join the organization and became an event coordinator, however, in those days, we all took on many roles—sales, services, administration, anything that we had to do to get us ready for the opening of the center. We were a small staff of two until the city hired a private management company to take charge of the new center, the bureau and the arena.” 

When the BCC opened in August of 1979, Daidakis’s career soon began a steady upward trajectory, moving her through the CVB in many capacities, from account executive responsible for servicing and coordinating events in the new facility, to assistant director overseeing the organization’s sales, marketing and operations, to director of client services, focused on customer service, promotion and marketing. 

Undoubtedly, wearing so many hats helped prepare her for the bigger responsibilities that were yet to come. In 1985, Daidakis’s career path shifted toward the venue side as director of building services, and just a year later, Baltimore Mayor Clarence “Du” Bums appointed her as the first female director of a major U.S. convention center. 

Under her direction, the BCC has played host to gubernatorial and mayoral inaugurations, presidential visits and hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the country and world, and she was instrumental in the venue’s expansion, which tripled its size and features the largest ballroom in Maryland. 

TSNN enjoyed speaking with Daidakis to hear her thoughts about being the first woman to break the glass ceiling in convention facility management, what it takes to be a successful leader in this still male-dominated industry and the recent accomplishments that have helped make her trailblazing career even more rewarding.

You have been executive director of the BCC for more than 36 years. When you were first starting in this position, did you feel like an outlier in a male-dominated industry? What was that experience like for you?

This continues to be a male-dominated industry, but trends are changing for the better. Most women seemed more comfortable in the sales, PR/marketing and services roles. It was up to me and a few of my women peers to set the example of how we could be leaders in venue management. Slowly, more women were gaining confidence within leadership and operational facility management. We certainly have come a long way, but we still need to mentor and nurture young women to consider this career.

While gender diversity in the leadership roles within the events industry has moved in a more equitable direction, what do you see as the biggest challenges of being a female leader at this time in our industry?

Sometimes we as women hold back our personality in fear of being labeled as too “aggressive” or too “timid.” I believe that despite hesitations that may be had, women who want leadership roles within this industry should be driven and not afraid to command the room. In addition to certainty, being a successful leader also includes sharing our human side and allowing staff to see trust, respect and passion for the business.

What are the qualities that women bring to venue management that empower them to excel at their jobs?

Confidence, compassion, transparency, honesty and respect. We engage with our teams and welcome their ideas and comments to provide an atmosphere of excellence and pride.

During your time managing the BCC, what have been your biggest successes that you’re most proud of?

Way too many to count! First, I am appointed by the mayor and serve at “the pleasure of.” I am now serving with my ninth mayor! Second, I had the privilege and unique experience to plan an expansion of the center and other major capital projects. Not all venue managers have the opportunity to determine what a new state-of-the-art facility should look like and how it functions. Third, building a team of people who demonstrate that service to our customers is of utmost importance. We receive many compliments. And fourth, our role throughout the pandemic. We shut down events and served for almost two years as a field hospital, testing and vaccine center, warehouse for personal protective equipment, infusion center and warehouse for food boxes that were delivered to families in need. I am so proud of our employees who helped citizens throughout the city and state during this very challenging time. 

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned over the past two years, both professionally and personally?  

Managing business both internally and externally with clients during COVID-19. The center’s staff had to learn to transition and work remotely. They developed protocols and ideas to provide customers with information that was needed for their plans and learned to adapt to the “new normal.” I was overwhelmed and proud of our accomplishments.

What can the meetings and events industry—and the women in it—do to help create more gender and racial parity in convention center leadership, as well as the industry at large? 

Continue to have dialogue and networking opportunities to become familiar with venue management leadership.

What advice would you give to women in the events industry wishing to follow a leadership path?   

Enjoy the journey. When you are successful, it is very rewarding.

Know of a dynamic woman leader who deserves some time in the spotlight? Reach out to lpsavas@tsnn.com.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.