Spotlight On is proud to introduce one of the most iconic women in the Meetings Industry in the Americas: Elizabeth Tovar, founder and president of Turenlaces, and Secretary General of COCAL. She is a citizen of the world: Born in Venezuela, she studied in Italy, which took her to the United States, and eventually to her current home in the Dominican Republic.
Although she is an economist by profession, she loved travel so much that tourism was a given. In 1990 she founded Turenlaces in the Dominican Republic with a close friend, a company that today is the leader in congresses and events in the Caribbean—a feat achieved by her perseverance and, as she says: “The sky is the limit.”
“Back then it was just tourism, not ‘meetings tourism,’ it wasn’t seen as an industry. Today we’re just starting to develop MICE in Latin America, and I want to see it flourish. We’re right at the very beginning because we’re not clear yet that we must work together to take over the world,” she said with the confidence of a woman who’s been in the industry for over 30 years.
We have to talk about COVID-19. How are they handling it in Turenlaces.
Internally, the first thing Elizabeth decided to do was to “stretch the blanket” as far as it would go so as not to fail the personnel who have made Turenlaces number one in the region. Outwardly, thanks to the trust she has generated among her clients, suppliers, and hotels, practically no events were cancelled—they were rescheduled between August and September.
“We’re working at home as if we were in the office, taking this time to train and improve our staff. We’re looking to 2021 to be a boom year,” she said with conviction.
As far as COCAL, what are they doing to address the crisis?
Beyond the basic recommendations from COCAL, the organization is compiling information from the 18 countries that make up the federation. Together with the opinions of its members and the monitoring strategies of the different governments, the entity is looking for the best ways to help each nation.
One of the strategies that stands out is the use of lobbyists—highly influential people who can get to sources—to reach the governments and make them see the needs of the industry. “We’re putting up a common front, all of us have access to wealthy people, many of our clients have close relationships with the authorities and that facilitates getting the message to those in charge; this way the governments know how much we produce and how fast we can help the country recover,” stated Tovar.
She also advised industry professionals that, once the health crisis is over, they should devote some time to universities to help create better professionals who are properly certified to take the industry to the top.
Does the virus mean the virtual era is getting closer?
For Elizabeth, there’s nothing quite like a face-to-face event, because irreplaceable things happen there, including active exchanges between professionals and continuous networking, which becomes a breeding ground for ideas and questions for anyone holding conferences. “This is something we can’t do virtually, but if this virus messes up our lives, it could be an option.”
“At COCAL we’ve held meetings with people from 18 countries using technology; in fact, Meetings Alliance has been an extraordinary ally for us in this sense. We’ve collaborated with monthly webinars for a long time now, but in this last month Meetings Alliance has been the one who has offered us virtual meetings,” said Elizabeth Tovar.
What are some of the most important moments in your professional life?
“My standout moment in the world of tourism was when I was able to convey to university students studying tourism what the Meetings Industry is all about. I managed to do this by negotiating with the directors of the universities to let them know that there was more to it than just hotels,” she wistfully recalled.
Her participation with the Latin American Federation of Banks helped her grow as a professional and gave her good insight: “It was a very American-style event that took place on Latin soil, I realized that we don’t always have to impose our culture, but we need to do things well while respecting the customs of the venues,” she said.
The day she was named president of the Dominican Association of Tour Operators was special. She is not a tour operator—she is a licensed professional—but being chosen by her colleagues was more than a competition, it was a guidance. She has experienced three non-consecutive terms in that position and is currently in her fourth one.
“It’s very gratifying to have received several awards but becoming the General Secretary of COCAL has allowed me to see a world of opportunities within Latin America that otherwise I would have never seen,” said Tovar.
What makes Elizabeth, Elizabeth
“Everything piques my curiosity: I’ve flown planes, captained boats, I’ve been in a bullfight for charity, in short, curiosity has led me to many interesting things. It’s what defines me: I am curious, persistent, and innovative. My entire family is adventurous: My mother was the first woman to fly a biplane from Venezuela to Trinidad in 1948, then she built a 35-foot boat and I was the captain. I have children and grandchildren—I’m not a spring chicken. If you add up everything I’ve told you, you’ll arrive at the sweet 70 years of life I’ve had,” concluded Elizabeth Tovar, kindly and with a smile.