Selling the ‘Steamboat Dream’: Meg Palumbo’s quest to share her love of the Yampa Valley
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs is a special place — at least that’s what Meg Palumbo believes.
It is also what she tells her clients on an almost daily basis.
As a national sales manager for The Steamboat Grand, it is her job to convince professional groups to host their meetings and events at the four-star hotel, owned and operated by Steamboat Resort.
At 30, she is one of the youngest managers at The Grand. She has already worked at five hotels across the county, trying to find a community to call home. With a lifelong love of people and more than a decade of hospitality experience, Palumbo has finally found her place in the Yampa Valley.
“Talking to people as your job is an awesome job,” she said.
From misfit to the right fit
As a child born and raised in Golden, Palumbo was a bit of a black swan among her family members. While her parents and siblings excelled in the sciences — her dad is a hydrologist in Denver and her mom works as an OB-GYN — she struggled with math and science classes all through school.
What she lacked in technical ingenuity, she more than made up for in her charisma. Most of all, she liked making people happy.
Her father, owing to his Italian roots, would often host big dinner parties with friends and family. Palumbo delighted in playing hostess to their frequent guests.
“I loved taking their coats and putting them up and welcoming people,” she said.
She even mixed them drinks from time to time.
When her grades for courses like biology and chemistry didn’t show any improvements, her father sat her down and asked the question on every parent’s mind: What do you want to be when you grow up?
“He knew he wasn’t going to get a scientist out of me,” she said.
Seeing the joy she got from helping others, he recommended that she think about a job in the hospitality industry. It was as if a spark ignited for Palumbo — she could actually turn what she loved into a career.
“I owe it to my dad that he saw that from the get-go,” she said.
She soon climbed her way up the hospitality ladder. In high school, she took a job as a hostess for the Golden Hotel’s dining room, then graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in restaurant and resort management.
That led her to enroll in Marriott’s Management Development Trainee Program. For several years, she ran the gamut of hotel jobs at locations across the country: a front desk supervisor in Golden, a front desk manager in Chicago, a sales position in Dallas, which finally led to a similar, more stable job in Minneapolis.
Through it all, Palumbo attended industry events — things like meet-and-greet gatherings and networking conferences — to find mentors. She introduced herself to higher-ups or people who had jobs that interested her. That gumption would eventually lead to her current job.
It happened during a high-end hotel conference in Minneapolis, filled with women in high heels and diamond jewelry, sipping cocktails with well-groomed men in tuxes.
One man didn’t seem to belong. He wore a cowboy hat with the boots to match.
She remembers thinking, “He’s kind of gutsy for coming to this event dressed like that.”
Someone told her that the man hailed from Steamboat, which brought back childhood memories of family ski trips here.
“Growing up in Colorado, I obviously knew Steamboat and loved it,” she said. “I immediately bee-lined it to him.”
His name was Allen Johnson, and he had the position at The Steamboat Grand that Palumbo currently holds. They talked and, with her usual confidence, they hit it off and exchanged contact info.
The night ended, and for six months, her life in Minneapolis continued as usual. Then she received an email from Johnson, who said he was leaving his job to work in the construction industry. He encouraged her to apply for his position.
Palumbo asked herself, “Do I want to leave Minnesota?” She quickly answered, “Yes!”
What the mountain gives
Her work in Steamboat has been unlike anything she’s done before. Rather than selling the hotel itself to potential guests, as she did for Marriott, she is selling an experience. Employees of the resort call it the “Steamboat Dream.”
As she takes the organizers of prospective groups on what she calls a “site tour,” she paints a picture of how the town and its offerings — particularly the resort — would be the ideal place to have a good time as well as get serious work done.
Most of the groups she tries to bring to The Grand are composed of doctors, lawyers and the like. They get together for conferences to share ideas and build relationships with others in the field.
In the past, they are the kind of people who would opt for a trip to the city where they can gorge on five-star food followed by a night at, say, the opera house.
With the outdoors gaining a newfound hipness, that attitude is changing.
“I think those stakeholders realize that the way people connect isn’t through the normal drinks at the bar anymore,” Palumbo said. “They are striving for something new and different. I think Steamboat delivers that.”
She has seen the town and its mountains foster relationships among the people who visit. Recently, she came across two lawyers chatting in the lobby who were here for a conference.
“They just met and now they’re going to hit the slopes between their sessions,” she said. “Where else can you do that?”
For those who haven’t visited a ski town, a trip to the mountain is a novelty that stays with them.
“Some of these people have never been in a gondola before,” Palumbo said.
She described one woman who burst into tears when she stood on the deck of Thunderhead Lodge and peered out over the Yampa Valley.
Moments like that remind Palumbo of what a wondrous place she gets to call home.
One of the most challenging parts of her job is convincing people who have never visited Steamboat to do so. But that is also the most exciting part.
The way she thinks of it, “They just don’t know what they’re missing — yet.”
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