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Event Manager Jovanka Tomasevic: How she became her own boss

by | INTERVIEWS

Jovanka Tomasevic knows that being a great event manager is all about hard work and exceeding expectations. She built up her CV planning events and opening hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the events industry was brought to a halt. 

Instead of being discouraged and hunkering down until everything returned to normal, she decided to take a risk. She saw an opportunity to become her own boss and went for it. She started her own event planning company, JT Events, in February 2021 and has had a full calendar ever since.

She recently joined us to share her story and inspire other event planners who are curious about what the future may hold.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path in hospitality and events?

I moved to Dubai in 2003 and started my career at the Burj al Arab hotel managing sales and events. I then moved to their sister property to work on some amazing projects, like high scale governmental and corporate parties. 

After about seven years working at those properties, I took a break to have my son. It was nothing crazy, just a few months, but it was valuable time.  

When it was time to return to work, I felt like I needed a new challenge. I really wanted to open a hotel from scratch. I had never done hotel openings and I thought it would be a great experience.

So, I was hired by Conrad hotels to help open their first property in the UAE. They brought me on as part of the pre-opening team to manage all of the preparation for the events department and then to host and deliver events once the hotel opened. It was fresh and fun.

After enjoying that, I opened another hotel called Lapita. I loved that experience as well and realized that I really liked opening hotels. It’s a much different set up than just taking onboard and managing an existing hotel’s events department.

Opening hotels is extremely exciting and also very challenging. But, like everything else I do in life, I love a good challenge. It’s something that drives me and pushes me forward.

What’s the difference between opening a hotel and joining a pre-existing one?

The main difference is that when you open the hotel or you’re at the pre-opening team you really have this flexibility and power to affect so many things. You can really be part of the initial process of conceptualization, like designing the spaces and purchasing equipment. For instance, when I joined to help open the Conrad property, we didn’t have our offices set up yet. We didn’t even have our desks or anything like that so we had to start from scratch.

So, opening a hotel can be a very challenging and consuming job. But, at the same time, it’s incredibly rewarding because you have the chance to build something from the ground up. You get to start from the beginning to hire a team, choose equipment, and build up your product from nothing. 

When you join another hotel with a preexisting events department, things are ready for you to come in and just run with it. Opening a hotel is a totally different job. Depending on the property, it can take six months to a year to plan and execute the launch.  

The job of opening a hotel events department is quite distinct from working as an events manager in a normal setting. The daily tasks and responsibilities are completely different. It’s much more administrative than the day to day reality of working in an events department.

What was your next move after opening the Conrad and Lapita properties?

After those experiences, I had the opportunity to move to Abu Dhabi. I was approached by Emirates Palace Hotel to be their director of events. 

I was excited and tempted by the offer but I was also a bit hesitant. Not because of the role itself, but more about the personal side of things. I’m a single mom so I always have to juggle many things at the same time.

But, working a property like this is a “dream come true” type of opportunity. So, after a lot of internal discussions, I decided to make the move.

Moving to Abu Dhabi and joining such an iconic property was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I spent two years there setting up the team and delivering some amazing events. International, local, lots of social events. It was incredibly rewarding and I had a beautiful time. Then, 2020 rolled around and everything changed.

How did covid alter your career in event management?

Well, Covid obviously struck us like it did the whole world. Abu Dhabi did a better job controlling the outbreak and handling things but there was still a stop when it came to hosting events in hotels. 

That’s when I decided to take a very unusual step to start my own event management venture. At that time, people said I was crazy and that it’s too risky. I was warned that business is slow, even some bigger companies were shutting down and it’s nobody’s fault.

But I just felt that there were so many opportunities because of the changes that were happening around event planning due to Covid. Instead of massive weddings or birthdays with 500 guests in a hotel, there was a shift toward smaller events on private premises.

So, I saw a space in the market for these new small scale luxury events and decided that’s what I would focus my new business on. And, so far, it’s been more than amazing, really.

But it’s also been incredibly challenging in ways that managing events for hotels isn’t. It’s my business, my new baby, so everything falls on my shoulders. Even my son said: “Mama, I noticed that since you started your own business, you really work a lot more.”

When you start your own business venture, the work-life balance can become a bit blurred. But I think I’m managing it well and have time for both my human baby and my business baby.  

What’s the best way to move up the event manager career path?

I think it starts with a will to go above and beyond to always deliver much more than what is expected from you. I think it starts from the fact that you really want to make a change and want to make a difference with everything you do.

You need to be different. It doesn’t matter the career path, you could be a waiter, a chef, or a receptionist. Whatever it is, be the best at it.

This is the way to go. If you really want to be an events manager, then you have to strive and you have to work every single day towards being the best at it.

Making sure that everything that you do is at the highest level and of the highest quality. And if it’s event management, the aim is to be known as the best in the game. I think to be successful and grow yourself into one day being your own boss or running your own business, it’s really important that you understand the industry and the client. Always put yourself in the client’s shoes to understand the expectations and deliver more.

Always go beyond. I think the only way to move up in your career is that you always exceed expectations. Both the clients expectations and your own. You should always aim to outdo yourself.

You must be focused on what you want to achieve, but also work really hard on always improving yourself and always trying to do things better than before. It requires a lot of effort and there is no shortcut or easy way. You just have to work for it.

What’s the most challenging thing about planning events?

Probably managing the timelines. There are so many challenges that you will come across and obviously it’s our job to overcome them. But it’s just that with timelines for certain elements or procedures, sometimes it does get in the way and make things difficult to predict.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in events? 

It would be to know that everything comes with time and experience. You can’t go from hospitality school to planning massive events for a 5 star hotel in just a few months.

You need to be patient and know that if you work hard to gain experience and have a passion for what you do, opportunities will come your way. You just have to keep your eyes open for them.

I would never be in the position I am today with my own events business if I didn’t dedicate myself to learning and building experience in this field. I always took on new challenges and that helped me gain so much knowledge. Most of my current clients are people who knew me from my work in hotels before.

What is an area of the industry that needs to be improved?

One of the things that I’m noticing right now with a lot of businesses is staffing issues. Many companies downsized their operation during covid, whether it was hotels or vendors. Now that a demand for events is back to normal or even more, the main challenge seems to be human power. It’s very difficult to find people to fill positions the way it was before the pandemic.

I just received an email back from a venue that took a while to reply. They apologized for the delay and said they were just now catching up with my email because they were understaffed. 

So, as you can see, staffing issues affect all sorts of processes that most people may not realize.

What education/experience is necessary for this role?

Well, I graduated from hospitality school in Belgrade with a degree in hotel management but I’ve never worked as a hotel manager. Hospitality school helps get you acquainted with the industry but it’s only the very first step.

I think the most important thing you can have is experience. A lot of students come fresh out of school and think they are ready to take over the world with their first job. What they don’t realize is that there are so many things they don’t know yet. 

Real life experience working in events will teach you so much more than school. Theory is great but you really just have to do the events, make mistakes, and learn from them

You can learn so much from your colleagues that have more experience planning events than you do. They’ve already made mistakes and learned from them so you should observe them closely and ask questions to absorb as much wisdom as possible.

What makes working in hospitality and events so exciting?

There is never a dull moment and no two events are ever the same. There’s always the opportunity to be creative and innovative to improve and do better than last time. 

If you could describe your love for planning events in 1 word, what would it be?

Passion!

Jovanka Tomasevic is the perfect example that hard work and a dedication to becoming an event manager pay off in the end. If you’re feeling inspired to make a move in your career, check out the open event manager jobs available on Hosco today.

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