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  • Writer's pictureWings Unlimited, Inc.

Darien Global Meeting Business Get Creative & Pivots In the ‘New Normal’

On a sunny Thursday afternoon at 455 Post Road parking lot, the Wings team smiles though their face masks for their first socially distant meet up. It has been 9 weeks since this tight team has been together and, for these globe trotters, that is far too long. Traveling to engineer meetings, events and incentives for large corporations is their passion, they are used to working remote from cities far and wide, just not solely from home.

The Wings team, 10 women strong, lead a global team of Event Engineers™ who have created amazing events of all sizes for their international and domestic clients. A board retreat in Shanghai to a business conference in Orlando and every place in between, Wings has produced flawless creative programs. Their collective airline miles from the last few years would make every frequent flyer proud. The founder Ann Gilmartin started her company in 1986 in Darien and has built a robust business with her partners and daughters Tara Dolan & Shana Hurkala. During their tenure, this trio has been through many unsettled times in the hospitality industry and has thrived despite challenges.

For a meeting company to not have met in person for more than two months was unthinkable just a short time ago. During the last 9 weeks, the Wings team was scheduled to be in Venice, Scotland, New York, Denver and Los Cabos. Members of this seasoned team, most having more than 10 years under their belt, have worked together in Darien planning programs in advance of implementing their plans on location. All have spent countless hours away from home managing all the details big and small on conferences ranging from 200 to 3000 people. So not being able to work together in their Darien office is just plain strange. Operationally, Wings turned to Zoom and Microsoft Teams far ahead of the pandemic which made the switch to virtual teaming easy and has allowed them to seamlessly continue to support clients. But as great as technology is these days, they miss being in the trenches together.

Business is not as usual for Wings as their main vertical of Global Meeting & Event Planning has been drastically impacted by this pandemic. Several meetings scheduled for this Spring were moved to later in the year and into 2021. For those meetings rescheduling to this Fall, Wings, and their clients need to be ready for any delivery method pending the environment during those months. Will those meetings be in person, virtual or a hybrid meeting? Only time will tell yet Wings will be ready to deliver for their clients no matter what.

Meeting planning is consistently rated one of the top 10 most stressful jobs and the industry is now fielding another huge curve ball. According to Shana Hurkala, Co-Owner & Managing Director of Wings Unlimited, “Change is constant when engineering in person and virtual events. We are using our skills to pivot and offer new solutions for our clients, leveraging our experience and adapting. Wings provides solutions for brands to connect their communities, employees and audiences virtually. Our clients need us now more than ever. During this pandemic corporations can’t go quiet and need virtual technology meeting platforms and creative solutions that engage and motivate during their virtual events and the show must go on.”

Wings projects that local events will open up before large scale domestic and global programs and predicts increased business for their New England focused DMC division for décor and event support this fall as small corporate gatherings may take place and attendees will want to stay closer to home. Some attendees might be able and willing to fly but many others won’t want to travel via air just yet. Unique venues and locations will be utilized using outdoor spaces. The logistics around planning such events will be challenging and Wings is ready to provide them professional planning support.

Any company in business for over 30 years has faced many economic ups and downs. Wings success through the good times and bad can be attributed to their laser focus on the clients’ needs, a can-do attitude and stellar customer service. “This team is second to none.” says Tara Dolan Managing Director, Co-Owner of Wings Unlimited “no challenge is too much for them. They know that what we are up against in the current climate is daunting, the travel industry has taken a heavy hit. I feel lucky to have such an amazing team of innovative women who have jumped into action. We are well positioned to support our clients with virtual and hybrid events and when the industry comes back, and it will, my team will be there ready to take flight.”


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