It was never part of Alicia Ariatti’s plan to start a business of her own — let alone two — but dreams and passions sometimes change. After graduating from Santa Clara University looking to pursue a career in video and television, Alicia found herself in a dull job market. But after landing a series of event planning and destination management positions, her love for project management was born.
Alicia eventually moved to Louisville to be closer to family and soon recognized the city lacked in tourism compared to California. This realization led her to launch Ariatti Advising, a company specializing in project management, event planning and meeting facilitation, and Destination Lou, a business providing expert knowledge on all things Louisville. Meet this trailblazing entrepreneur and our newest FACE of Louisville, Alicia Ariatti!
Tell us a bit about yourself, your education and your career before starting Ariatti Advising and Destination Lou.
I was born in New Orleans, LA, but I grew up in California. I got my Bachelor of Arts in communications from Santa Clarita University, and I worked a series of jobs not knowing what I wanted to do with my degree. I thought I wanted to do video and television, but I didn’t find anything of interest. I wanted to move to San Francisco and ended up taking a job with a company that does destination management, which focused on all of the dinners, tours, transfers and more surrounding conventions that came to town. I did that for a couple of years, and it dovetailed into some event planning and sales positions with other companies that supplemented events. I still wasn’t thinking about owning my own business. I was just trying to pay the bills, but I always seemed to gravitate toward event planning in some capacity.
I discovered I enjoyed putting pieces together, not realizing at the time it was project management. I ended up moving to Louisville to be closer to family. I found out that at the time, we didn’t really have the tourism climate San Francisco had, and there weren’t any destination management companies here I could apply to. I ended up at the Leadership Louisville Center doing event coordination and helping with their programs. While I was there, I earned my event management certificate because my manager at the time thought I would enjoy it and encouraged me to take the class. I came out of that loving the work and learning about project management. By that time, I was working on events for a program called the Bingham Fellows with Leadership Louisville and loved that community involvement piece. I wanted to do more of that and started Ariatti Advising with the thought that there was more out there to explore.
Tell us about Ariatti Advising and Destination Lou.
I started Ariatti Advising in 2016, working in the local market with nonprofit organizations, boards and businesses on their events and projects. I work with these clients on meeting facilitation, project management, strategic planning and event management, such as annual events, summits and more. When the new convention center opened, bourbon tourism started to boom, reminding me a lot of San Francisco and the Wine Country of California. I saw an opportunity to target a new clientele who were visiting Louisville as a destination. However, outside of Louisville, no one knows who I am, so in 2018, I set up a separate brand to target this new audience called Destination Lou. Through this business, I market myself as the local expert on all things Louisville, catering to incoming conventions and meeting planners. That business really focuses on individuals coming into Louisville who need local services. For example, I just had a meeting planner from Denver contact me about a huge conference hosted at the Omni Hotel, but she needed help with their offsite dinner. I helped her coordinate the dinner at the Derby Museum and also handled all of their arrivals and departures. All of that on-the-ground planning and coordination is what I focus on with Destination Lou. Owning these two businesses allows me to offer a wide range of services to both local and national audiences. It really is the best of both worlds.
COVID-19 has certainly affected the world of events, as many have been canceled or postponed. How have your businesses had to pivot in response to the pandemic?
I temporarily closed Destination Lou. That was based on tourism and people coming to Louisville. Not only is [tourism] not happening because people aren’t traveling, but a lot of places like the Omni and convention center are shut down right now. Through Ariatti Advising, I’m working with the community groups I was already facilitating and working on projects with. We’ve shifted our focus to COVID-focused projects. I’ve also started working with different organizations on putting together community-driven responses to COVID.
On the event management side, I’m working with clients who had contracted me to do galas or different types of events. I’ve been looking at what our virtual options are for that — whether that’s moving their gala to a virtual event or canceling it and doing smaller fundraising events. I’m currently working on doing a virtual bourbon tasting for a client who normally would bring their people here, and we would do a whole bourbon tour along with a seminar. Instead, they’re going to do the seminar portion virtually, and we’re going to coordinate to have their guests get bourbon and do a virtual tasting with an Old Forester distiller.
This is a time for entrepreneurs to be creative and to use all of their skills. One of the things I love about my work is I do a variety of things as a project and event manager, so I’ve been able to pivot and offer my clients solutions to a variety of different things. It’s not a great time, obviously, but creatively, it’s an interesting time to be working.
As virtual events become more popular, how have you been educating yourself to keep up with these changes?
There are quite a lot of online resources, and I’ve sat in on some different webinars around it. JDRF Nashville had to pivot its online event within three weeks because of the shutdown. Elizabeth Hack did a podcast (Small Shop Fundraising) with Gretchen James of JDRF and they walked through how they did that. A lot of my clients’ events were late this year or early next year, thankfully. We’re really going through and thinking about what [events] might look like because I think people are going to be exhausted — or they’re already exhausted — with Zoom.
I work with a lot of nonprofits, so it’s about figuring out how to put together some educational seminars that people might want to attend or pay for. A lot of these nonprofits have different expertise that might be useful to other businesses or bring in national speakers.
As the owner of Destination Lou, you must know all of the hot spots in Louisville. Tell us some of your favorite places in the city.
The greatest thing about Louisville is everything is so accessible. You can easily get downtown to see a show at Actors Theatre or the Kentucky Center. It doesn’t take a huge amount of money or time to do that. We have great artists and entertainment here that anyone can enjoy. Some of my favorite spots are Paristown Hall, which is a great community asset that opened up recently and is expanding to include restaurants. I also like Logan Street Market. I love having a fishmonger and cheesemonger in my neighborhood and being able to grab a glass of wine and explore. The new Hotel Distil downtown is gorgeous, and they opened a new bar space called Bitters End in April with a great view. I also love Rabbit Hole’s event space, which I think has one of the best views in the city. To top it off, we have a great restaurant scene with places like Hammerheads, Mayan Café and Milkwood. There are just a lot of really fun, really great things to experience throughout Louisville.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Failure is just a data point. If you’re a scientist and your experiment fails, you don’t just scrap it. You learn from it and how to improve and change things. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, then you need to reframe your definition of failure. I think a lot of people don’t become entrepreneurs because they’re afraid of failure. However, if you reframe that and look at failure as a way to inform your next move, then it’s not as scary.
What are some things you can’t live without?
I love anything Marvel. I’m deep into the Marvel universe. I have this book called Powers of a Girl that goes through all of the different female superheroes. Reading comic books and going to see the movies when they’re released — all of that is an escape for me. I even have Avenger floor mats to remind me I’m strong.
I also love sneakers. I’m on my feet a lot at events, and wearing heels all day just doesn’t work for me anymore. I have red velvet sneakers and black Nike Airforce One sneakers with “The Force is Female” stitched in the back.
Thank you, Alicia! And a special thanks to Jessa Mayhew for the beautiful photos.
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