The Business of Meetings – Episode 125: Life, Grief, and Inspiration with Mariska Kesteloo
Today we are happy to speak with Mariska Kesteloo, the President and Founder of Word of MICE.
Mariska connects brands and influencers. In this episode, she talks about influencers and shares her unique and inspiring story of grit, grief, persistence, courage, and inspiring others.
We hope you enjoy listening to today’s heartfelt conversation with Mariska Kesteloo!
Mariska Kesteloo is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and board member. With more than 18 years of working experience in tourism and the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events) sector, she’s an authority in the industry.
Passionate about storytelling, Mariska founded her company Word of MICE in 2017. Her company connects the MICE industry with the right storyteller and expert to spread the story of the suppliers in an authentic way to the right target audience.
In January 2020, her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her personal life turned upside down. She decided to share her experiences in a book. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in July 2021. Despite the challenging circumstances, she began creating an association to inform, motivate and encourage patients
and their loved ones who go through a similar situation. Next, she started a new company to support entrepreneurship and retain talent in the MICE industry. And she bought a camper and became a digital nomad in 2022. Her first destination is Poland.
She is a visionary, forward-thinking, and positive entrepreneur who loves new challenges.
Mariska started her career in the tourism industry. She moved to Belgium after falling in love with a Belgian man and slowly shifted from tourism to the meetings and events industry. She did a Master’s degree in Business Event Management, became a freelancer, and got involved with MPI ten years ago.
In 2016, she was working as an event manager for an accelerator program, doing events for startups and scale-ups. Then, inspired by the intriguing stories travel influencers told her, she opted to start a “real” company to gain more recognition and awareness for the under-rated and under-valued meetings and events industry. Now, she links industry experts with the suppliers of the meetings and events industry.
Mariska is now an influencer even though she has a love-hate relationship with the word influencer. She believes that we are all influencers because we are all influenced by people and influence others. She prefers to call herself an industry expert.
Our industry needs to change
Our industry tends to be old-fashioned, so it needs to change. We need to find new ways to share our stories because a younger generation is entering our market and doing business differently.
Mariska feels we need more transparency in our industry.
Industry experts need to be recognized as experts rather than as paid content creators.
A strategic process
It takes a long-term and strategic internal process to find the right influencers and ensure that a campaign will be successful.
Checking influencers’ content
The videos and blog posts of influencers get double-checked by the client before they are uploaded. They work across borders, so cultural differences have to get considered. The client always has the final say on the influencers’ blog posts and videos.
Life is a bumpy road
In January 2020, Mariska’s husband was diagnosed with a severe brain tumor. At the end of 2020 and after nine months of treatment, the tumor disappeared. In March of 2021, her father-in-law passed away, and Mariska noticed her husband was not well. But she thought it was due to his father’s death. In April, she saw something was very wrong with her husband, and shortly after that, it got confirmed that the tumor was back. At the end of May, her mother passed away unexpectedly. Then a dear industry friend passed away in France at the beginning of July in a car accident. A week later, her husband passed away at 49 due to his brain tumor.
Mariska felt broken on all levels. So she decided to move back to live with her father so that they could support one another.
The impact of grief
No one prepared Mariska for how much her grief would affect her. She could not sleep. She lost her taste for food and her joy in life, and she found it hard to concentrate. She also experienced a financial loss and had to deal with tons of administration.
She went to see a grief therapist. That, combined with staying with her father, having regular meals, and talking to close friends, pulled her through the grief process and helped her start a new life.
Support and respect
Going to an industry fair in Barcelona, hugging people, and getting support and respect from industry members also helped her get through the difficult time.
Becoming a digital nomad
Mariska realized that she needed some freedom and space. So she spontaneously spent all her savings on a camper and decided to work and travel as a digital nomad.
She decided to make Poland her first destination and spent three months traveling across the country. There were many ups and downs, but it was a life-changing experience for her!
Get out of your comfort zone
Mariska recommends getting out of your comfort zone, traveling, and meeting new people to overcome challenges in your life.
In love with her new life
Mariska fell in love with her life as a digital nomad and intends to go back on the road very soon!
Mariska wrote a book about her journey to tell people that having a brain tumor is not the same as having cancer. When someone has a brain tumor, they change quickly and become a very different person. She also wrote about her emotions in the book.
A professional association
Now, along with some others, Mariska is creating a professional association under an official umbrella in the Netherlands to share non-medical information about alternative treatments for brain tumors, answer questions, and explain how to tell the devastating news to children, partners, and parents.
Being a digital nomad
Being a digital nomad is a dream life, but there are also many consequences. Mariska points out that you need an adventurous mindset, and everything costs more than you think! You have to prepare, plan things carefully, and think strategically.
Connect with Eric
Connect with Mariska Kesteloo
On her website
On all social media channels: @MariskaKesteloo