March 30, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

A wave of grief has engulfed the industry with the news of the sudden death of Tim Birley, national business development manager at Pan Pacific Hotel Group. He passed away on the weekend in Sydney.

Last week, at the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) in Melbourne, Tim reconnected with many industry peers and colleagues after two years of COVID restrictions. Knowing the importance of this event to help relaunch the industry, he was there with the Pan Pacific team leading their hospitality and business relationships campaign.

It was what he did best. Tim was in his element and made sure the event heralded a turning point in the return of in-person events. Last Tuesday morning, many of us were in his company at a special breakfast at Pan Pacific Melbourne. We were treated to his special brand of warmth and hospitality. He chatted to everyone, making us feel welcome, ensuring we had what we needed – and then he was there to personally farewell and thank his guests. It was like having a catch-up with an old friend, someone you knew and trusted. Someone with whom you really liked to do business.

That’s how so many people felt about Tim – in many ways he specialised in “old school” sales etiquette. He was the master of it – honed across his 35-year career in hotel sales and operations.

Indeed, he was a consummate professional who left nothing to chance. He carefully curated his interactions, was always gracious and respectful – and lit up the room with his warmth and smile. The sparkle in his eyes a reminder of his love of the industry and his love of life.

His industry achievements were recognised in 2019 when he was named Sales Talent of the Year at the TAA (NSW) Awards for Excellence. This meant a lot to Tim.

In announcing his passing, Pan Pacific Hotel Group described him as a legend in the Australian hospitality and MICE industry.

His Pan Pacific colleague for the past seven years, Charmaine Hardwick said he had a reputation for delivering extraordinary service. She was the last work colleague to spend time with him on Friday evening following his return from AIME.

“With 35 plus years in this industry, he was never jaded nor complacent, but a passionate sales professional. Tim’s attention to detail and guest-centric focus was renowned within Pan Pacific Hotels Group and also in the industry,” she said.

“Tim was kind and generous. He even brought homemade Anzac biscuits and jams into the office at times giving them as gifts to staff and clients or just to nibble on when he visited.

“He remembered birthdays, partner and children’s names and checked in with current or past colleagues and clients when hearing they weren’t well or were having a hard time.”

She said Tim was a gentleman who knew the meaning of hospitality and practised it every day.

Tim mentored and guided many young people in the industry. Among them was Rita Nassar who now works at ICC Sydney.

“Thank you for being my mentor and above all thank you for being you, the light of the room. I’m blessed to have had the chance to work with you, share memories and to be able to call you a friend. I’ll always look up to you. Keep shining from above,” said Nassar.

The collective grief is deep and sombre – and also coloured with beautiful and funny memories. For Tim was always funny and loads of fun.

Julie Ford from Hamilton Island said at trade shows and events, Tim would always make time to welcome new young people into the industry. She was always happy if she spotted his tall frame at a show especially in the early days of their careers. In those early years, client Christmas parties were always fun when Tim was around, she said.

Event organiser Justine Cummins credits Tim for her passion for the industry.

“It’s because of industry buddies like Tim Birley that I have a lifelong passion for the conference and event industry,” she said.

She met him in 1996 when she was just 20 and had just joined PARKROYAL Darling Harbour.

“We always caught up at industry events – he was one of my unofficial mentors and taught me so much about the industry. I can still hear him now, reprimanding me for being cheeky. He’d say: ‘Oh Justine!’ in that fab radio announcer voice. Too many laughs and sneaky ciggies back in the day,” she said.

Michael Walker of Directions Conference and Incentive Management said he was in shock at the news – especially after seeing Tim last week at AIME where he says Tim was at his charming best.

He shared a fond memory of Tim which highlights Tim’s capacity to surprise and delight.

“I was doing a hotel inspection and it just happened to also be my birthday. Tim surprised me with celebration at lunch which included the added highlight of the “very handsome” Spanish maître d’ singing ‘Happy Birthday’. I’ll thank him forever for that.

“He’s been a mainstay of my life in this industry and I will certainly miss him.”

micenet publisher Helen Batt-Rawden who has known Tim for over 25 years says Tim was one of the nicest, most beautiful people you will ever meet.

“Tim was always a gentleman, always great company and always happy to help. Nothing was ever too much trouble. The wonderful memories we all have of Tim will last forever,” she said.

When the shock passes and colleagues and friends gather to honour him, there will be many stories of his good-humoured outlook on life and how much he enjoyed the company of others – especially his partner John, his close-knit family and his colleagues and friends.

He was an important player in hotels and business events – nurturing young talent and helping his clients. He had a tenacious commitment to outstanding client service and hospitality.

Tim set the benchmark for how to do sales through building enduring relationships with clients. Their success is what mattered to him.

He will be greatly missed – but he will also be remembered for the passion and love he had for our industry and its people.

For my part, I’m so grateful I had the chance to catch up with Tim at AIME in Melbourne and be reminded of what a great difference one person can make in our lives and in our industry.

Dear Tim – I hope you know how sad so many people are about you checking out – just like that with no warning. I hope you know how loved and admired you are.

We are so grateful we were able to see you in sparkling form during AIME. We saw you in your glory, beaming with joy at being back together again after the pain of the past two years.

But for us sadly, it was to be for the last time.

Rest in peace Tim Birley – thank you for your service to business events and hospitality. Our industry has lost one of its finest. Our deepest condolences to all those who love you – John, your extended family, your friends and your colleagues.