Chris Palivan’s path to a career in events management wasn’t a direct one. After finishing secondary school, Palivan was set to begin an undergraduate degree in criminology but decided to withdraw just before the program began. “Something didn’t feel right so I decided to pull the plug against family counsel and [despite] pressures about what I should be doing,” he says.
Instead, Palivan took a dishwashing job that he says quickly opened his eyes to the many different career paths that existed in the hospitality field. His interest in the industry further developed while on a six-month trip that took him across Asia, North Africa, and Europe. Palivan continued to Australia, where he landed a job as a food and beverage attendant with Marriott Hotels. “I came to realize that as much as I liked hospitality, that wasn’t quite the right fit for me,” he says of his experience working in hotels.
After returning to Canada, Palivan knew that he wanted to pursue a formal education in hospitality but was unsure which niche to focus on. He decided to attend a series of intro sessions through George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts. “I hadn’t considered special events as an avenue for me until somebody spoke about it and I realized that it completely made sense. It was everything that I wanted to pursue,” he says. “I could see myself being an entrepreneur coming through this program.”
The Special Events Planning program turned out to be exactly what Palivan had been looking for. “It was an incredible experience to get mentored by people that were in the industry and receive feedback and a perspective on what was possible,” he says. “I found it gave me a framework for my life and for the businesses that I wanted to go on to create.”
Palivan also began developing professional relationships at George Brown which have helped shape his career. Soon after graduating, he partnered with George Brown professor and program coordinator Ijaz Jamal to form the Toronto Cider Festival in 2015. The festival has grown to become the largest event of its kind in Canada and has allowed Palivan to help support a new generation of hospitality students.
“The whole event brings together recent graduates, family, friends, and interns that we take on from George Brown,” he says, adding that he enjoys giving back to the hospitality community through mentorship. “I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if I didn’t have some incredible mentors come into my life,” he says. Palivan has also established the annual Toronto Cider Festival scholarship for the Special Events Planning program at George Brown.
In addition to running the Toronto Cider Festival, Palivan has taken on contract positions in special events since graduating, including various leadership roles at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the Toronto Invictus Games, and the Toronto Pan Am Games. “These events are why I wanted to go to school for this and there’s still a great deal of passion that comes into my life by being involved in that,” he says.
Palivan has taken the challenges of the pandemic in stride, reinventing the Toronto Cider Festival to a specialty cider collection called Festival in a Box. “We packaged the festival [into a box] providing artisanal ciders that wouldn’t be readily available at the LCBO,” he says. “We wanted to continue to help the local cider vendors that we work with and promote them, as well as provide value to our customers.”
Drawing on the industry fundamentals he learned at George Brown, Palivan says he has looked at the pandemic as an opportunity to refine his business model and focus on future development. “George Brown opened my mind to see the different angles to consider in business but also provided me with a set of mentors who believe in me,” he says.
“It’s important not to be afraid to take chances or shift direction.”
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