AH & LA Honors Outstanding Hotel Employees with Stars of the Industry Awards

Women in Lodging Connect Leader of the Year Debuts

Scottsdale, Ariz. (June 16, 2011) – At today's American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) Stars of the Industry Awards luncheon, hotel employees were honored for their exceptional accomplishments, service, and leadership in the lodging industry. The awards, held at the association's Summer Summit at the Hyatt Regency, were presented to Outstanding Lodging Employees, Managers, and General Managers in three property size categories, as well as to the winner of the Women in Lodging Connect Leader of the Year Award and the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year Award.

Winning Lodging Employee of the Year, small property, is Joshua Cole in maintenance at the Northwest Inn in Woodward, OK. Josh, who is new to the industry, was initially hired to work as a front desk agent. Shortly after starting, one of the night auditors went on maternity leave and he volunteered to work her shift. When he accepted his current position in the maintenance department, he continued to work as a front desk agent until that job was filled. He volunteers his free time to assist the Alcoholics Anonymous, the National Narcotics Association, and providing clothes to the community via his church.

The winner of the Lodging Employee of the Year, medium property, is Bessie Green, lead concierge at the Hilton Inn at Penn in Philadelphia, PA. Since the hotel is on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, Bessie has "adopted" many of the students and set up a housekeeping service at the dorm that benefits both the hotel and the students. She has helped guests find cell phones and wallets left in taxi cabs, picked up prescriptions, as well as organized support for fellow associates who have fallen ill or suffered from a natural disaster.

The winner of the Lodging Employee of the Year, large property, is Nancy Gorospe, fountain dispenser at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, in Honolulu, HI. Not only does she do a great job at her cafe, she looks for ways to improve menu items, including attending tradeshows in search for new products, and she handles a multitude of personal requests from many of the hotel's repeat guests who specifically request her. Although her cafe was closed during the recent tsunami scare, she came to work to assist with shuttling guests to evacuation points. A veteran with more than 20 years in the industry, she is a big fundraiser for the Aloha Festival and the Humane Society.

Winning the Manager of the Year, Small Property, is Jill Clark, resort manager at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, AZ. Jill has been in the Arizona hospitality industry for more than 20 years. After joining the Sanctuary, she increased service levels and implemented systems to run operations more efficiently. Initiatives include transitioning to a paperless customer service satisfaction system, which skyrocketed a 120 percent; and aggressively monitoring and responding to feedback sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Although she started with the hotel just before the down economy hit the area, she has been able to maintain labor costs and exceed budgeted room revenues.

Winning the Manager of the Year, Medium Property, is Greg Hanss, director of sales & marketing at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, AZ. When Greg learned he had been selected by his hotel to be their nominee for this award, the story goes that he walked over to the person completing the form and rattled off five other managers he thought should be nominated. As the hotel's very first hire and second-in-command, his stamp can be seen on almost every detail from the design of the bedposts, to the artwork selected, to the outlets chosen, to the Website's design. But Greg's greatest contribution was successfully helping the sales/marketing team through very significant initial challenges, including nine opening delays and foreclosure.

There were two winners of the Manager of the Year, Large Property. Brian Hunnings is director of food & beverage at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa in Honolulu, HI. With more than 20 years of industry experience, Hunnings is known for his leadership abilities. He was the first manager to work actively with the hotel's union shop stewards and, as a result, the union suggested creating a committee to work to resolve other issues between the hotel and the union. He also spearheaded a program allowing guests to dine at any Starwood restaurant and bill charges to their room. And he led his team to raise their food and beverage satisfaction scores from the region's lowest ranking to the highest within three years.

Jacques Paul is assistant executive housekeeper at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Conventions Center in Kissimmee, FL. Jacques was part of the first group of employees hired prior to the resort's opening. With a team of just 14 housekeepers, they service more than 1,400 rooms each night. A native of Haiti, he helps out other employees from his country with translating tax and medical forms and even personal letters. And he helps the hotel in translations for employee forms like benefits enrollment, audits, and flexible spending accounts. When the earthquake hit Haiti, Jacques immediately organized the hotel's relief effort and partnered with Harvest Time International.

Winning the General Manager of the Year, Small Property, is Kanta Kondur, general manager of the Best Western Evans Hotel in Grovetown, GA. When Kanta and her husband purchased the property in 2005 it had lost its flag, which she regained the following year and by 2010 the property received its third Director's Award for Quality Assurance. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that she chooses to focus on her employees' strengths and not their weaknesses. If a new hire isn't performing as anticipated, she moves that person to another position to take advantage of their skills. She also works with the Tri Development Center to employ mentally and physically handicapped individuals.

The winner of the General Manager of the Year, Medium Property, is Robert Howell, general manager of The Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort in Shawnee on Delaware, PA. Rob joined the property in 2006 as general manager and soon took on the duties of director of sales. Due to his hands-on involvement in the department, group golf sales have increased by 100 percent. During the recent down economic climate, Rob spearheaded a new initiative, Shawnee's Community Outreach Dinners, a series of free dinners open to the local community.

The winner of the General Manager of the Year, Large Property, is Terri Haack, executive vice president/managing director at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. The hotel opened in June 2009, during an extremely tough economic climate. So tough, the resort's lending bank was taken over by the government and the hotel was almost foreclosed. She inspired her 850 employees to focus on the guests while the hotel's owners brought on new investors, which occurred 15 months later. In order to stay connected to such a large group of employees, she placed a computer in the staff dining room that links directly to her home computer and personally answers every query. A long-time member of AH&LA, she currently serves on the Resort Committee and Women in Lodging Executive Council.

Winning the first-ever WIL Connect Leader of the Year is Stefani Raggio, senior regional director of people & culture, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants of Washington, D.C. Stefani re-launched Kimpton's Professional Women's Group and has significantly increased participation and involvement in the initiative, which strives to create a network of professional women within the chain, cultivate informal mentorships, and provide education on relevant workplace topics. She was also instrumental in the launch of the AH&LA Women in Lodging National Capital Chapter.

Winning the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader is Tristen Bowen, assistant manager in Horticulture at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, FL. A 2004 graduate of the University of Florida, Tristen leads an 11-person team to care for the hotel's 4.5 acre atrium; maintain 5,000 gallons of waterways containing live alligators, turtles, and fish; care for the more than 60 acres surrounding the property; and educate guests about the hotel's unique horticultural features. Among notable accomplishments, she partnered with the hotel's exhibit hall team to fulfill exhibitor requests, which had previously been provided solely through an outside vendor and now generates significant revenue; she began offering discounted floral bouquets to staff; and she challenged her team to increase the number of times their names were mentioned in the hotel's guest survey. The goal was not only met, but exceeded. Finally, five years ago, Tristen adopted a fourth-grade class in Orlando, teaching the students about gardening and helping them plant a garden at their school.

Many of AH&LA's partner state associations choose their own employee award winners, which are submitted to the association for national judging. This year's national judges are Stefani O'Connor, executive news editor, Hotel Business; Stephanie Ricca, editor in chief of Hotel & Motel Management magazine; and Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality magazine.

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Cintas and HD Supply. For more information on AH&LA's Stars of the Industry Awards program and a complete list of employee and property winners, please visit www.ahla.com/stars.

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