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AH&LA Recognizes Thirteen Hotel Employees for their Exceptional
Accomplishments, Service, and Leadership in the Lodging Industry

Phoenix, Arizona, June 16, 2010— 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 Arizona Biltmore, were presented to Outstanding Lodging Employees, Managers, and General Managers in three property size categories, as well as to the winner of the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year Award.  As part of the association’s centennial celebration, the winners will be added to the AH&LA 100-year microsite, alongside some of the industry’s pioneers.
The AH&LA Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, small property, goes to Graham Adams, bell captain at the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee.  First impressions are everything in the hotel industry, and as the omnipresent face of the Iron Horse Hotel, Graham has enormous responsibilities.  There is no employee mentioned more often in comment cards, Trip Advisor reports, and by returning guests.
The Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, medium-size property, goes to Leticia Gamiao, a housekeeper at the Aqua Waikiki Wave in Honolulu.  Leticia personally writes “aloha notes” to all 20 of her guests on the 12th floor of the hotel, leaving them on the guests’ nightstand.  Although Leticia does not have the same access as front of the house employees, she has had a significant impact on the guest experience.  In 2009, she was mentioned in more than 100 guest comment cards and handwritten notes back from her guests.  It’s no surprise that return guests request the 12th floor.
The Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, large property, goes to Wade Heath, parking lead at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.  Wade is known for consistently anticipating problems and solving them both in and out of his specific area, as well as picking random guests to make their stay a little more magical with acts that go well above and beyond guests’ expectations.  
The Outstanding Manager of the Year had a three-way tie in the small property category.  The first winner is James Cummings, maintenance supervisor at the Best Western Mesa Inn in Mesa, AZ.  Jim’s dedication and genuine concern for the guest experience at the 30-year-old hotel allowed the property to be proactive with potential problems that could impede the guest experience and his insight into the guest perspective was even used in property designs during renovations. Jim's determination and hard work - as well as his undying positive attitude - had an undeniable impact on the hotel and all those who came in contact with the property.
Sharing the award is William Johnson, director of hotel operations at the Best Western Evans Hotel in Grovetown, Georgia.  When Billy joined the property it had just been purchased as an independent hotel because the previous ownership had lost the brand flag.  Billy’s knowledge and hard work helped the property regain the Best Western flag within a year.  The hotel’s Best Western scores have steadily increased and the hotel received the Director’s Award for Quality Assurance for 2008 and 2009.  Billy’s favorite phrase is “dealing with the stuff of the day,” which can include assisting with the preparation of a hot meal, making beds, helping the front desk, and in general helping with the unusual issues that always arise.  The other employees watch Billy’s actions, so he leads by example and serves as a good role model for others to emulate.
The third recipient of this award is James Valona, manager of Desires at the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee.  The hotel employees follow an internal culture they call, “Yeas,” which represents the way employees should act and the attitude to strive for.  James is a true example of this mindset as he makes the effort to go above and beyond with every opportunity.  
The Outstanding Manager of the Year, medium property, is Leonard Hudson, operations manager at the Courtyard by Marriott in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Even though his focus is in the front desk area, he finds time every day to be visible in all departments, from creating the world’s best omelet to ensuring the property has the most appealing curb in the city.  His positive attitude, ability to motivate his front desk team, and connection to guests has contributed to the team’s ability to increase occupancy 3.7 percent over last year and guest service scores to consistently soar above brand average.
The award for Outstanding Manager of the Year, large property, goes to Christina Gregg, vice president of human resources at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Florida.  Within three months of joining the Gaylord Palms, she assisted in masterminding what would be a pivotal event in the hotel’s history as it prepared to open – the Grand Hire.  The Grand Hire lasted around the clock for two days as more than 14,000 applicants showed up for 1,400 jobs.  In the eight years she’s been at the property, many of her projects, promotions, and ideas have been implemented at other Gaylord hotels.
The winner for Outstanding General Manager of the Year, small property, is Kathy Blakley with the Best Western Mark Motor Hotel in Weatherford, Oklahoma.  Kathy leads by example and personally trains each of the guest service agents.  Under Kathy’s leadership, her hotel has been recognized as Best Western’s Best of the Best for five of the last nine years, including 2009, when the hotel celebrated its 50th year.  She is also very active in many community and state groups, including the High School Booster Club, the Hotel Tax Advisory Committee, and the board of the Oklahoma Hotel & Lodging Association.
The Outstanding General Manager of the Year, medium property, is Marylouise Fitzgibbon with the W Atlanta Buckhead, who successfully led the hotel to become one of the area’s premier destinations within a year of its opening.  A 17-year veteran with Starwood, she is a strategic business leader who is heavily involved in green initiatives and has cultivated strong ties to the community, serving as an adjunct professor at Georgia State University and on the board of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association.
The Outstanding General Manager of the Year had a tie in the large property category.  The first winner is Steve Cowan with the Hilton Washington, in Washington. D.C.  Since joining the landmark hotel in January 2009, he has embarked on a $140 million dollar restoration project, while hosting the only official Presidential Inaugural Ball to be held at a hotel site.  With the hotel’s restoration, Steve launched a new hotel culture challenging the team to make a commitment to not only continue, but exceed delivering the level of service guests have come to expect from the famed hotel.  Coined “Expect More,” it has become the team’s rally cry.  He is an active member of many national and local professional groups, including the Professional Management Convention Association and the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.
Sharing the large property award is Pam Samaniego with the Radisson Hotel at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee.   Because of the hotel’s proximity to the Gaylord Opryland, she has partnered closely with that hotel’s staff, from senior leaders to their reservations staff.  For example, by brainstorming with the Gaylord director of retail, she created a dedicated space in her hotel’s lobby and increasing retail revenue by 230 percent over the prior year.  She is active in her community and is involved with the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure. 
The Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year Award, named in memory of the president of the Americas for the InterContinental Hotels Group before his death in 2008, recognizes an exemplary lodging employee under age 30 who has demonstrated superior professional dedication, leadership, and a fresh perspective at their job.  This year’s recipient is Carlton McCoy, assistant manager/Sommelier of Sou’ Wester in the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C.  At the age of 25, after attending the Culinary Institute of America, Carlton externed at the Caesars Casino in Mississippi, the Aquavit Restaurant in New York, the Escoffier Restaurant affiliated with the Culinary Institute, and the Belvedere Mansion.  He has also traveled to Italy to spend a semester in a winery and to Japan to help the U.S. Navy enhance their officer’s clubs and dining facilities.  Returning to his home city to re-design the menu, name, and service of the hotel’s restaurant, he has even garnered a positive personal review from famed Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.
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 Stephanie Ricca, editor in chief of Hotel & Motel Management magazine; and Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality magazine.  
The awards ceremony was sponsored by U.S. Foodservice 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

Serving the hospitality industry for a century, AH&LA is the sole national association representing all sectors and stakeholders in the lodging industry, including individual hotel property members, hotel companies, student and faculty members, and industry suppliers. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AH&LA provides members with national advocacy on Capitol Hill, public relations and image management, education, research and information, and other value-added services to provide bottom line savings and ensure a positive business climate for the lodging industry. Partner state associations provide local representation and additional cost-saving benefits to members.


Kathryn Potter

Also See: Ten Hotels Recognized by the American Hotel & Lodging Association for Innovative Community Service, Eco-Friendly, and Diversity Programs / June 2008
Ten Industry Employees Receive the American Hotel & Lodging Association Stars of the Industry Award / April 2001

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