WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 18, 2017 — The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) revealed its 2017 Stars of the Industry – the nation’s top employees and properties in the hospitality and lodging industry who will be honored for outstanding accomplishments, service, and leadership.

Jenna Bush Hager, contributing correspondent on NBC's TODAY Show and an editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine, hosted the ceremony at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. and presented the winners with their awards, alongside industry executives, AHLA president and CEO, Katherine Lugar, and all of AHLA’s officers: AHLA Chair, Mark Carrier, President of B.F. Saul Hospitality Group; Vice Chair, Geoff Ballotti, President and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group; Jon Bortz, AHLA Secretary and Treasurer and President & CEO, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust; and Jim Abrahamson, AHLA immediate past chair.

“AHLA’s Stars of the Industry awards are the most important we bestow every year. People ask all the time: What’s the best part about working in the hospitality industry? Very simply – it’s the people,” Lugar commented as she opened the ceremony. “And tonight is about the best of the best. The people who go above and beyond to serve their guests day in and day out… The people who show compassion in the way they work and have a smile on their face, through it all.”

The winners – chosen from nearly 500 incredible nominations from all sectors of the industry and across the country – showed superior dedication, promise and passion for service in specific categories, ranging from emerging leader, to mentors who advance women in the workplace, to excellence in innovation and top employee and general manager of the year.

In addition to awarding the top industry employees, AHLA also presented two members of Congress the inaugural Spirit of Hospitality award for their role in advancing the travel and tourism industry, which is responsible for one in nine jobs in the United States. This year’s awards will go to Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who will be in attendance during the ceremony.

“As an industry that supports some eight million jobs and is represented in every Congressional district in America, the hotel industry is a driver of the economy at all levels of government,” Lugar said. “What happens in Washington reverberates throughout the country. That’s why we felt it was important to create a dedicated award that celebrates Members of Congress who embody the qualities shared by those of in hospitality: compassion, empathy and service.”

This year’s Stars of the Industry were selected by an illustrious panel of industry leaders, including: Jim Abrahamson, AHLA Immediate Past Chair; John Campbell, General Manager, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club; Karen DiFulgo, Chief People Officer, Benchmark Global Hospitality; Terri Haack, President, Terranea Resort/Destination Hotels; Barbara Hollkamp, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hilton Grand Vacation Club; Kirk Kinsell, Principal, Panther Ridge Partners, LLC; Tracy Lammers, Brand & Product Marketing Manager, Hcareers; Bree Lewis, Senior Manager, Sales Strategy & Market Development, HD Supply; and Andrea Torrance, Senior Vice President Operations Support, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International.

AHLA’s 2017 Stars of the Industry winners are list below:

NORTH STAR EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR: Maria Ortiz, Restaurant Supervisor, Wyndham Houston Medical Center Hotel & Suites, Houston, TX – As the most prestigious award presented at AHLA’s Stars of the Industry ceremony, the North Star honors non-management level associates who make a significant difference day in and day out in the hospitality business. In the 36 years Maria has been with the Wyndham Houston Medical Center Hotel & Suites, she has developed a reputation among guests and staff as someone who makes real connections with regular customers and often shoulders the weight of their private struggles, writing uplifting notes or delivering special packages to those in need, staying late, coming in early. Maria’s efforts go above and beyond any job description. She’s not an employee, she is part of the fabric of the community, a driving force in the workplace culture, a positive example for future generations, and an inspiration to us all.

INNOVATION AWARD: The Inn at Longwood Medical, Boston, MA – Just a two-minute walk from Boston Children’s Hospital, The Inn at Longwood Medical could easily be considered a home away from home by its guests – many of whom are patients, or the families of patients – who are going through difficult, unimaginable situations. Last year, The Inn created a new mascot – Hope the Teddy Bear – given to each child receiving treatment at the hospital. It serves as a beacon of comfort and warmth in difficult times. Hope the Bear has become so popular, that The Inn’s team also developed and distributes a coloring book so the kids can participate in Hope’s adventures. The hospitality industry selected the Inn at Longwood Medical as the winner of its Innovation award, for pushing the boundaries to provide a unique and inspiring way to comfort guests, and bringing Hope to these children and their families.

GENERAL MANAGER OF THE YEAR FOR A LARGE PROPERTY: John Evans, General Manager, Silverado Resort & Spa, Napa, CA – John Evans is General Manager of the Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa, California. In the 35 years he has been a member of the hospitality industry, John has supported, grown, and represented an incredible range of brands from coast to coast, and his teams have received many accolades for major achievements in quality, customer service and sales. But John’s real value is seen in the lives he touches. Thousands of associates have grown their careers and learned what it is to be a true industry professional by following John’s example. Most recently, as General Manager at the Silverado Resort & Spa, John has successfully built a culture of excellence, passion, work ethic, and service. John believes hotels are not simply businesses built to make money, but pillars of our greater American culture and community, and recognizes that the success of any hotel goes far beyond the property on which it sits. Thanks in large part to John’s foresight and vision, the resort truly serves as an economic lifeline and an impressionable focal point to both Napa visitors and locals alike.

GENERAL MANAGER OF THE YEAR FOR A SMALL PROPERTY: Craig Poole, General Manager, DoubleTree by Hilton, Reading, PA – Craig Poole is General Manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in the inner-city of Reading, Pennsylvania. When Craig took over this role, he saw a need to expand his job description beyond the walls of the building and started walking Penn Street – introducing himself to all the local business owners, encouraging them to paint store fronts, fix broken windows, plant flowers, and establish outdoor seating areas – and it worked. Thanks to Craig, the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading is the centerpiece of a community undergoing its own renaissance. Craig’s compassion and support for his community is further reflected in his management style, including his role as a second chance employer, where he hires local residents who have recently come out of the justice system, providing many of his associates with an opportunity they likely would not have had in other industries.

PAVING THE WAY AWARD: Marina MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer, Red Roof Inn, Columbus, OH – With so many women leaders at Red Roof Inn – and throughout the hotel and lodging industry – Marina felt the need to harness that energy and passion and connect women from across the country. Using her unique skillset and significant platform as Chief Marketing Officer, Marina designed an all-women forum focused on promoting leadership and empowering women entrepreneurs. Marina welcomed close to 100 attendees at the inaugural event, and is already soliciting and incorporating feedback for the next forum. She is also developing additional workshops focused on everything from public speaking and mentoring, to advances in technology and marketing. Her ability to recognize the importance of encouraging women to grow their careers and pursue leadership roles, and put that recognition into action, is what made her this year’s winner of the industry’s Paving the Way award.

STEVAN PORTER EMERGING HOSPITALITY LEADER OF THE YEAR: Jessica Gaskin, Director of Housekeeping, Omni San Francisco, San Francisco, CA – Jessica Gaskin is the Director of Housekeeping at the Omni San Francisco. In just six short years, Jessica has been promoted five times, moving up from working in a smaller hotel, to helping manage an 400 room, 80,000 square feet of meeting space resort, to being a director at a 600 room, 100,000 square feet of meeting space property. All the while, she has streamlined processes, implemented new training programs, and worked hard to personally help advance the careers of her associates. Recognizing how providing quality service to team members translates to quality service for customers so early in what will be an undoubtedly long and successful career is truly impressive and deserving of an award that recognizes emerging leaders who energize the industry and inspire those around them.

NORTH STAR EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR FINALIST: Lisalani Baybayan, Regency Club Concierge, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Lahaina, HI – Lisalani Baybayan is the Regency Club Concierge, at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. For the past 33 years, Lisalani has touched thousands of lives through her joyful and gracious personality, her love of life, and her family focus. She has had a profound impact on those she’s served, and makes every day an opportunity to share her Aloha with others. She embraces change and new experiences, and is always learning. Her colleagues find her such a joy to work with they refer to her as their “Ambassador of Aloha!” She treats guests like family, even writing letters to them before and after their visits.

NORTH STAR EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR FINALIST: Derrick Behlin, Houseperson, Courtyard Marriott Convention Center, Washington, D.C. – Derrick Behlin is the Houseperson for the Courtyard Marriott Convention Center in Washington, D.C. He is a native Washingtonian and the most tenured team member at his hotel. Derrick embodies the very essence of the hotel’s core values — exemplary service to guests and associates, while supporting meaningful causes that inspire, uplift and deliver hope to the local community. As a result of his genuinely hospitable spirit, Derrick has developed relationships with regular guests, those passing by the front entrance en route to work, tenants in the neighboring building, and his fellow team members throughout the hotel. Derrick’s contributions to the hotel and local community are immeasurable!