Collier County’s top tourism stars were honored with Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards at the ninth annual Collier County Tourism Week celebration and luncheon today at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, with over 200 people in attendance from the area’s tourism industry. The event takes place every year to coincide with National Tourism Week.
“This year’s theme is Celebrate the Stars of Our Success, said Jack Wert, executive director for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “This past year was a tough one for Florida travel and tourism with the negative impacts from the economy and misperceptions about the Gulf oil spill. With this event we are able to recognize those top performing employees that worked hard to make our destination such a memorable and welcoming place for people to come and find some much needed relaxation and quality time.”
Each year the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsors the awards event in recognition of the vital economic benefit that tourism brings to Collier County and the priceless contribution of the area’s hardworking hospitality employees. Short-term visitors staying in hotels, vacation rentals and campgrounds created an annual economic impact of over $1.16 billion in Collier County in 2010, and the more than 29,000 outstanding employees in tourism and hospitality made the Paradise Coast the destination of choice for over 1.3 million visitors last year.
Following is a list of the 2011 Paradise Coast Tourism Star Award winners along with a few highlights from their nomination forms.
Outstanding Hotel Employee – Support Staff
Jesica Bianciotto, Director of Housekeeping, Inn on Fifth. We have never had as many compliments on the cleanliness of our guest rooms as we have had since Jesica took over the Housekeeping Department. The guidelines for this award stated that it should go to an individual whose contributions often go unrecognized or unnoticed. As Jesica darts around the hotel like a speeding bullet, her tiny 75-pound body often goes unnoticed, but she notices everything. Jesica has stepped up to the plate on many occasions to enhance the experience of the hotel and neighborhood. She comes in on her day off to make sure that her rooms are perfect, she pioneers “green” initiatives, arranges to give left over soaps and shampoos to charities, leaves no stone unturned in the quest for the very best products for the guest rooms and most importantly, she never hesitates to comply immediately with any request from any other department.
Outstanding Attractions Employee – Support Staff
Rolando Albin, Maintenance Department, Naples Zoo
Rolando started his career at Naples Zoo as a groundskeeper. Management quickly discovered Rolando’s numerous skill sets. Rolando is an immigrant from Cub. In that country one must act as his own plumber, carpenter, electrician and auto mechanic. Now working on the zoo’s maintenance crew, Rolando uses these skills and more on a daily basis. Some of the electrical support facilities at the zoo were outdated. As part of the zoo’s preparation for its third national accreditation, upgrading these areas was critical. Under Rolando’s direction as Journeyman Electrician, all these areas were modernized and aided greatly in a successful accreditation process, which the zoo achieved in March 2011. Rolando worked with other zoo staff to devise and build custom carts that are towed behind the bicycles that the animal keepers use on a daily basis, These carts must be very sturdy and are used to haul heavy loads of meat, hay, grain and produce. This system of bikes and carts saves the zoo $10,000 annually in purchases and repairs of golf carts, and they are more “green” and save on energy and electric bills. Rolando also devised and installed an entire electrical wiring system for the zoo’s snakesso they could be housed in an upgraded holding facility. This job was critical as these animals need their temperature regulated at 80-degrees year round.
This is the second consecutive year the winner of the Outstanding Attractions Employee – Support Staff has been chosen from Naples Zoo. Last year’s winner was Jeff Williams, the zoo’s night security guard.
Outstanding Hotel Sales Employee
Niccole Haschak, Director of Marketing, Hilton Naples
Niccole’s greatest accomplishment in today’s social media crazed world is the ability to comprehend today’s popular social media channels and utilize them fully to benefit the hotel. Niccole blogs so much about the hotel, community events and the destination that it brings many people surfing the Internet to the Hilton Naples’ website. Her efforts have resulted in the hotel remaining regularly in the Top Three Hotels in Naples on TripAdvisor. Niccole goes on the road and presents information to many groups about the amenities at Hilton Naples. Her tireless efforts have resulted in the hotel having a very high percentage of sold out nights during this year’s peak season. Niccole’s tenacity resulted in the hotel securing the coveted Florida Society of Association Executive’s (FSAE) annual conference opening night party. The entire Hilton Naples team hosted the event by dressing up as movie stars for the party’s Oscar theme, and there were even real paparazzi, who were actually photography students. She interviewed the group’s VIP’s on a red carpet as they entered and had a live video feed into the ballroom for all to see and hear, giving the event a real Hollywood feel. The compliments that flowed in afterwards from attendees were endless.
Outstanding Attractions Sales Employee
Jenny Foegen, Director of Sales & Marketing, Naples Princess
During Jenny’s six years of service at the Naples Princess, she has brought a whole new level of service and expertise to the business and its customers. She always presents a very positive approach to all situations and challenges. Private charter business was down in 2009 and due to her diligence and creativity she was able to increase our charter business in 2010. In addition, this year is proving to be substantially better than last year with creative approaches to setting up the boat for maximum utilization by our customers. She has introduced new ideas for public cruises that have expanded this end of the business, including fashion shows, wine tastings, entertainment evenings and repeat business from the Philharmonic for fundraisers. Jenny’s involvement in local business groups has brought increased local group business to Naples Princess and has benefited the community in general.
Outstanding Hotel Employee – Front Line
Joanne Duenas, Director of Concierge Services, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples
The team at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples believes that this is Joanne’s time to shine like the true star that she is. With integrity and genuine care, Joanne provides all guests with memorable Southwest Florida experiences. In just over one year at the hotel, Joanne has created an environment and guest experience satisfaction record that was integral in the hotel winning its seventh #1 DoubleTree by Hilton worldwide CONNIE award this year, out of 230 hotels in the brand. She has increased guest loyalty and has been mentioned by name in several travel website reviews and our hotel’s emailed guest surveys. Her team members recognized her as the “first person to recognize other’s achievements,” and as the hotel’s “#1 hugger” for her enthusiastic support and warm greetings for team members.
Outstanding Attractions Employee – Front Line
Emma Andrews, National Park Ranger, Big Cypress National Preserve
Emma is a natural leader and regularly goes above and beyond her duties as a National Park Ranger. Recently she led a canoe program for 15 visitors. Half way through, one of the participants suffered a seizure in one of the canoes. Some of the group began to panic and paddle off in different directions for help. She quickly took command of the group by insisting they all stay together and radioed EMS. Due to their remote location it took several attempts, but she did eventually reach EMS and arranged a rendezvous point. The patient and the group were all brought out safely. Emma staffs a very busy visitor center and encounters visitors from all over the world. Her supervisors recently discovered that she has become fluent in speaking French and Spanish as well as English, a great help in communicating with the many international guests at the center. She has also written and produced foreign language brochures. Emma takes time to answer visitors’ many questions, she always has a smile, is never late and her uniform is always neat. Her coworkers enjoy working with her and she is always looking for more work and responsibility. She is a true asset to the Big Cypress National Preserve and the National Park Service.
Hospitality Above & Beyond
Monika Shomberg, Lobby Concierge, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa
Monika, with the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort for five years now, is just as exuberant and excited about being a concierge as the first day she started. She constantly goes above and beyond to give guests a memorable and joyous experience during their stay. The one memory that a return guest with Alzheimer’s kept from a visit three years ago was of a lost conch shell she had to return to the water as it was alive when found. She worried that she would never be able to find “her” shell. On hearing this from family members on a recent return visit to the hotel, Monika had no hesitation in providing a solution. She cleaned and restored a conch shell she kept as a planter in her garden at home. The family members presented it to their grandmother, who was overcome with joy that her conch shell had been found. She even took it to the concierge desk to show Monika that her “lost” shell had turned up. There are many other examples of Monika’s “above and beyond” efforts, equally as special and all touching the guests personally.
Best Strategic Partner
Naples Transportation, Tours & Event Planning
This award recognizes the business or organization that has shown the highest level of exemplary service to Collier County Tourism. A strong partner is always willing to work in conjunction with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and other industry partners to help promote the destination. This year the award goes to Naples Transportation, Tours & Event Planning, which has supported area resort partners since 1988. NTT&EP is always quickly willing to partner with the CVB on familiarization trips for tour operators and meeting planners, press trips, industry events and trade shows to support the destination as a whole with airport transfers, tours, activities and event enhancement. They promote everything the Paradise Coast has to offer through their Naples Trolley Tour maps and the Experience Southwest Florida magazine, which is placed inside all the company’s vehicles and partner hotel rooms. NTT&EP provides local knowledge, expertise and professionalism to the group and convention business as well as individual travelers.
The Rising Star
Fernando Cordova, Maintenance Technician, Bellasera Hotel
The Rising Star Awards recognizes a new member of a visitor service team that has been with the organization for less than one year. This year’s Rising Star is Fernando Cordova, the newest member of the Bellasera Hotel team and important addition to the maintenance department. He goes above and beyond the call of duty and strives to be the model employee. Recently some guests checked in around midnight and unfortunately there was a problem with their door lock. The hotel was at 100% capacity so there was no other room to move them to. The guest service agent on duty phoned Fernando at home and requested instructions on how to repair the door lock so the guests could enter the room. Since Fernando lives close to the hotel, he chose to get up from a sound sleep and come in within minutes to repair the door lock himself. Fernando is glad to assist in all departments of the hotel.
Connie Allen, Catering & Conference Services Coordinator, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
This award is given to the person who exudes an aura of approachability, making people feel welcome, and who is open to communicate on many levels with guests. This year’s Approachability Award goes to Connie Allen, who is the voice and face of the Catering Department at the resort. Connie greets guests on the phone and all around the resort as if they were her best friends. Even though it has nothing to do with her official duties, she often goes out of her way to assist guests with all kinds of questions, and staff requests for assistance from throughout the resort. When a manager isn’t available, Connie meets with potential clients, makes them feel welcome and delivers all of the details of their event plans to the appropriate manager. When either a guest or staff member has a question that can’t be answered it is sent to Connie, and if she doesn’t know the answer, she makes a point to find out and get the right information delivered, with a smile.
Restaurant Exemplary Service Award
Basil Katsaris, Server/Supervisor, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
Basil has an amazing rapport with the resort’s guests. Many ask for him by name. He is always mentioned on the guest comment cards. An example of a recent comment: “We love the Basil breakfast, as our grandchildren call it,” and another remark, “Basil is the best.” He is a team player, always ready to jump in assist other servers. He is also very honest. Just recently, he found a packet of money with over $2,500.00 inside and turned it in to our Security Department.
Outstanding Tourism Volunteer Award
Christine Cook, Docent and Tour Guide, Naples Botanical Garden
This award recognizes the contributions of one of the many outstanding volunteers we have working to support tourism in Collier County. Christine is an energetic, outgoing volunteer who generates enthusiasm about this special part of Southwest Florida wherever she volunteers. An avid birder and outdoor lover, she also volunteers time as a Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk Naturalist, as a literacy volunteer, a docent for the Giraffe exhibit at Naples Zoo and other local organizations. She is an accomplished photographer with two books on local parks. At Naples Botanical Garden, she has been a volunteer since 2009 and has accrued over 500 hours of service time. She was named Rookie of the Year during her first year as a garden volunteer. Christine’s knowledge of our area parks, beaches and swamps makes her a true ambassador, passing along her vast knowledge of the region to everyone she meets.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
The reel star award acknowledges a tourism partner that has distinguished itself as a film friendly location through work with the CVB’s film office. This year’s winner is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park for its professional and courteous accommodation of all manner of film and production crews taking advantage of their naturally beautiful location.
Nicole Curran, Housing Administrator, Sports Council of Collier County
The Sports Star award recognizes excellence in the promotion of and fostering of sports tourism in Collier County. This year’s award goes to Nicole Curran, an invaluable member of our Sports Council of Collier County team. Nicole was selected for the Fourth Annual Sports Star Award in recognition of her invaluable contributions to the Sports Council of Collier County both as a student intern, and later, as an employee. In the past year alone, Nicole has greatly improved member services, significantly increased exposure for our corporate sponsors, assisted in developing an enhanced Sports Council website, assisted in securing and operating large athletic events, and taken the lead role in implementing a hotel reservation system for the member hotels. Nicole’s total dedication to conducting the business of the Sports Council of Collier County has truly earned her the title of The 2011 Sports Star of the Year.
The PR Star award acknowledges a tourism partner that has distinguished itself when partnering with the CVB’s public relations team. This year’s recipient is Everglades Area Tours, lead by Captain Charles Wright. For years, Chuck has always raised his hand to assist the CVB with journalist’s requests to explore the Gulf Coast Everglades, and as his tour offerings have expanded, he and his team of naturalist guides have worked with us to produce some truly amazing coverage by publications and media outlets from around the world. Just recently, we worked with Chuck to accommodate the request of an editor at the New Your Daily News who had a desire to explore the region depicted in Peter Matthiessen’s famous novel, Killing Mr. Watson. In addition to soaking up the historical aspects, he wanted to also cover what activities were available in the Ten Thousand Islands for him and his family. Charles arranged a fishing trip that would put them on fish and take them to Watson’s Place at Chatham Bend in Everglades National Park, along with a guided motorboat assisted kayak eco tour on another day. The story is in development now, and like many other stories over the years featuring Everglades Area Tours, should be a fantastic publicity placement for our region.
Tourism Leadership Award
The Tourism Leadership Award is presented this year to Commissioner Fred Coyle in honor of his dedicated service as Tourist Development Council chairman, 2010
Director’s Award for Excellence in Tourism
Robert “Bob” Miller, Sr., Miller’s World
The Director’s Award each year is selected by tourism executive director Jack Wert. He recognizes an individual or team that has made a significant contribution to or impact on the destination. This year, the award goes to the Robert Miller, Sr., better known in the tourism community as Bob. Bob for years has been a consistent voice on the attributes of Everglades City and Everglades National Park, providing valuable input to various committees and boards, including Collier County’s Tourist Development Council. Bob’s marketing insights have lead to an increased presence for the Everglades in our destination marketing, and have lead him to recently expand and rebrand his businesses in Everglades City as Miller’s World, which includes the Glades Haven Cozy Cabins, Glades Haven Marina and the Oyster House restaurant.
Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards Judges
An independent panel of judges volunteers to study all submitted nomination forms and then votes on the winners for each award category, with the exception of those awards decided by the CVB staff. The CVB thanks the 2011 panel of judges for their support and all the time and thought they dedicated to this year’s award selection process. The 2011 judges were Donna Fiala, Collier County Commission; Beth Sterchi, Collier County EDC; Beth Rice, VISIT FLORIDA; Dr. Marcia Taylor, FGCU; Saralene Oldham, HelmsBrisco; Bryan Pease, Events Responsibly!; and Lisa Swirda, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.
The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau is the official tourism marketing agency for Collier County, Florida, funded entirely by the Collier County tourist development tax. Tourist development taxes pay for beach renourishment and coastal programs, museums, special grants and local tourism industry marketing and promotion. The CVB provides information, assistance and free visitors guides for consumers, travel agents, tour operators, the travel press and meeting planners online at www.ParadiseCoast.com or by calling 1-800-688-3600. The CVB’s local phone number is 239-252-2384.