Lee County officials said "thank you" to 585 local hospitality professionals who have helped create an annual $3 billion economic impact to our area through tourism at a special awards ceremony last Wednesday.
The customer service nominated superstars -including 34 nominees from Fort Myers Beach- received praise, while some took home trophies and plaques, during the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau's 12th annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards, known as the E Awards, at Harborside Convention Center.
"We've received nomination after nomination from visitors and local residents praising your customer service in support of tourism in Lee County," said Lee VCB Executive Director Tamara Pigott, the emcee of the ceremony, to the honorees.
Pointe Estero Beach Resort Guest Service Agent Ibrahim Maaliki proudly stands in front of his constellations trophy for being the top honoree in accommodations at the 12th annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards. Pointe Estero Guest Service Manager Jamie Gregor, a nominee for the award, joins him.
Nominations were judged on service satisfaction, leadership, work ethic, job knowledge, awareness of Lee County infrastructure and compassion and support for others. Acts of kindness are everyday traits for these nominees and recipients.
Pointe Estero Beach Resort Guest Service Agent Ibrahim Maaliki was chosen as the top recipient in Accommodations. Two other Beach employees - Outrigger Beach Resort's Kade Wildman and Neptune Inn's Fred Coleman- received honorable mentions in the six categories that also included Attractions, Good Samaritan, Restaurant, Transportation, Other Services/Businesses. Best Tourism Boss and Honor of Distinction winner were other distinctions.
Maaliki, a 2009, 2010 and 2010 E Awards nominee in the Accommodations category, received countless compliments in nominations with phrases like "unfailingly polite," "good humored," "gentle" and "so focused in helping others that he isn't even aware how his unselfish acts provides guests with an incredible vacation experience." One nominator from Ontario said his exceptional customer service was more like "customer care" during the guests' holiday at Point Estero Beach Resort.
Here is a list of the business nominees from Fort Myers Beach:
Janet Atwood - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Sasha Fitzpatrick - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Deborah 'Spike" Gibbons - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Leah Johnson - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Amy Petrik - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Angela Robbins - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Vicki Rogers - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Marika Whitacre - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Jay Winchester - DiamondHead Beach Resort
Alex Baldelomar - Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina
Cliff Baldwin - Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina
Craig Barnett - Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina
Mark Dickson - Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina
Dony Lubig - Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina
Fred Coleman - Neptune Inn
Jeff Malbon - Best Western Beach Resort
Joy Peoples - Best Western Beach Resort
Al Durrett - Fish Tale Marina
Denicia Denis - Holiday Inn Beach Resort
Cheryl Miller - Outrigger Beach Resort
April Stevens - Outrigger Beach Resort
Kade Wildman - Outrigger Beach Resort
John Gallagher - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Jamie Gregor - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Oleg Kharitonenko - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Karen Lewis - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Ibrahim Maaliki - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Scott McBride - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Rick Newman - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Enrique Ramone - Pointe Estero Beach Resort
Lynne Turner SunStream Vacation Club
Ann Alsop - Century 21 Tri-Power Realty
Amy Bessert - Century 21 Tri-Power Realty
Michelle Robinson - Century 21 Tri-Power Realty
A Beach resident, Maaliki has worked for SunStream Hotels & Resorts for close to 14 years -10 years at Santa Maria, six months at DiamondHead Beach Resort and three years at Pointe Estero.
"It's very nice to feel appreciated," Maaliki said a day after the ceremony. "I do it from the heart. I enjoy meeting people. The people who come here are wonderful people."
Other nominators said the guest services agent went beyond the call of duty by recommending restaurants and providing menus. He even rushed a towel to a guest and apologized, even when the guest said they had lost their towel.
"He's the quintessential guest services representative," lauded another nominator from Ontario. "He will do anything for his guest. He even took my son fishing on his day off."
Other category winners were Richard McCaw of Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Restaurants; Bill Weidert of American Airlines in Transportation; Christine Swierszm of F.I.S.H. of Sanibel for Good Samaritan; Kevin Kelly of Publix Supermarket in Other Services/Businesses; Ashley Pass of Koreshan State Historic Site in Attractions; Pete Corradino of Everglades Day Safari as Best Tourism Boss; and Billy Detter of Hilton Garden Inn for Honor of Distinction.
Wildman, a server, received honorable mention in the Restaurant category for "gentle care" and "focus on supportive service" after the daughter of a Wisconsin family suffered a seizure during a dinner at the Deckside Caf at the Outrigger Beach Resort. He took extra time making sure the meals were prepared hot and the food and drink were personally delivered to the room. He also repeatedly checked back with the guests to make sure there were no problems.
"This is wonderful. This makes me feel really appreciated for the work I do," he said. "I would like to thank the people who nominated me."
Coleman, assistant general manager, also was honored for mention in the Accommodations category for "tremendous support, "kindness" and "generosity of spirit" to the family of a hospitalized guest at Neptune Inn. He also took the time to communicate with the guest's family back home and the travel insurance company to insure all went well.
Pigott applauded all nominees and stated that County visitors spent more than $2.6 billion in 2011, helping to employ more than 61,000 people (or one out of very four jobs) in the area's tourism trade.
"You are one of the main reasons why visitors enjoy spending their time with us and why they come back again and again," she said.
"You are the most important people. You are the first to meet the customer and the last people that leaves something good in their minds," added News-Press media group's Terry Eberle, the event's co-hosting sponsor.
The E Awards are sponsored in collaboration with local businesses to encourage and support service excellence being provided by Lee County hospitality professionals. Nominations were accepted through Aug. 3.
Beach business sponsors included Fort Myers Princess, Key West Express, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina and SunStream Hotels & Resorts
The awards are named after Elaine McLaughlin, a former Lee VCB executive director who believes all County workers should provide superior customer service to every guest.
"Customer service is about how we treat other people. It comes down to treating others the way we want to be treated, helping where we can and solving problems that make people smile," said McLaughlin. "You're the reason that our economy has survived this terrible tax recession better than other communities."
"We say thank you to those employees in the hospitality and allied industries who go the extra mile by providing outstanding customer service," added John Manning, chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.
Manning reminded everyone that tourism is the major engine that drives the local economy and stated nearly 5 million visitors come to Lee County annually.
"Customer service satisfaction plays a huge role in visitors coming back to our area," he said. "The nominees and recipients of the E Awards work hard every day to make an impression on the people they serve."