Three honorable mention distinctions went to four above-and-beyond Fort Myers Beach business employees at the 13th annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers last week.
Jason Bryner and Todd Runes of Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina and Rob Green and Kylie Gouriluk of DiamondHead Beach Resort received plaques for best exemplifying the spirit of hospitality. The E Awards -produced by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau- were presented in six categories: accommodations, attractions, restaurants, other services/businesses, transportation and Good Samaritan.
Overall, the award ceremony recognized 595 nominees among more than 52,000 people that are employed directly or indirectly in the hospitality industry - a 1 in 5 ratio for jobs in Lee County. That number generates $2.7 billion worth of economic impact to Lee County.
Beach business employees enjoyed honorable mention recognition at the 13th annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards last week. Rob Green and Kylie Gouriluk of DiamondHead Beach Resort (pictured) were co-honored under Accommodations. Pink Shell Beach Resort's Todd Runes (Accommodations) and Jason Bryner (Restaurant) also received praise during the ceremony.
"Sometimes it's not what you say, it's what you do," Lee VCB Executive Director Tamara Pigott said to the attendees. "Your consistent, outstanding service deserves recognition."
Nomination criteria involved service satisfaction, leadership, work ethic, job knowledge, performance skills, familiarity with the destination and assistance during an emergency. Generosity, spirit, kindness, passion and performing small acts of support also led to nominations and eventual winners.
"Each of you provide an importance to Lee County. You take a special effort and a special care to make sure that someone that is visiting our area has the very best experience," said Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, chairman of the local Tourist Development Council. "You are the leaders in Lee County. We thank you for always doing your best."
The category winners were Ciro Prudente of Homewood Suites by Hilton in Bonita Springs in Accommodations; Kathy Allen of Tarpon Bay Explorers on Sanibel Island in Attractions; Carrie Faith of Keylime Bistro on Captiva Island in Restaurants; Jonelle Durazzo of the United States Postal Service in Captiva Island in Other Services/Businesses; Christina Hart of Transportation Security Administration in Fort Myers in Transportation; and Dave, John and Jim Jensen of Jensen's Twin Palm Resort on Captiva Island for Good Samaritan. Best Tourism Boss was awarded to Margarita Lamboy of SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Fort Myers, and Honor of Distinction Winner went to Lisa Hart of Beachview Cottages on Sanibel Island.
As far as the Beach honorees, Bryner was a mention in the Restaurant category for going beyond his line cook duties at a holiday buffet at Pink Shell. Instead of plainly answering a question about the effects of cooking a turkey in a small convection microwave oven in a studio unit, Bryner told the guest to bring him the turkey and return in two hours.
"During that time, not only did my nominee cook a perfect Thanksgiving turkey, but he displayed it on a platter complete with other food items," the nomination read.
While the guest and family were very impressed and remarked it made their stay, Bryner never told anyone. The thoughtful and modest action was noticed when a letter of praise was sent.
Green and Gouriluk were co-honorable mentions under Accommodations for their efforts after a severe thunderstorm caused havoc at the DiamondHead pool area. Two separate nominations stated the thunderstorm tossed umbrellas and furniture into the air and, when a guest instinctively grabbed one of the umbrellas to save her six-year-old daughter from harm, the same umbrella swung towards her, struck her in the head and knocked her unconscious while her husband and daughter watched in horror.
"Without hesitation, the nominees changed their schedules and offered to look after the couples' daughter as they had no other family or support in the area," one nomination said. "While the father spent the next four days in ICU by his wife's side, our nominees took the young girl under their wing and helped her have the vacation she was looking forward to with swimming, beach activities and even checking guests into the hotel while helping out at the front desk."
Another letter stated: "One of the nominees made sure (the daughter) had regular meals and stayed with her the entire time, while the other had her help him do one of his normal duties, which is cleaning the parking lot. However, in this case, he had her on a treasure hunt, looking for things that didn't belong, which sparked her imagination and took her mind off her parents for a little while."
Also recognized under Accommodations, Runes is a long-time dedicated employee at Pink Shell who has received numerous letters of recognition, some from fellow co-workers. Statements referred to his big smile and his willingness to help anyone. His co-workers realized how much he contributed when he was hospitalized for two weeks with a life-threatening disease.
"It took six staff people to do daily what he did himself," one nomination letter said. "Beside a strong work ethic, they realized how effortless he made everything look, how much he helped each of them and how vital he was to the operation. Even though he was ill, he called in every couple of days in case there were questions. Since leaving the hospital and still in chemotherapy, he has not missed a day of work. His dedication, leadership and good spirits is an inspiration to the entire team. That's internal customer service."
The awards are named after Elaine McLaughlin, a former Lee VCB executive director, who was in attendance. She believes all County workers should provide superior customer service to every guest. Nominations came from visitors and fellow industry workers that took the time to fill out forms because they noticed customer care was affected in some positive way.
"You are the stars of Lee County's service industry," McLaughlin said. "I want to thank you for everything you do to make people come to our Lee County home. You make them feel welcome and special."
In memory but not forgotten
Last year, Pointe Estero Beach Resort Guest Service Agent Ibrahim Maaliki was chosen as the top recipient in Accommodations. Unfortunately, Maaliki passed away earlier this year. He was honored before the winners were announced in that category.
"We will never forget his humility, service ethic and the way he made people feel genuinely cared about," said Pigott. "As his Director of Operations Gary Lock said, he was truly a special individual, and we were blessed to have him as both a team member and a friend. He was not working for reward or recognition, but just because he truly enjoyed it. His kindness and service truly came from the heart. That is something that cannot be trained or replaced."
Last September, Maaliki was interviewed for a story in the Beach Observer,. His genuine quality was apparent. He had collected nominations in the Accommodations category in 2009, 2010 and 2011, before winning it in 2012 with countless nomination compliments such as "unfailingly polite," "good humored," "gentle" and "so focused in helping others that he isn't even aware how his unselfish acts provide guests with an incredible vacation experience."
A Beach resident, Maaliki worked for SunStream Hotels & Resorts for close to 15 years -10 years at Santa Maria, six months at DiamondHead Beach Resort and four years at Pointe Estero.