E Awards

2018 Winners Stories

2018 Honor of Distinction & Category Winners Stories




Domingo Nieves, Sandalfoot Beachfront Condominium - Honor of Distinction

Why the 2018 Honor of Distinction winner’s consistent professionalism, focused dedication to the guest experience, and tireless work ethic was so incredible, received from several nominators:

  • “My nominee exemplifies outstanding hospitality in his actions and behavior. But before, during, and following Hurricane Irma, he really set himself apart. On top of “battening down the hatches" during normal work hours, before, and after work, he was helping owners prepare for the storm, as well as checking on their properties and handling cleanup up after the storm. He helped other employees too. My family had a tree blown down in our yard that also straddled the neighbors front lawn, so he came over that evening when we weren’t there and took the tree down himself, cut it into small logs, and placed it all on the curb for recycling to pick up. I assumed the neighbor had done it and only found out by accident the next day that my nominee had done it! He also always helps our elderly guests with mobility issues, gives guests rides to the grocery store when they don’t have a vehicle, and, best of all, he’s a great cook and likes to bring in samples for everyone. Every guest knows him and loves him because he makes every single guest feel special and just like family. He’s tireless, self-sacrificing, humble, compassionate and an all-around exceptional human being and ambassador for us all!
  • “My nominee, on two separate trips on his own time, delivered six generators to Puerto Rico to help out neighbors that lived near his uncle’s house. If not for him, they would have been totally without access to power.
  • “He often helps out local businesses that need a quick handyman, and always does so at no charge.”
  • “You know you can count on him and trust him. He never tires and never complains. I’ve never known someone who works so hard and so long—even after the work day is over—to help others.”


Accommodations Category Winner: RODNEY SASHER, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina

RODNEY SASHER, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina - Accommodations Category Winner

  • From a guest from Zionsville, Indiana: “My family and I have been coming to this resort for years. Let me first say that my nominee is amazing. His professionalism, character, and work ethic surpass any employee I’ve met. In the midst of my daughter’s wedding when many things were going wrong, my nominee was my ‘fixer’ and caregiver. Our original wedding planner had left and many prearranged things fell by the wayside. He picked up the ball and made sure we were well taken care of. When we were almost in tears many times, it was often my nominee to the rescue. Everything from parking passes for local guests to assuring me that items I hadn’t authorized weren’t on my bill—he took care of it and everything came with a hug! He has extra-special colleagues as well, but I want to recognize my nominee’s demeanor, energy, enthusiasm, zest for life, concern for guests, professionalism, and for always being polite and kind to me and my family.”
  • From a Canton, Ohio, nominator: “We planned our son’s “Make a Wish” trip to this resort and, being a family of 7, needed this down time. Before we even arrived, my nominee had spearheaded a video that brought us to tears, as we felt like royalty and family before we even stepped foot on the property. We drove down in an RV and when we pulled up we were welcomed and honored by the entire staff. Everyone was amazing but he went beyond our expectations to make sure our son had everything he needed, wanted, and even did not know he needed yet! He helped our 8-year old son make a raft so he could celebrate his birthday on site with his dad, having fun in the water. He made sure he captured the moments for us too so we could relive the memories—which has been made extra special for us, as our son has passed away. We made memories together as a family that are beyond words, and we’re coming back every year—my nominee and the resort are our FLORIDA FAMILY now because of his enormous love for our little boy. Our nominee always makes sure that our time at the resort is magical and full of memories that we can cherish and think back on to help us smile on days that seem so hard now. We can’t imagine another place to visit, because of our nominee.”
  • And from a New York nominee, who said simply and powerfully: “He always makes us feel as if we’ve come home. We feel like we have family at the front desk.”


Attractions Category Winner: ANNE FALCONE & RHETT STANBERRY, Everglades Day Safari 


  • As the nominator said, “When an aggressive driver caused a horrific accident to our tour van and then left the scene without stopping, my nominee, the van driver, was able to miraculously maneuver the van and prevent a complete catastrophe. The accident was serious but despite the situation and totaled van, my nominee was able to keep her wits about her and tend to the injured passengers. While many were in shock, she assured their safety and comfort while first responders were on their way. My second nominee, new to the job, was following behind her in another tour van and without hesitation jumped in to help, after first making sure his guests were okay. Later that evening, banged up and bruised, my nominee checked on the passengers at the hospital to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for.
  • I expect our guides to be professional, educated and entertaining. They are all of those things on a daily basis and I’m proud to have them as co-workers because they do their jobs so well. What I could not be more proud of is how they responded in an unthinkable crisis. In the months that have passed I’ve kept in touch with the passengers that were involved in the accident. It’s a day we would all not soon forget and yet they have expressed to me on several occasions how much they appreciated how my nominees handled what transpired. I cannot forget that and am beyond grateful for their efforts.”


Restaurant Category Winner: MICHELLE WYATT, Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Myers-Estero

Michelle Wyatt

 “My nominee has been with us for the past year and goes above and beyond the responsibilities of her job every day to ensure that she leaves an impact on our guest’s experiences…and boy does she leave an impact! She gets personally involved with a few guests every day by showing them local places to eat or visit and even goes as far as setting up and arranging plans for them. But here is the real kicker—in March we had a fire and gas leak before 7 am. We only had two people on site at the time the fire started, my nominee and our night auditor. When I arrived in response to the alarm, our night auditor had evacuated the building, per protocol, but my nominee had gone up to each floor banging on our guests’ doors to ensure the hotel was fully evacuated. Her actions were heroic. In the face of danger, she leaped into action to make sure our guests were safe. We then headed to the parking lot once all the guests were evacuated. Despite the gas leak, the fire department allowed us to reenter the building to grab coffee and other food items for our cold and hungry guests outside. My nominee continued her ‘normal’ job serving our guests from the bed of our truck. She was truly amazing.”


Transportation Category Winner: MIKE BURNLEY, MBA Airport Transportation

MIKE BURNLEY, MBA Airport Transportation

“I received a call from my nominee explaining that at least ten flights from last night had been diverted to other airports around the state and that the bussed passengers would begin arriving very early in the morning. I needed to be ready for 250-500 passengers who might need alternate transportation. When I arrived and asked how many taxi’s might be needed, my nominee explained we wouldn’t need many and said, ‘I got this, don’t worry’. The first bus arrived at 5 am and the weary passengers started asking for taxi service. As I directed them to my nominee, he was on the phone with transportation providers rounding up all cars available.  He greeted each passenger with a smile and explained that he would be taking care of them and cars would be arriving momentarily.  He joked and asked if families minded sharing a ride with other families as he filled vehicles with strangers who were going to destinations close to each other to maximize his resources. The next bus and the next bus and the next bus arrived, 5 in all. By the time he finished assisting everyone he had orchestrated some 35 taxi rides and helped about 175 tired, exhausted travelers to get to their final destination. By the way, he arrived at 3 am to start preparing for this challenge. His actions to take ownership of this task and his friendly smile made a bad situation into an outstanding example of guest service that went well beyond expectations.”


Other Services/Businesses Category Winner: MARIE DREESSEN and SHEILA SIMPSON, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber Of Commerce

SHEILA SIMPSON, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber Of Commerce

 “I received a handwritten note of thanks for going above and beyond the call. A couple were biking together on a tandem bike. They fell near where my nominee worked and came in to get a band-aid. The lady’s finger didn’t look good, so my nominee bandaged her finger to stop the bleeding. Because she had a nursing background, she suggested they go to the walk-in medical center, but all they had was the bike. My second nominee offered to drive them there, and then waited while they were seen by the doctor, who told them they needed to go to the ER off-island. So my nominee drove them to where they were staying and made certain they had directions to get to Bass Road. I am so proud of my two nominees for their efforts as our representatives. And, by the way, the lady’s finger was broken in three places, required stitching, and a splint!


Good Samaritan Category Winner: DESIREE ATKINSON, Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon

DESIREE ATKINSON, Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon

It’s always wonderful to hear about the many good things that tourism professionals do to help others, like this poignant story: 

“One Friday afternoon,” the nominator said, “my nominee was heading to work when she heard an auto accident happen close by her. Putting her personal safety aside, she rushed to the aid of an injured motorcyclist. She quickly directed others to call 911 and to get her towels and other supplies, all while never leaving the side of the severely injured person. She tried to stop the bleeding while giving comfort and aid to the dying man. While she was unable to save his life, she was able to hold his hand in his final moments while remaining calm and composed during this very intense situation.”


Best Tourism Boss: AARON ALGER, General Manager, Drury Inn & Suites Ft. Myers

AARON ALGER, General Manager, Drury Inn & Suites Ft. Myers

It’s hard to pick one nominee out of so many that represents the Best of the Best when it comes to bosses. Great leadership, sound judgment, unquestionable support of their team—these are just a few of the traits that kept rising to the top with this winner. 

Nominations came in about many, many good bosses -- from housekeeping supervisors to front desk managers to general managers and more -- that we were reminded once again that these leaders are exemplary role models and mentors to our front line. They model good service and ‘walk the walk’ with their teams. They back them up, teach, cover for them, lead by example, listen well, guide and protect, share the praise and take the heat if something goes wrong. They help all of you become leaders in your fields so that you keep growing within your organization, so that one day you find YOU are helping those coming up behind YOU. 

That’s what good leaders do. Nurture, encourage, lead by example, guide, and practice the true meaning of servant leadership. At the discretion of the VCB based on these attributes, nominations, and more, the Best Tourism Boss winner is chosen and personifies these essential qualities. 

Here’s a few good reasons about why this year’s winner was chosen—

Why this year’s Best Tourism Boss winner was chosen—

  • “Without a doubt the most supportive, hands-on, and involved manager I have ever worked with. He works diligently and truly cares about his staff, the guests, and the company. He’s a role model to all that aspire to be in management, continuously demonstrating good ethics and morality in both situational and daily business efforts.”
  • “The best of the best and a genuine person.”
  • “Helps all guests with their needs and makes sure each guest’s stay exceeds their expectations. He also goes above and beyond for his staff. Whenever there is an issue he gets right on it and makes sure everything gets ‘fixed’ right away. He is amazing with his team and makes sure his operation runs smoothly.”
  • “He is the epitome of hospitality. He walks into work ready to take on the day and assist every department in any way he can. He has created such a great environment to work in that every employee is excited to come in to work.”


Hurricane Hero Category Winner: MARIO RAMIREZ, Holiday Inn Express & Suites at the Forum

MARIO RAMIREZ, Holiday Inn Express & Suites at the Forum

The HURRICANE HERO category recognizes a tourism employee who provided selfless acts of support for stranded visitors and local residents during Hurricane Irma last fall. Whether it was practical, hands-on, care, or having to think outside the box when it came to solving many unexpected problems encountered before, during and after the storm, to even truly incredible acts of heroism, many tourism employees stepped up to take care of guests when they desperately needed help.


“My Hurricane Hero nominee not only continues to provide a high level of customer service year after year, but during the storm rose to the occasion time and time again. Once the location lost power, he was one of our on-call team members who stayed on site 24-7 until all services were restored, which included many long, sleepless nights. He repeatedly helped our guests with a beaming smile and sense of calm. One example--bringing juices and food to an elderly woman who was stranded and had difficulty going up and down stairs, with no family to assist her during her two-week stay. Here’s another—he also assisted paramedics with a panic-stricken mobility disabled guest who needed to be relocated to a first floor room, then made sure to manually bring her electric wheelchair down three flights of stairs, since the elevators were not yet working, so she would not have to remain bedridden. The list of all he did to help others and take care of our business is long, but despite his own home experiencing some flooding, he never left us, never let his concern about his personal situation show, and always put our customers first. He always has been and continues to be a top quality employee in any service-related capacity needed. His willingness to help others is truly genuine and always natural, on every level.”