Excellence in hospitality industry celebrated

Date: 6/26/2013

HOLYOKE – The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) honored nine individuals from the hospitality industry on June 19, during the 18th annual Howdy Awards for Hospitality Excellence.

The gala dinner, which took place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, attracted more than 360 tourism industry professionals.

The awards, produced by the GSCVB, recognize front-line employees in the hospitality industry who go above and beyond in the performance of their duties and provide outstanding service to their guests and customers. By doing so, these hospitality professionals contribute to the economic vitality of the businesses they serve and the region overall.

The winners were chosen from among 51 finalists, who were honored at a reception in May. The finalists were selected by the Howdy Awards Committee from nearly 400 nominations among seven categories.

The committee also selected James E. Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, to receive the Spotlight Award, which recognizes individuals or organizations for their dedication and outstanding contribution to the region's hospitality industry.

This year the GSCVB added a new category, the People's Choice Award, which was awarded to the Finalist who had gotten the most "likes" on the Howdy Awards Facebook page.

"We're proud and happy to present the Howdy Awards to honor some of the most important people in the hospitality industry, the frontline workers," Mary Kay Wydra, GSCVB president, said. "They are usually the first person a visitor encounters, and if they're especially nice and go above and beyond, that visitor is likely to return to that – and other – tourism locations. In that case, everybody wins ... the visitor has a great experience, the location captures their business, and the Pioneer Valley economy is enhanced. This year's event is also exciting because of the introduction of the People's Choice Award, which allows the public to have a say in naming their favorite Finalist."

Upon bestowing the Spotlight Award on Rooney, GSCVB Chairman Michael E. Hurwitz stated, "Although Boston-based, Jim has greatly enriched the Pioneer Valley's tourism industry, especially in the lucrative meetings and conventions market. His efforts on behalf of the MassMutual Center have resulted in untold advantages for our region. His dedication to the venue has contributed to its appeal to meeting planners as a top choice for conventions and other groups. When a meeting or convention comes to the Pioneer Valley, so many businesses benefit; hotels, restaurants, attractions, retail outlets and more. Those of us in the hospitality industry are very grateful for Jim's support of our industry."

The Howdy Awards program consists of a nomination process for which any hospitality service provider in the region is eligible – regardless of whether their organization is a GSCVB member. A trio of respected industry leaders selected from outside the Pioneer Valley judges the finalists, and selects the winners in each category. The judges for this year's event were Susan Nicholl, executive director at the MetroWest Visitors Bureau in Framingham, Mass.; Rosemary Bove, hospitality and information services manager at the Connecticut Office of Tourism in Hartford, Conn.; and Kelly Boucher, education and events manager of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association in Albany, N.Y.

Each hospitality award winner received the decorative etched glass Hospitality Excellence Award, a framed certificate of achievement, a Howdy Winner lapel pin, and a gift bag filled with gift certificates and other items from the region's top tourism establishments.

The GSCVB Howdy Award winners are as follows:

• Accommodations – Stephen Zacek, banquet server and concierge at The Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst;

• Attractions – Gene Eggleston, show staff member at Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield;

• Beverage – Natasha Reno, head barista at Electric CafĂ© in Holyoke;

• Food – Dan LaFlamme, waiter at The Whately Inn in Whately;

• Public Service – John Ackourey – Radiology Service representative at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield;

• Retail/Business – Malina Barrows, assistant branch manager at PeoplesBank in Springfield;

• Transportation, Peter Bednarz, cashier at F.L. Roberts in Springfield;

• Spotlight Winner – James E. Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority; and

• People's Choice Award Winner – Mary Bowen, manager of Off the Map Tattoo in Easthampton.