AHLA honors star employees after devastating year

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation (AHLA Foundation) honored the women and men across the country who selflessly led their teams and supported their communities during a year unlike any other with the 2021 Stars of the Industry Awards ceremony. Despite this monumentally challenging year for the industry, nearly 300 deserving hotel employees representing every job from front desk agents and housekeepers to general managers and servers were nominated for the industry’s highest honors. The event raised funds to support the AHLA Foundation’s mission.

The evening’s premier accolade, the North Star Award, which recognizes someone who demonstrates leadership and extraordinary devotion to this industry, was presented to James “Jimbo” Leahy, door attendant, Boston Marriott Long Wharf, who has dedicated his life and career to Marriott and his city of Boston. Known for his warm smile and thoughtful leadership, his love of his property is palpable, working extra hours to support his team over the past year and going above and beyond to make his guests and team feel special and appreciated every day, according to the AHLA.

“The Stars of the Industry Awards honor special individuals who have supported their coworkers and their communities by going beyond the call of duty despite an unprecedented year for the hotel industry,” said Chip Rogers, president/CEO of AHLA. “The women and men recognized at this event embody the true spirit of hospitality, going above and beyond for their guests and our hotels like never before. Their stories will tug heartstrings and we are proud to know them.”

The award ceremony featured remarks from AHLA’s officers of the board and other industry leaders. The hotel industry will continue to celebrate the industry’s greatest resources—its people—at the AHLA Foundation’s Night of a Thousand Stars Gala, the Foundation’s premier fundraiser, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles on July 25.

AHLA’s 2020 Stars of the Industry winners, with commentary from the organization, are:

Michael Porter, general manager, Motel 6, Saint Paul, MN
In his short three-year tenure, Porter has made great strides to uplift his staff and property. Leading by example, he has earned his property consistent top ratings for cleanliness and guest satisfaction in the region. He is also active in food assistance programs that provide meals for more than 100 families in his local community each week. Even Tesla has taken notice and donated to continue his mission to better serve his community.

David Piscola, general manager, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, New Orleans
Piscola has been a member of the Hilton team for almost 27 years, impacting the many lives around him. He saw the perfect opportunity to fill empty rooms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by partnering with Xavier University to house more than 700 students. He was able to bring back many of his employees and worked to assist impacted team members with food pantry bag distributions. His 24/7 mindset has earned him the title of president of the Greater New Orleans Hospitality and Lodging Association.

Vanessa Stanley, VP, new-builds & transitions, PM Hotel Group, Chevy Chase, MD
A 25+ year veteran of the hotel industry, Stanley brings her positive mindset, entrepreneurial spirit and drive to succeed with her throughout every task that she faces. This was no different in 2020, where she successfully opened two new-build properties and transitioned two additional hotels within the PM Hotel Group’s portfolio. She assisted both transition hotels in achieving 100% RevPAR 30 days post transition, a mark that has never been done before. Outside of her career, she brings her passion to the Alzheimer’s community, where she is an avid volunteer and fundraiser.

Siji John, hygiene & well-being manager, Hyatt Regency Orlando, Orlando, FL
Formerly an assistant housekeeping manager, John transitioned over into her new role when her property needed her the most this past year. She developed a return-to-work orientation that was focused solely on safety, sanitation and disinfection to onboard all her returning colleagues. In addition to securing the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) certification for her property, she facilitated the certification process for six properties within the Orlando area. Throughout this past year, she has also become a champion of Hyatt Regency Orlando’s Change Starts Here initiative, where she engages her colleagues in conversations around diversity & inclusion efforts throughout their community.

Ivan Salazar, director of outlets, Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, FL
Salazar is an ambitious leader, who has taken clear strides in the many departments with which he works, winning leader of the year for the property. His leadership has shown in the F&B operation, which is one of the most successful within the property and has won numerous awards for its fine-dining restaurant. He has proven to be selfless and go above and beyond having saved three lives while on the job.

Patrick Montgomery, training specialist, Marriott International Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, Aurora, CO
Montgomery has found his passion creating personal relationships through his work at the Gaylord Rockies. He has distinguished himself by creating an empowering work environment leading career development programs, events, community service projects and recognition programs. He has taken great pride in making a positive impact outside the Gaylord, supporting animal adoption events, learning experiences and culture showcases for local high schools and underprivileged students.