The AHLA Foundation raised a record $1.2 million at its fifth-annual gala to celebrate winners and up-and-coming hospitality superstars while raising funds to support the foundation’s programs that are helping the industry recruit and retain the stars of tomorrow.
Each year, the Night of a Thousand Stars gala celebrates the hotel industry’s most important VIPs—the property-level talent that makes the industry so unique. Throughout the evening, industry leaders commemorated the 2023 Stars of the Industry Award winners and the individuals that embody the spirit of hospitality, while raising critical funds to support foundation programs.
“The Night of a Thousand Stars Gala showcases the amazing and passionate women and men who make hotels feel like home and move our industry forward,” said Anna Blue, president, AHLA Foundation. “So much of their work is behind the scenes, and this is a wonderful opportunity to give them the praise and recognition they deserve. The overwhelming support the hotel industry’s philanthropic arm received at this event will directly impact lives and the future of our industry for the better.”
As part of the celebration, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts President/CEO Geoff Ballotti became the second-ever recipient of the Arne Sorenson Social Impact Leadership Award for his extraordinary efforts to advance positive societal change.
“Geoff—much like Arne—is a true embodiment of all the good that hospitality represents,” said AHLA President/CEO Chip Rogers. “His empathy, his accessibility and his commitment to doing the right thing is what makes him one of our industry’s greatest leaders. The story of his success, from dishwasher to CEO of the world’s largest hotel franchisor, is inspirational—as is his dedication to ensuring the success of future hotel leaders. I am lucky to call Geoff a colleague and friend, and it fills me with pride to honor him with this award.”
The funds raised at the gala help foundation beneficiaries such as Asia Magee, a graduate of the Empowering Youth Program in collaboration with Café Reconcile. Magee worked with Kimberly Chavis, a curriculum and training specialist at Café Reconcile, who helped her with her skills training that she now applies to her hotel job.
Several industry organizations were also central to the evening’s success including two presenting sponsors, Hilton and Qwick, who sponsored the event at the highest levels.
“Hilton is proud to support the work the AHLA Foundation does to build careers, improve lives, and strengthen the lodging industry,” said Kevin Jacobs, CFO/president, global development, Hilton. “Tonight’s distinguished winners and finalists, including our very own Katie Ward, bring their passion for what they do to work each day and create unforgettable experiences for guests across the country. We are honored to be here tonight to celebrate these incredibly talented leaders.”
“Qwick and the AHLA Foundation have a shared vision to create a stronger industry workforce, which is why we are honored to again sponsor Night of a Thousand Stars,” said Jamie Baxter, cofounder/CEO, Qwick. “This important event not only provides the industry an opportunity to acknowledge those that make it great, but the funds raised help all of us to empower more people to work in hospitality.”
The foundation also announced the return of The Shining Star Award, which honors a person or organization that has gone above and beyond to advance the foundation’s mission of helping people build careers, improve their lives and strengthen the lodging industry. The staff of the Hyatt Regency DFW International Airport received this award for their anti-human trafficking work.
AHLA’s 2023 Stars of the Industry winners were honored for their service to the industry:
North Star Award winner:
Sandra Hudgins, laundry attendant, Sonesta Select Chattanooga at Hamilton Place, Chattanooga, TN
North Star Award finalists:
Azhar Mushtaq, task force manager, Extended Stay America, Charlotte, NC
Oreste (Rusty) Pinera, overnight operations manager, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Orlando, FL
Outstanding General Manager of the Year (full-service):
Katie Ward, Embassy Suites Minneapolis Airport, Bloomington, MN
Outstanding General Manager of the Year (select-service):
Harold Daniels, Travelodge by WH, Memphis, TN
Paving the Way Award:
Rachel Moniz, principal/COO, HEI Hotels & Resorts, Norwalk, CO
Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year:
Madelyn Dingam, marketing manager, Cliff House Maine, Cape Neddick, ME