With San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria heaping praise on the city’s entire hotel and hospitality industry, eight local professionals in particular were honored at the San Diego County Lodging Association and Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Gold Key Awards event held earlier this month.
Speaking to an audience of more than 400 assembled April 13 at the Town & Country Resort, Gloria said he and the City Council are well aware of the symbiotic relationship that a steady stream of visitors to the city has with the city’s fiscal confidence to pave streets, improve infrastructure, work on sheltering homeless individuals and keep police and fire provided with the resources they need.
“Our hotels are more than just a place for business and travel – they create thousands of jobs, contribute billions of dollars in economic activity and provide millions of dollars in hotel taxes that benefit our city in countless ways,” Gloria said. “It’s essential that we continue to support the recovery of the industry so that San Diego remains a top travel destination we can all enjoy.”
The Gold Key Awards, in their 42nd year, honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the hospitality industry.
This year’s award winners were: Brian Hilemon of San Diego Tourism Authority as the Patti Roscoe Allied Person of the Year; Magdalena Trevizo of the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter as the Food and Beverage Associate of the Year; Marco Vizcarra of the US Grant Hotel as Guest Service Associate of the Year; Maria Zuniga Torres of Pendry San Diego as Heart of the House Associate of the Year; Laura Becerra of Grande Colonial Hotel as Hotel Manager of the Year; Edward Kutch of the US Grant Hotel as Sales Associate of the Year; Ally Marion of Omni San Diego Hotel as Hotel Executive of the Year; and Gary Johnston from the County of San Diego’s Office of Emergency Services as the Gold Key Award winner.
The Gold Key Award honors an individual who doesn’t work directly in hospitality or tourism but who embodies the spirit of the industry and makes a difference every day, finding innovative ways to contribute to the betterment of the industry, said Fred Tayco, executive director of the SDCLA.
Hundreds of outstanding hotel employees were nominated by colleagues throughout San Diego County and SDCLA judges selected the winners based on outstanding and unusual service to the property, to the guests, and to the community, Tayco said.
The awards ceremony, held in-person for the first time since 2019, provided an opportunity to recognize the “exceptional contributions of those who work in and support San Diego hotels and to celebrate the rebounding industry as they move towards recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
The awards ceremony was emceed by Elvin Lai, SDCLA board member and president of Ocean Park Inn Hotel in Pacific Beach.
Recovering from Impact of Pandemic
“As our industry begins to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, we wanted to use these awards as an opportunity to celebrate the resilience and innovation of key players that truly exemplify what our industry has to offer,” Lai said.
“It is hard to imagine that it has been almost two years to this month when the world changed, and no one felt that change greater than the hospitality and tourism industry,” Lai added. “For the hotel industry, that change hit us hard. It brought with it an unprecedented uncertainty, the likes of which none of us ever had to experience in our lifetimes.”
Lai said that those who were fortunate and did not have to shut down operations “stuck together (and) learned from each other.”
Professionals in the business shared with one another operational best practices, the use and acquisition of personal protective equipment, the appropriate standards of cleaning and the staff needed to support it. “You name it, we were all figuring it out together,” Lai said.
During the awards ceremony, Heather Boye, San Diego Chapter president of HSMAI, spoke to the crowd and said her group is the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry while being a leading voice for hospitality professionals and connecting its members with customers.
One of Country’s Most Active Chapters
“Our San Diego chapter is one of the most active chapters in the country and we are proud of that,” Boye said. “Proud to be part of this resilient industry and proud to support our members.”
Boye said that the pandemic created “unpredictable ups and downs and scrambles and lulls, not to mention confusion” with frequently changing mandates and hardships, but that through it all, those in the hotel and tourism profession got the job done.
“There are some great stories and triumphs out there that deserve to be shared and that’s why we are here…. to recognize the successes of our industry,” she said.
The San Diego County Lodging Association is dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of the San Diego lodging industry through legislative support, coalition building, lobbying and public advocacy. Its members represent a cross-section of the lodging industry, including owners, managers, suppliers and vendors.
The awards event sponsors included Matt Adams of the Evans Family of Hotels; Steve Schell of Bartell Hotels; Mike Costagliola of HD Supply; Marquies Willis of Tipjar USA; Jon Graves of the San Diego International Airport; Jeff Abbott of Petra Risk Solutions; Mike Tweeten of Ace Parking; Joe Caputo of Propark Mobility; Game Face Video San Diego; Bill Howe Plumbing; P3 Vision Productions and Sodexo Live!
Students from the San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management program assisted with registration and sponsors.
Lai also noted that on the night of the event, the San Diego Convention Center downtown was lit up in gold in support of the awards.