14th Annual Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards Honors Top Tourism Employees in Collier

14th Annual Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards Honors Top Tourism Employees in Collier

Naples, Fla.(September 14, 2016) – Collier County’s top tourism industry stars were honored today at the 14th annual Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards, a program held each year to recognize the most outstanding tourism and hospitality employees in the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades region. Over two hundred tourism industry leaders and employees attended the luncheon and awards ceremony, held this year at Hilton Naples.

This year the program celebrated hospitality workers with the theme “Tourism Rocks!” It’s the upbeat attitude and tireless attention to detail among top performing tourism hospitality stars that keeps visitors coming back to spend more of their vacation time and dollars in Florida’s Paradise Coast.

Tourism is the main economic engine in Collier County with a $1.95 billion economic impact last year. Tourism is also the largest employment sector, which has seen 67 months of continuous job growth as of July 2016.

Jack Wert, executive director for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) said, “It’s important each year to take the time to honor tourism workers who make “going the extra mile” part of their every day routine. It’s their dedication and passion for their profession that forms the backbone of our successful industry here.”

An independent panel of judges selected Paradise Coast Tourism Star Award winners from the more than seventy nomination forms submitted for eleven categories, including Sports Star, Rising Star, Innovation Star, Social Media Star, Attraction Service Star, Hotel Service Star, Restaurant Service Star, Volunteer Star, Sales Star, PR & Communications Star, and Humanitarian Star. The CVB staff votes from among those eleven winners for the 2016 Tourism Superstar, representing the ultimate in tourism excellence and dedication.

Judges for 2015 are: Michelle McCloud, Naples City Council; Regina Day, Site Selection & Meeting Consultants; Michael Dalby, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce; Nicole King, Keiser University; and Lindsey Norris, VISIT FLORIDA.

The following Collier County tourism employees are this year’s Tourism Star Award winners.

Sports Star

Jim Ludwig, Founder of Pickleball For All

Jim, along with his wife Carole Caefer, co-founded the not-for-profit organization Pickleball For All in Naples with the goal of bringing the fun and healthful sport of Pickleball to as many people of all ages as possible, and through pickleball, to instill encouragement, integrity, strength of character and a strong sense of self in mind, body and spirit. Jim has brought pickleball to the entire Collier County public schools system as well as the AMI Kids Big Cypress Center for troubled teenage boys. Jim is responsible for bringing together a community coalition that resulted in Collier County building more pickleball courts at East Naples Community Park and convincing Collier tourism and parks officials, area sponsors and many more to join forces to land the first U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in April 2016. Florida’s Paradise Coast will host the championships again April 23-30, 2017. Known as the Mayor of Pickleball in Naples, Jim can now add the title of Tourism Sports Star to his resume.

Rising Star

Genevieve Young, Assistant Sous Chef at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa

Genevieve came to the Marco Island Marriott team from Miami where she worked in several fine dining establishments. She brings inspiration and innovation from her fine dining background to the high volume environment at all of the property’s seven restaurants and the lobby coffee shop. She has been instrumental in updating and implementing all of our new menus and systems and is responsible for the resort’s food quality ranking rising from 12th to 3rd place. The food product is unbelievable and guests are wowed every time. She makes it a point to be present in front of guests, anticipating needs and knowing what they want even before they know it themselves. In her short time with the resort, she has grown from a great culinary-minded chef to the versatile and rare culinary-minded and impactful manager she is today.

Innovation Star
Rafael Feliciano, Founder of Naples Bites and Naples Restaurant Week

Two years ago Rafael started Naples Bites with a presence on social media and then launched the Naples Restaurant Week concept, which now occurs twice a year in December and May with prix fixe specialized menus offered at a good variety of restaurants around town. He brought on board 30 restaurants in December and 26 in May, and all reported phenomenal turn outs during times that were traditionally slow. This has allowed restaurant patrons to sample new restaurants and given them a way to share their experiences through social media. One of Rafael’s many nominators is a server who credits Naples Restaurant Week with helping her earn more money during the normally slow time before Christmas, and that also inspired her to get out and try other restaurants as a diner. Rafael brought on St. Matthew House as a charitable beneficiary, allowing everyone to participate in great dining and give back to the community.

Social Media Star

Aimee Smith, Communications Coordinator at The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples
Aimee has been in her role for one year. In this time, her passion for photography, video and innovation has significantly improved The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples’ visual presence across all social channels, resulting in rises of both engagement and fan counts. Her video for National Strawberry Shortcake Day brought nearly 10,000 impressions on the property-managed Facebook page. A strawberry shortcake photo submitted to the brand-managed @RitzCarltonChefs Instagram account that covers over 90 hotels is one of the top performing posts for 2016. Her innovation has resulted in The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples being the first in the brand to implement new presentation styles in social presentations including Flipbook on Twitter and layered video on Facebook.

Attraction Service Star

James Leandre, Player’s Club Representative, Seminole Casino Immokalee

James is often the first person a new casino guest comes into contact with and he makes it his passion to provide a great first impression. From his first day on the job, James has always been a customer service leader. He makes sure every guest feels comfortable and well-informed before going out to the casino floor to try their luck. He often volunteers to go out to assist a guest having an issue with their membership card in one of our machines. James stays with the guest and makes sure they are not only completely familiar with the process, but having fun playing the game. James has been a customer service star at the casino for years and has been Employee of the Month six times. He is mentioned in positive guest surveys more than any other employee. He is now a trainer for new team members and on his way to becoming a supervisor.

Hotel Service Star

Alexeis Escalada, Maintenance Supervisor at Inn at Pelican Bay

Alexeis, who goes by Alexi at the hotel, is a true gift to the staff and guests at the Inn at Pelican Bay and to the entire Paradise Coast hospitality industry, doing his best to make sure guests return time and time again. His talent and quick thinking saves the hotel thousands of dollars each year because of his ability to perform professional repairs on the spot, plus they have very few rooms ever out-of-order. As the hotel made extensive renovations in 2015, he stayed many nights to make sure everything was done correctly. The hotel general manager credits Alexi for the renovations getting done on time, which was critical for the property to be awarded the coveted AAA Four Diamond certification. He also projects a warm and cheerful attitude, which, combined with his ability to fix almost anything, may be why he has been mentioned in positive TripAdvisor comments 11 times in the past few years, perhaps a record for a hotel employee in his position.

Alexi’s quick thinking in a crisis is legendary. A few stories will show you why. An outside contractor broke off a sprinkler head during a room renovation on a top floor. Alexi ran up and stopped the leak with a pair of vice grips in minutes, preventing the water from reaching the floor below and saving the hotel thousands of dollars in repairs. In peak season a washing machine broke at 9 p.m. as Alexi was leaving for the night. He stayed all night, fixed the machine, then stayed through the morning doing the overnight laundry so when staff arrived they would be caught up. Then there was the time a water pipe broke when a guest tried to relocate his commode to a different location in his room, causing massive flooding. With the supply line broken there was no way to turn off the flow of water. Alexi ran up to the room with a garden hose, then connected the hose from the supply line to the tub to stop the flood.

Restaurant Service Star

Dolly Punwasi, Maia Restaurant Server at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa

Dolly is the heart and soul of breakfast service at the resort’s new breakfast outlet, Maia and is uniquely gifted in the art of making people happy. Bill Marriott’s core belief that happy employees create happy guests is reflected in the way the Dolly carries herself. Review after review is filled with comments about her smiling, happy demeanor. She goes out of her way to reassure guests with dietary restrictions and allergies and will bring guests items she finds out they like, but that aren’t on the buffet. She sent a tray of tea, ginger ale and soup to a guest’s room later in the day after he hadn’t felt well at breakfast. She came to the rescue of one family whose daughter with ADHD began acting out at breakfast. She spent time creating games with fruit from the buffet, then later on her time off, bought small toys and coloring books that she surprised the child with the next day. Needless to say, the little girl was overjoyed and the parents immensely grateful for her kindness.

Volunteer Star

Nikki Ellison-Sylvest, volunteer at the Everglades City Visitor Information Center

Nikki is the sole volunteer at the center, which is one of the most visited visitor information centers in the region. Working from open to close for a minimum of 22 hours a week, she’s greeted and assisted over 85,000 guests, directing visitors to Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and all parts of Florida’s Paradise Coast at this crossroads location. She answers all questions, from serious to silly with courtesy and authority gained from her years of living in Everglades City. She knows the answers to them all, like - How big is the Big Cypress?  What if we get lost? Where can we eat stone crabs? Where can we see alligators, then eat alligator bites? And, Can you tell us where to go to feel like we’re one with nature, then how to find our way back again? She understands tourism and proudly donates her time not only to benefit visitors but also on behalf of the businesses and people of Everglades City.

Sales Star

Sherrilyn Alden

Sherrilyn knew she wanted to work at the Naples Princess. Three years ago they weren’t hiring but she called every week until they gave her a chance and hired her. She started as a bartender/server on the boat and it wasn’t long until the team noticed that she had a special gift for sales and making every trip memorable. She graduated to a sales job and her experiencing from working on the boat is invaluable as she helps create the perfect experience for each client. She gets back to every customer within an hour of them calling and really takes the time to figure out what they are looking for and then is able to suggest the best possible fit for their event. Her personal touch and efficiency has created huge growth. Her first year in sales was the best year in the history of the Naples Princess. She isn’t only great at reaching out to and taking care of her customers, she takes the extra step to make sure that her clients fully enjoy and experience the destination as a whole, making recommendations to make sure they see and do all that is of interest to them while they visit.

PR & Communications Star

Dimitrios Settos, B3 Marketing

Dimitrios has put together an impressive roster of local restaurants that he works with to publicize the restaurants, host successful special events such as the Pink Martini Celebrity Bartender Night benefitting the Susan G. Komen Foundation at La Morago, and build relationships with media and others in the community. He’s helped to publicize Brooks Burgers & Dogs being named to the TripAdvisor Top 10 Burger Restaurants in the U.S. for the second year in a row and the growing achievements of the team at Crave Culinaire, among others in the destination.

Humanitarian Star

Jim Dwyer, Operations Director – Dispatch at Dolphin Transportation Specialists

Jim holds a high level of responsibility at his job at Dolphin Transportation and is always professional and pleasant, but he also has a huge heart that knows no bounds when it comes to dog rescue. The lengths to which he will go are legendary among the rescue community, logging thousands of miles across multiple states to make sure that rescue dogs reach their forever home. Whenever he has time off from the job, he drives all over Florida and the South to pick up dogs in crisis and bring them to area shelters. He recently took a dog to the Tampa airport to be flown to Colorado to its new home. He then drove to Ft. Walton Beach to honor the Brotherhood Ride for fallen EMS, law enforcement and firefighters taking place there, since that is a cause that has been adopted by Dolphin Transportation. He does all this because he truly cares.

Tourism Superstar

Alexeis Escalada, Maintenance Supervisor at the Inn at Pelican Bay

Tourism staff at the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau voted from all of the 2016 winners for the Tourism Superstar. With his many actions that often save the day and many guests’ vacations at the Inn at Pelican Bay, he is a truly a tourism superstar and a great representative of the entire tourism community in Florida’s Paradise Coast.


The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is the official tourism marketing and management agency for Collier County, Florida, known as Florida’s Paradise Coast. The CVB produces the area’s ongoing destination marketing campaigns, website and visitor guides, and provides information and assistance for travel media, group meeting and event planners, tour operators, and travel agents. The CVB sponsors the Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards each year to honor the many dedicated and hardworking employees that contribute so much to the tourism industry, which is the chief economic engine in Collier County. For more information visit http://www.paradisecoast.com. Follow the destination on Twitter and Instagram @ParadiseCoast and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TheParadiseCoast.

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