Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards Honors Outstanding Employees

Naples, Fla.November 21, 2017 – Collier County’s top tourism industry stars were honored today at the 15th annual Paradise Coast Tourism Star Awards, a program held each year to recognize the most outstanding hospitality and tourism industry employees in the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades region. Over 225 tourism industry leaders and employees attended the luncheon and awards ceremony held at JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.

This year the program celebrated hospitality workers with the theme “Put Paradise on the Map.” The efforts by tourism employees to provide memorable experiences for visitors is a highlight that keeps many of them coming back, and outstanding reviews of top-notch service provide a great boost for destination awareness.

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

Tourism is the main economic engine in Collier County with a $1.98 billion total economic impact last year. Tourism is also the largest employment sector with over 37 thousand tourism industry supported jobs.

An independent panel of judges selected Paradise Coast Tourism Star Award winners from the 68 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 voted from among those eleven winners for the 2017 Tourism Superstar, representing the ultimate in tourism excellence and dedication for the year.

Judges for 2017 were: Nancy Kerns, Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District; Eric Radditz, Florida Weekly; Christine Gideons, Ngala; Katie O’Hara, Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce; and Val Simon, Coastal Breeze News.

This year’s awards event, originally scheduled for September 19, was rescheduled in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Considering some of the amazing stories that came out of the tourism industry’s recovery process after the storm, 13 special Hurricane Irma Outstanding Customer Service Awards were given to hospitality leaders who went above and beyond for their guests, employees and the community during and after Hurricane Irma. Those receiving special recognition are: Fairfield Inn & Suites and SpringHill Suites by Marriott; Gulfcoast Inn; GreenLinks Golf Villas at Lely Resort; JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort; Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Naples; Crave Culinaire; 7th Avenue Social; Cosmos Café & Pizzeria; Joe West for volunteer service to businesses in Everglades City; Hilton Naples; The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club; and The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples.

The following Collier County tourism employees are the 2017 Tourism Star Award winners.

Attraction Service Star

Martha Hutcheson, Museum of the Everglades
Martha is much more than a museum assistant at Museum of the Everglades. During her 13 years there she has consistently brought superior customer service to every aspect of her job. She developed the museum’s walking tour that combines both a historical and personal perspective of Everglades City. She is legendary for her over the top acts of kindness and customer care. She coordinated the rescue of visitors from Scotland she had befriended at the museum when one suffered a serious medical condition in a remote section of the Everglades the next day. She intervened as translator between the couple and EMS, who couldn’t understand their heavy Scottish accent and provided help with transportation and comforting the couple.

Hotel Service Star
Teaker Harris, JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

Teaker Harris is an important part of the security team at the JW Marriott and serves as the loss prevention supervisor. When faced with figuring out how to return some very important items to a guest that had checked out and was staying in Miami in advance of a 5:00 a.m. flight the next day he really went above and beyond. He took the resort’s leadership training to heart, which encourages associates to feel empowered to create lasting impressions. He offered to personally drive the items to the guest in the middle of the night, then returned home in time to take his children to school on time in the morning. The guest was relieved and amazed by his service and kindness.

Humanitarian Star and 2017 Tourism Superstar
Donovan Smith, NGALA Wildlife Preserve

Donovan Smith is the founder of NGALA and dedicated to the cause of animal protection and rescue. The NGALA wildlife preserve is key special event location for many corporate and association group meeting planners bringing business to the destination. This past spring during the terrible fires that raged through Golden Gate Estates, when everyone was evacuated, he stayed. A giraffe and most of the other animals at the wildlife preserve were safely evacuated except for Donavan’s beloved rhinoceros, Walter, who was too heavy. When the fire shifted right toward NGALA, Donovan hopped on a four-wheeler and went straight into the fire looking for help. He found firefighters from the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District who followed him and helped load Walter into a truck and get him to safety. They then helped Donovan get emergency medical treatment, since during his race to find help, he suffered serious burns on 20% of his body. After months of treatment he is back to work caring for all the animals at the preserve.

Innovation Star
Corey Hepburn and James Cody Wiggen, Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa

Executive chef Corey Hepburn and executive sous chef James Cody Wiggen are truly innovative in their approach to inspiring culinary excellence and superior customer service from their restaurant team. They created Culinary Bingo cards with 25 tasks that range from knife skills, to passing a quiz on the resort’s layout to conquering sauce preparation. Once all tasks are competed employees win prizes. They created a sense of bonding by encouraging the diverse staff members to each create a dish representing their home country, which resulted in a huge international buffet for the resort team. As the culinary team became more involved with menu development, the scores for restaurant satisfaction soared and surpassed the Hilton Worldwide benchmarks.

PR & Communications Star
Beth Preddy, Preddy Public Relations

Beth Preddy has during her 24 years as a public relations professional in Naples expertly cultivated the image of the area as a dining destination and has promoted some of the area’s top restaurants, attractions and initiatives. Her nominators describe her as dedicated and creative with great industry relationships. Her work with the Naples Originals group of locally-owned restaurants includes creation of the Foodie Camp two-week cooking event, community dining promotions and ongoing charitable giving. She puts her heart into her client relationships including Naples Originals, Chez Boet, Sea Salt, Barbatella, Alexander’s and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. She also serves on the Collier County Lodging & Tourism Alliance board of directors and is a member of the CVB’s Wellness Tourism Task Force. 

Restaurant Service Star
Karin Kasap, JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

Karen Kasap is known by her colleagues and guests as a kind soul who has a great passion for both the food she serves and her guests. She puts in extra hours to know key ingredients and how they match with guest’s likes and dislikes. She recently cared for a meeting planner guest who suffers from ALS, which restricts speech and motor function. Karin communicated with her on a specialized tablet. When she noticed the guest was having trouble eating and swallowing, Karin discreetly provided napkins throughout the meal to catch any falling food without the other dinner guests noticing. The guest, who normally feels uncomfortable trying to eat around others, sent a letter saying Karin’s kind gestures made her feel special in a way she has not felt since her diagnosis with ALS.

Rising Star
Alexandra Dalton, Inn on Fifth

Alexandra Dalton showed up at Inn on Fifth as an FGCU hospitality school intern with so much enthusiasm, she announced she wanted to work in every department so she could learn every aspect of running the hotel from the inside out. As young and inexperienced as she was, she demonstrated a culture of professionalism and tremendous work ethic when working front desk reservations. In the sales department, she expertly handles inquiries from meeting planners and is now managing the weekly group sales meetings that keeps the staff on track. Upon her graduation, the hotel staff is hopeful she will stay, but if she moves on, they are sure she will continue to rise wherever she goes and they are thankful to have spent this time with her.

Sales Star
Steve Lawrence, JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

Steve Lawrence, destination sales executive, conducts site inspections for clients potentially bringing meetings to the resort. When the expansion project progressed to the point where he could begin conducting hard hat tours of the new Lanai Tower, his site inspection requests doubled, the average length of inspection increased from a half day to a day and a half, and some now even include a special island wide tour that include visits to the neighboring Hilton Marco Island and Marco Beach Ocean Resort since some groups require as many as 1,200 rooms. The owner’s $330 million investment in the resort must be justified by dramatically increasing bookings, and the responsibility fell squarely on Steve’s shoulders. His level of passion and professionalism is a great benefit to the resort, all the JW Marriott associates and to the entire destination.

Social Media Star
Kate Romary, Lancit Digital Media & Paradise Coast TV

Kate Romary handles social media for Paradise Coast TV’s Visitor’s TV Network reaching over 4,000 in-room hotel TV’s in Collier County. The social media role at the channel is crucial to broadening awareness of both the Paradise Coast TV brand and all the destination experiences available for visitors. She has a specialty in leveraging marketing research and statistical analysis to inform video production styles which attract and keep Facebook video views, Likes and Shares. Kate served as the engagement lead for a CVB Facebook research project to evaluate the effectiveness of using the sport of Pickleball to attract visitors. She managed the campaign and optimized view engagement of the videos that reached as high as 91%, and she did this all during her wedding and honeymoon.

Sports Star
Mary Shea, Sports Council of Collier County

Mary Shea’s passion and energy for making Collier County a sports tourism hub has brought new members to the Sports Council of Collier County, and she has been influential in communicating with county leaders about the need for increased sports facilities in Collier County. New initiatives she has championed include the new amateur sports complex and the addition of a deputy director of sports tourism at the CVB. One of her nominators noted that thanks to Mary’s efforts, “it’s raining sports in Collier County.”

Volunteer Star
Dan Sullivan, GreenLinks Golf Villas at Lely Resort

Dan Sullivan’s inability to say no when asked to volunteer is legendary. He’s a very visible and active member of the community. His countless hours devoted to the Sports Council of Collier County were expanded this year when he noticed there was a void at sports tournaments due to no area information available to the spectators. He spearheaded setting up a tent at sports events filled with information on area restaurants and attractions and spent many hours acting as a destination ambassador. At the US Open Pickleball Championships, he took the job of manning the Margaritaville VIP Lounge. He can often be found hammering away for Habitat for Humanity, serving on two school advisory councils and this past year was appointed to the Tourism Development Council.


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 Follow the destination on Twitter and Instagram @ParadiseCoast and on Facebook at

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