Washington, April 14, 2015— At today’s American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) Stars of the Industry Awards breakfast, hotel employees were honored for their outstanding accomplishments, service, and leadership in the hospitality and lodging industry. The awards were presented to Outstanding Lodging Employees, Managers, and General Managers for small and large properties, as well as to the winner of the Women in Lodging Connect Leader of the Year Award, the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year Award, and the Student Member and Student Chapter of the Year.

“The men and women here today represent the outstanding talent, dedication, and service that make both the hospitality industry and the hotel experience so unique,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. “Whether a political refugee, an individual who overcomes extreme physical challenges or a student looking to start a career, the hotel industry provides a home for hard-working individuals who want to build a lifelong career. The stories of every winner are special, and it is our privilege to award them today with the Stars of the Industry award.”

The award recipients were chosen among a very large and talented pool of nominees. Judges included special media guests including Nancy Trejos of USA Today, Elaine Alimonti of Travel Budget, and representatives from Lodging Magazine.

This year’s employee winners are:

Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Small Property: Camilo Casiano, a Steward at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona. Camilo joined the resort nearly 23 years ago and has displayed incredible commitment and loyalty throughout his employment. For more than 20 years, Camilo has managed to be consistent and reliable, tending to every shift while hitchhiking to work and home daily. Camilo has excelled year in and year out with consistency and tremendous work ethic. He accepts nothing less from his coworkers, but is always gracious and polite.

Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Large Property: Willie Parker, Groundskeeper at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. Parker has been an associate with The Peabody since 1989. The fact that he is hearing impaired has not hampered his ability to be successful in this industry. He takes great pride in his position as Grounds Attendant in the Engineering Department and demonstrates a commitment to the appearance of the Peabody Hotel grounds by having a sense of urgency and placing the success of the organization ahead of personal gain. It doesn’t matter if it is 15 degrees outside or 115 degrees, he works diligently, making sure the grounds are top notch for our guests.

Outstanding Manager of the Year, Small Property: Ali Sesay, Executive Steward at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. A former refugee who escaped the wars of Sierra Leone after armed rebels barged into his high school classroom leaving him wounded and lost, Ali Sesay fled to Atlanta in 2004 to begin a new life. Today, he is one of the most beloved managers at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta. As the Executive Steward at Four Seasons, Ali oversees the stewarding department, which is accountable for the tens of thousands of items used in the hotel’s food and beverage operation. Ali also manages 12 employees, all of whom credit him as a large part of the reason they love their job.

Outstanding Manager of the Year, Large Property: Steve Blum, Uniformed Services Manager at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C. Steve has been an employee of the Willard InterContinental Washington since it reopened in 1986. Steve began as a doorman and is now recognized as the “Mayor of Pennsylvania Avenue” by U.S. Presidents, celebrities and international diplomats. He is a great example of how an individual’s positive, outgoing perspective on life can have a tremendous impact on others through his personal interactions and genuine, caring service.

Outstanding General Manager of the Year, Small Property: Daniel Donahue at The Lenox Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. Dan has infused The Lenox with a passion, pride and professionalism that trickles down to every member of the staff and that is reflected in the guest experience. Most poignantly, after the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon, the Lenox meeting space was used for processing evidence and strategy by the FBI, Army, and the Boston Police and Fire Departments. What started out as lunch for 80 people on the first afternoon became dinner for more than 400 that night and grew into some 1500 meals per day.

Outstanding General Manager of the Year, Large Property: Daniel Nadeau at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. Dan is 30+ year Marriott veteran and was given the monumental task of opening the largest convention hotel in the United States in 2014. Dan strategically assembled his executive leadership team, department heads, front line managers, and then ultimately 700+ hosts from a pool of thousands within the nation’s capital. Dan is a shining example of what is outstanding in hospitality leadership. He illustrates what a leader in his profession can accomplish through perseverance and exemplary leadership within hotel lodging and hospitality.

The winner of the Women in Lodging Connect Leader of the Year is Cynthia Hollowood, CHA, and General Manager at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, New York. Cynthia Hollowood has re-established the hotel's relationship with the greater Saratoga community and was the first hotel to enter in cooperative marketing relationships with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Chamber of Commerce and Saratoga Race Course. She grew the hotel's occupancy by 10 percent in her first year as manager and her efforts to forge relationships with area businesses and organizations has been the foundation of the hotel's continued success. Not only has Cynthia advocated for the industry, but has also promoted and encouraged others to join the industry through various outlets and is the epitome of a "leader and role model within the hotel community."

The winner of the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader award, is Whitney Okuda, Catering Manager at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, California. Though soft spoken, Whitney made great strides as a student leader, which attributed to her steady growth and development in the hotel industry. Whitney’s eagerness and drive showed through her accomplishments and has exceeded all expectations and goals that were set and has developed rapidly with her understanding of the hospitality industry. Whitney is not only a star within the hospitality industry, but also a great contributor to the local community and is a true asset to the San Francisco community.

Winning this year’s AH&LA Student Member of the Year is Katie Zezula, a student at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colorado. Since her freshman year, she has been immersed in student hospitality and organizational membership leadership roles. Upon receiving her graduate degree, her immediate goal is to obtain a management position with the resort or club management sector of the industry. Her desire is to create events, lasting memories, and repeat guests. Her professional goal is to become a General Manager. Katie was selected as one of two students to work with the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association for their annual conference at The Broadmoor and their February fundraiser at The Brown Palace. While she knows her goals are ambitious, she is prepared to work hard and grow herself professionally to rise within the ranks of the industry.

Winning this year’s AH&LA Student Chapter of the Year is Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. With exceptional fundraising and charity events, professional development and membership growth and participation, Purdue’s student chapter is dedicated to the hospitality industry. In 2014, they launched a toy drive and their student chapter along with other student organizations in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, organized a trip to New York to IHMRS. Together, they raised funds and were able to bring thirty-two AH&LA members to New York on a professional development trip. In addition, in 2014, their membership increased greatly, which is mostly due to the recruitment efforts at the beginning of the school year.

The awards ceremony was sponsored American Express, HCareers, and HD Supply. For more information on AH&LA’s Stars of the Industry Awards program and a complete list of employee and property winners, please visit www.ahla.com/stars.