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Times of the Islands Magazine

Impactful Stories Shared at Annual E Awards Ceremony

Nov 06, 2017 11:32AM ● By Kevin

The E Awards takes place every August to honor outstanding hospitality in Lee County. Photo courtesy of Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

The Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards (E Awards) was held for the 17th consecutive year at the end of August this year. Named after Elaine McLaughlin, a former Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Executive Director who has always been a strong believer that all workers—from front line to CEO—should provide superior customer service to every guest, the program was started in 2000 when Elaine McLaughlin retired from the organization.

More than 725 nominees and supporters attended the ceremony on Aug. 31, at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa. Each of the nominees (total of 490) were honored followed by the announcement of the category winners and the Honor of Distinction winner, which went to Dilya Gabdrkhamanova, a housekeeping supervisor with Beachview Cottages.
"My nominee’s attention to detail and super-friendly can-do attitude makes our stay that much more special," a nominator from New York said of Gabdrkhamanova's work. "I enjoyed talking with her each morning and her smile just lit up my day! She made us feel as though we are a part of her family and we won’t ever forget that. For us, she is a big part of our experience and we could not imagine coming to Sanibel and staying anywhere else."

Each year, the E Awards are promoted on social media and the bureau works closely with its industry partners to ensure that visitors to Lee County can nominate its hospitality employees, according to communications director Francesca Donlan. Nomination forms are distributed at accommodation, attraction and allied industry partner locations throughout the county. Anyone can get nominated as long as they work within Lee County.
A steering committee, made up of several hotel, attraction, restaurant and media partners, meet shortly after the annual nomination deadline and review all nominations, which come in close to 1,000, each year, Donlan said. The committee determines the winners and honorable mentions in each of these six categories:

  • Accommodations
  • Attractions
  • Restaurants
  • Transportation
  • Other Services/Businesses
  • Good Samaritan
According to Donlan, the committee is looking for service satisfaction, going the extra mile, job knowledge, familiarity with and promotion of Lee County and compassion such as helping during a crises or emergency, to determine winners in each of the above categories. The judges also choose the overall Honor of Distinction winner who best represents the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel’s spirit of extraordinary customer service. The winner for the Best Tourism Boss category is chosen at the discretion of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Many impactful stories are shared over the years through nominations. This year was no different. The Good Samaritan award's third honorable mention, Jacob Holzapfel, brought the subject of his story up on stage with him at this year's ceremony. His story was recounted through his nomination.

“My nominee works out of a commercial marina and for several weekends had noticed a young man fishing off the dock. He struck up a conversation and found he had just moved from Ohio, had no friends yet, and was waiting for school transcripts to arrive so he could enroll in school.

"On a recent run, he saw the young man sitting on the bench, flushed red in the face like he had been crying, so he asked him what was wrong. It turns out thieves had stolen his tackle box. The boy was crushed and though it wasn’t much gear, it was all he had and, based on the fact that my nominee had seen him several times already in the same two shirts, he thought the kid probably didn’t have much.

"So my nominee got together a few of his extra gear and an old bag, but also reached out to our local community for help, as he didn’t want the young man to be afraid to leave his things and start questioning what type of people Pine Islanders really are.

"He told the community what had happened in simple words, as follows—I hope you have the kindness in your heart to donate a piece of gear so he can keep fishing and gain faith in his community. He needs all the tackle in a box and he could use a cast net. He walks, so he could use a crappy bike, and if anyone has an old beat up kayak it would mean the world to him.

"This is a good kid. I have no question that he will be a great man one day and he deserves all the kindness in the world. You can find him at the CoOp down the drive on weekends. He’s a skinny blonde kid that wears a hat. I told him to make sure he still shows back up but if he does not you can just leave it at the picnic table at the end of the drive and I’ll get it together for him. If you have read this far, thank you, and I hope you support him. This request isn’t meant to hate the thief but to support the kid and keep him fishing.

"Well, the entire community stepped up. The ‘kid’ received new gear, fishing poles, a brand new bike, and, most of all, faith in his new community. All because of my nominee, a truly Good Samaritan.”

The 2016 Honor of Distinction award winner's story was also a memorable moment, Donlan recalled. Annamarie Meszaros of the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, won the award for her supreme hospitality service, which has warranted many comment cards, TripAdvisor comments and guest experience reviews recognizing her by name.

"Annamarie takes it upon herself to pick up dog treats for our many 4-legged friends, to charms for dog collars when they are celebrating their birthdays and even special gifts for our regular guests who are spending their special day at the resort," the nominator explained.

The nominator continued by sharing the story of Annamarie visiting the mother, who was under the care of a local hospice, of a frequent guest, while the guest was out of town. During these visits, she maintained a journal of her visits with the mother, and what they talked about.

"This was all completely unknown to our guests," the nominator explained. "Shortly after their 92-year-old mother passed away, Annamarie surprised the guests with this journal as a gift to them as it was time they were not able to spend with their mother while she was in the hospice. They were beyond touched by the kindness bestowed upon their mother by Annamarie."

The purpose of the E Awards is to recognize those employees within the hospitality and allied industries who positively impact a visitor or resident’s experience in Lee County.
"We hope that the E Awards will continue to touch as many of our hospitality employees as possible," Donlan said. "Our customer service professionals have made our visitors’ or local residents’ experiences more rewarding because of the outstanding assistance they provided.

"They have made a tremendous impact in making our visitors feel welcomed and going above and beyond to provide exceptional customer service, making Lee County known around the world as an exceptionally friendly destination."
The 2018 E Awards will take place on Aug. 30, 2018. Nominations are being accepted at

History of the Honor of Distinction Award

2000: Dale Reisen, Estero Fire Department
2001: Ron Flipse, Fairfield Inn
2002: Mike Carstenson, James North, Robert Bryant, Luis Menendez, Marco Ferreira, Lee County Facilities
2003: Colleen DePasquale, Residence Inn by Marriott
2004: Officers William Dalton, Jane Cechman, Mark Steele, Jim Holovacko, George Krivas, City of Sanibel Police Department
2005: Sally Tapager, Tropic Star Cruises
2006: Captain John Bunch, Operation Open Arms
2007: Connie Elliott, Lee Memorial Hospital
2008: Mitch and Myrna Howard, residents
2009: Jennifer Wilson, Lee County Port Authority
2010: Ernesto Anaya, Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa
2011: Michael Garbe, Castaways Beach & Bay Cottages
2012: Billy Yetter, Hilton Garden Inn
2013: Lisa Hart, Beachview Cottages
2014: Jim Niccum, Edison & Ford Winter Estates
2015: Kathy and Al Durrett, Fish Tale Marina
2016: Anna Marie Meszaros, The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
2017: Dilya Gabdrkhmanova, Beachview Cottages