GREATER FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Dec. 10, 2015) – The sales coordinator with a compassionate heart, director of sales with an inspiring mantra, the taxi cab driver that saved a life, the group sales manager with a smile in his heart, the front desk supervisor that creates special moments, the bartender that gives the shirt off his back, the concierge detective, the calming customer service representative, the housekeeping supervisor that lent a helping hand, the assistant front office manager that saved a family, tour guide who rises above, and the receiving agent that lifts spirits – are among the 12 SUNsational Service Courtesy Award winners for 2015. 

Each year the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau recognizes outstanding service in the tourism industry with the Courtesy Awards program, which encourages exceptional quality and service among those who directly serve Broward County visitors.                                         

“For more than a quarter-century we have honored the stars who shine brightest in the hospitality industry for their dedication and commitment to ensure the more than 15 million annual visitors to Broward County have a memorable experience,” said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “All 125 nominees are tourism heroes that embody the highest standard of quality and are essential to the destination’s success.”

The SUNsational Service Courtesy Awards finalists of the class of 2015 were saluted for their commitment to quality service – constant, consistent and persistent:

  1. Vidya Balakrishnan, Sales Coordinator, Crowne Plaza Fort Lauderdale Airport/Cruise Port
    Vidya was covering the front desk when a guest was checking out with her son. Vidya asked if their night had been restful. The woman answered that she had spent the night in the hospital by her husband’s side, where he passed away early that morning. Upon hearing this, Vidya went to the restaurant and bought two meals, with her own money, and delivered them to the woman and her son. Vidya is compassionate and goes above and beyond the call of duty out of the goodness of her heart. She provides professional warm and inviting service to all guests, and is very attentive. When clients arrive, they always ask to see Vidya so they can thank her for all the help and service she provides. She is always pleasant and professional with everyone she encounters. Her communication skills are well recognized, whether it is assisting guests in person or by phone. Vidya was nominated by four different co-workers, and has been mentioned in several great reviews on Trip Advisor.
  2. Nadine Bankley, Director of Sales, Rodeway Inn & Suites Fort Lauderdale Airport/Cruiseport
    Nadine Bankley has been with the hotel for more than three years and sets the example of quality customer service for all hospitality employees. No matter what happens behind the scenes, when she comes out to greet a guest, she has the most amazing smile and a laugh that makes everyone laugh around her. Nadine makes every guest feel that they are special, just one of the reasons that she is so successful at what she does. Some of her mantras include: “Guests may not remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel;” “I only promise what I can provide and I always provide more than I promise;” "Quality customer service is all about developing business relationships with people;” “When you have the Givers Gain philosophy, there is no end to the potential you can achieve.” She truly aspires to make a difference in her clients’ lives. When a guest who stayed at the hotel for a pre & post cruise wedding party, realized that they had left the carry-on bag with their wedding bands inside for their on-board ceremony back at the hotel, Nadine quickly found the bag and drove to the cruise port with the bag to catch the guest before their ship set sail. They were so overjoyed that she went out of her way to make sure that their ceremony went off without a hitch. Upon their return, they brought her back a bottle of wine and she told them to keep it and open it on their first wedding anniversary. Nadine is an extremely positive person and a great inspiration to everyone that works with her.
  3. Nevoyel Belonce, Taxi Driver, Yellow Cab
    A couple visiting from up north was in a taxi when the husband suffered a heart attack. The driver, Nevoyel Belonce, remained calm and called 911. While the husband was recovering in the hospital, Nevoyel kept in touch with the couple, taking the wife to stores, and back and forth to the hotel and hospital. The wife mentioned to Nevoyel an issue with their cell phone being dead and they did not have their charger with them. It was an older phone model and they could not find a charger in the stores to fit. Nevoyel remembered he had an old charger in a junk drawer at home. He brought the charger to the hospital and the couple was able to charge the phone and contact family and friends. Nevoyel Belonce has been a driver for 11 years and prides himself on going above and beyond for all his passengers.
  4. John Brugos, Group Sales Manager, Flamingo Gardens 
    John Brugos is the epitome of hospitality and customer service. Every day he creates WOW experiences for visitors to Flamingo Gardens. As the head of group tours, John coordinates dozens, sometimes hundreds, of visitors to Flamingo Gardens at a time, somehow managing to give them all individual and personal attention. John meets his groups, he greets them at the bus and escorts them into the gardens, and then escorts them back to their bus or vehicle with an unexpected ice cream sandwich. If it rains, he’s prepared with umbrellas or rain ponchos. If there are mosquitoes, he’s ready with insect repellent. If there is a delay at the tram, or a hold-up at the wildlife show, he’s there with a complimentary water or soda to refresh them while they wait. And he does it all with a smile on his face, as well as a smile in his heart. 

    Once, when a high-school group’s flight was delayed and they landed after-hours, John stayed to meet them and arranged with other employees to stay late for a private after-hours tour and show. When a couple from a large group tour wanted to stay longer to visit, John got their luggage off the bus and drove them to the airport when they were ready to leave. When a hearing impaired group visited, he not only provided interpreters, but passed out written scripts of the tour and painted posters to hold up to point out objects of special attention during their tour. John Brugos provides outstanding customer service and hospitality that exceeds visitors’ expectations every time, creating unforgettable experiences to make their visit memorable.
  5. Mark Davis, Lone Palm Bartender, Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort
    Mark is a dedicated and extremely hard working team member who continually goes above and beyond for not only guests, but outside patrons as well. His outstanding work ethic includes purchasing and providing rain ponchos to guests. He’s the kind of individual who would give a stranger the clothes off his back, even providing guests with his own personal accessories to make their visit more comfortable. He continues to amaze management with his team leading abilities, great attitude and productivity. 
  6. David Ivy, Concierge, Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six
    As a long-time employee of the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, David Ivy genuinely treats each guest like they are friends or family. He will arrange a charter fishing trip for guests, meet them at the dock when they arrive back, and then arrange for the hotel’s executive chef to prepare their catch for a balcony dinner that evening. He lends guests money, and like a friend doesn’t expect to get paid back, but is pleased when they do. 

    There are so many little ways that David absolutely outdoes himself. An elderly gentleman visiting from New Zealand and staying at the hotel inquired with David about booking a tour during his visit to the area. When David inquired if he had ever been to Greater Fort Lauderdale before, he stated no, but in 1975 he had an exchange student from the states that lived with him and his wife for a year. David asked the gentleman if he kept in touch with the student, and he said sadly he had not. He asked the student’s name and location, but had lost track of the student’s location. The guest left to take the tour that David had booked for him and while he was gone, David researched and found the student and let her know that the elderly gentleman was in town and staying at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six. Upon his return, the guest came back to find a phone message from the student that had lived with him and his wife 35 years ago. David had spent over two hours tracking her down, using internet, phone calls and persisting on speaking to the "student." The 85-year old guest had tears in his eyes that someone would care enough to go to that trouble to make someone happy. David made a friend for life in that guest, as he does with so many that visit the hotel each year.
  7. Santiago Navarro, Front Desk Supervisor, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach 
    Santiago’s career in hospitality began in Panama City in the early 2000’s as a way to assist his mother and to pay for his studies while attending American University. An excellent swimmer, talented artist and movie aficionado, Santiago began his hotel career in housekeeping, followed by busboy, and later a butler for VIPs. It was then that he knew that hospitality was his calling, and he enjoyed helping others, creating special moments and relationships with guests. As a flight attendant with Copa Airlines, Santiago saw the world (including frequent visits to Fort Lauderdale) and learned the importance of a first and last impression, rapport, and that hospitality comes from the heart. After relocating to Fort Lauderdale, Santiago walked into the lobby of the Sonesta Fort Lauderdale, told Human Resources that he wanted to create amazing moments for guests, and was hired for the front desk. Since then, he has touched the lives of everyone he interacts with directly. When a nervous guest called wanting to find the perfect location to propose to his girlfriend before a cruise from Port Everglades, Santiago sprang into action, asking if there was anything special or meaningful for his soon to be fiancé. The man answered, “blue water and roses.” Santiago blocked a ceiling to floor ocean view room on a high floor, placed rose petals to map the way from the room door to the window, where Champagne, strawberries and chocolates guarded the ring that represented the beginning of a new life for the happy couple. 

    Santiago creates unforgettable memories and it all comes from the heart and his passion to serve others. Santiago does not miss an opportunity to
    make a difference in everyone’s lives by inspiring others around him to be kind, to listen and to help each other to achieve their goals without expecting anything in return, but their happiness.
  8. Tracy Olivera, Customer Service Representative, Broward County Aviation
    In October 2015, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport experienced an aircraft on fire. Passengers, many who spoke little to no English, and crew were removed from the aircraft and transported to the airport's family room. One of the passengers that was still onboard the aircraft had a medical condition that required medication. Tracy Olivera, a customer service representative, comforted the passenger and contacted the paramedics. The passenger was informed he would need to go to the hospital, but was reluctant due to the fear of not being able to get back to the airport and not having someone who could understand him. Tracy offered to escort the passenger to the hospital, stayed by his side, and then escorted him back to the airport. Tracy was doing this outside of her normal work hours, putting the needs of the passenger before her own, and calmed his fears and anxiety.
  9. Rolande Paul, Housekeeping Supervisor, Lago Mar Resort and Club 
    Earlier this year, a guest from Sweden checked into the Lago Mar Resort by herself to see the sun rise one last time. Unbeknown to the Lago Mar team, the guest was dying of lung cancer. The second night of her stay she called the front desk asking for someone to assist her with cleaning her room. Along with a front office manager, housekeeping supervisor, Rolande Paul, went to the room to assist. Immediately they could see the guest needed medical assistance and the paramedics were called. While waiting for the paramedics Rolande attended to her by helping her remove her soiled clothes and helped her change into clean clothes, all without hesitation. Rolande cared for the guest with thoughtfulness and compassion, as if it was her own mother, making her feel as comfortable as possible until the paramedics arrived. The guest was taken to the hospital where she later passed away.
  10. Lucia Rosa, Assistant Front Office Manager, Bonaventure Resort & Spa 
    In November 2015, a woman and her three children checked in at the Bonaventure Resort & Spa for a five-night stay, having paid in advance for the first four nights. Due to unforeseen circumstances regarding a pending divorce, she was suddenly unable to pay for the fifth night. Distraught, she went to the front desk, where she met Lucia, and explained that she only had $40 left in her bank account and could not afford to pay for the additional night and did not have any other place to stay. 

    Lucia could feel her desperation and wanted to help. She shared the guest’s situation to the staff who were on duty that evening. On their own, and without hesitation, Lucia and her associates rallied, took cash out of their own pockets, and collected $160 for the guest. Lucia adjusted the rate of the room to match the collected amount and presented it to the guest, who had been on her cell phone, upset and scrambling to fix her financial situation with her children by her side. In the days ahead, the guest was able to restore her finances and the story has a happy ending. Lucia’s act of kindness and generosity left a permanent imprint on the life of the guest and her children in their time of need, and is a reminder that sometimes, one can offer a helping hand without knowing until much later, if at all, how important he or she is to the overall outcome of a situation. Lucia and her associates that day are a true inspiration and are an asset to the Bonaventure team.
  11. Matthew Spokony, Segway Tour Guide, Segway Fort Lauderdale
    Two guests from Germany were enjoying a two-hour Segway tour with Matt, when the tour had to be cut short due to flooding from the abnormally high tide. They were extremely disappointed because they did not get to see the amazing views from the top of the 17th St. Causeway Bridge, which they had been really excited about when they originally reserved. The couple was only in town for one more day. Matt made arrangements to pick them up the next day from their hotel in his own car, packed with three Segways, and drove to the bottom of the 17th St. Bridge, where he accompanied them on the Segways to the top and back to complete the tour. Matt took it upon himself to provide this experience for no extra charge, and he also provided them a 20% discount for the shortened tour. Matt consistently goes above and beyond for Segway Fort Lauderdale customers and is a perfect brand ambassador for the destination.
  12. Joseph Wilcox, Receiving Agent, The Riverside Hotel
    Joseph has been with the Riverside Hotel for close to two years, and has made quite an impact on guests, visitors and his colleagues. One would think his position requires him hidden behind the guest service front lines, but this is certainly not the case with Joseph. His customer service focus and genuine personality shines. Joseph goes out of his way to interact with guests, always with a cheerful hello and upbeat attitude. 

    Recently a hotel guest reported a lost item. While enjoying her stay at the hotel and a great evening in the restaurant the night prior she misplaced her most important work device: her iPhone. Understandably, the guest was distraught, without it, she’d be lost. The entire Riverside team kicked into action including the General Manager, to search high and low, scoured the lobby, searched the bathrooms, and roamed the halls. While her “Find-my-phone” App stated the iPhone was on property, it was nowhere to be found. As the search party began to give up, Joseph remained convinced he could find it. The General Manager informed the guest that the iPhone was lost, and, unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done. The search was called off, yet Joseph kept searching. Just as she turned to leave property, Joseph walked into the lobby holding her iPhone in hand. He had overturned every couch cushion he could find on property. He found the device nestled in a waiting area on the other side of the property. The guest was so ecstatic that in a moment overcome with joy, she leaped into Joseph’s arms for a photo.

At the industry luncheon honoring the SUNsational Courtesy Award nominees, held today at the Broward County Convention Center, Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB), presented the Class of 2015 with accolades and prizes. Each of the 12 finalists received a staycation at a Broward County hotel, dinner for two at a participating Dine Out Lauderdale restaurant, tickets to South Beach Wine & Food Festival Taste Fort Lauderdale Series “Seaside Eats” tasting at Bonnet House, $50 Pelican Landing gift certificate, Panthers hockey tickets, Marlins baseball tickets, two Winterfest grandstand tickets, Xtreme Action Park prize package, $200 Boatsetter gift certificate, as well as additional prizes including a personalized Riverwalk Signature Brick, SUNsational Service Sand Globe and Seiko watch, E-Productions commemorative photo and video, Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB VIP attractions card, and much more. 

Hotel accommodations provided by the following: The Atlantic Hotel & Spa; B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale; Bonaventure Resort & Spa; Diplomat Resort & Spa Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton; Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort; Lago Mar Resort and Club; Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort; The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale; Riverside Hotel; Sonesta Fort Lauderdale; W Fort Lauderdale; and Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.

All of the 125 nominees will receive an Official Class of 2015 Courtesy Awards T-shirt; Shining Star Key Chain, Panthers hockey tickets, Xtreme Action Park card, Travel Host Pocketsaver Guide, Galleria Mall Coupon Book, Bubba Gump free appetizer card, BurgerFi $5 gift card, and a $100 Boatsetter Coupon.

About Greater Fort Lauderdale
From the seagrass to the sawgrass, Greater Fort Lauderdale, located in Broward County, boasts more than 34,000 lodging accommodations at a variety of hotels, luxury spa resorts, and Superior Small Lodgings reflecting a “beach chic” vibe. Visitors enjoy 23 miles of Blue Wave certified beaches, discover 300+ miles of inland waterways that run from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Everglades, dine at thousands of restaurants and eateries, get immersed in a thriving arts and culture scene and indulge in top shopping.

For more information, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit Get social and engage with Greater Fort Lauderdale on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and Pinterest: @visitlauderdale.

Editor’s Note: Hi-res image available.
Image caption: from left to right:
First Row: John Brugos; Tracy Olivera; Lucia Rosa; Nadine Bankley; Rolande Paul; Nicki E. Grossman (standing in teal) Second Row: Mark Davis; Nevoyel Belonce; Joseph Wilcox; Matthew Spokony; Santiago Navarro; David Ivy
Vidya Balakrishnan (not shown)