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Elaine McLaughlin Awards honors islands’ finest

By Staff | Sep 12, 2017

The 2017 Elaine McLaughlin Awards honored three Sanibel employees for the Honor of Distinction Award, Other Services/Business and the Best Tourism Boss, as well as highlighted numerous Sanibel and Captiva folks for honorable mentions.

The 17th annual Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards was held at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa Thursday, Aug. 31.

“Our theme is Stars of the Red Carpet and you are the stars of the tourism world in Lee County. We hope you enjoyed walking the red carpet, getting your photos taken and seeing your faces on the 10-foot screens, just like the famous customer service stars you are,” VCB Executive Director Tamara Pigott said at the beginning of the program. “We’re going to talk about your super star customer service stories all morning as we share how you help visitors and local residents throughout the year.”

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass and Chairman of the Tourist Development Council said 18 percent of Lee County employment is in tourism, representing more than 57,000 jobs.

“We know that $3 billion in direct spending by visitors packs a powerful local economic punch, which is driven by not only our pristine, natural, county, but by all of the things you do to make visitors feel welcome and appreciated. Without you and your focus on providing memorable customer service to visitors, we would just be another pretty place,” Pendergrass said.

Pigott said Lee County welcomes more than five million visitors each year, which means employees helped at least 13,699 visitors each day.

“It’s your superior service that sets us apart from destinations across the globe,” she said.

This year, Pigott said they received 841 nominations from visitors across the U.S. and world praising the customer service they received.

“I’m pleased and humbled my name is associated with you every year, thank you,” McLaughlin said. “You make my heart sing and I love you all.”

Other Services/Businesses

The category winner was awarded to Veronica Martorelli of Bailey’s General Store.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I had no inkling at all until she started reading the story. When I saw the picture on the wall, ‘Oh my God it was me.'”

Martorelli made her way to the stage as the excitement completely took hold of winning the award.

“It was an honor to get it for the store too,” she said. “I’m really happy that we got the big one.”

There is now a plaque at the store that shares Martorelli’s achievement with the community.

Nominators from Virginia, Maine and Florida were submitted about Martorelli. The story that was read, she remembered well.

She said she has known the dachshund, Rosie since she was a year old because she and her owner have visited the store for the past eight years.

“Every morning at 7 they would be at the door,” Martorelli said.

Often times the visit resulted with a problem with the bike carrier, which Martorelli was able to fix, or rig in a certain way that worked for the duo.

“I had to create a restraint to keep my dog in the bike carrier, which was designed for children, not dachshunds, and her excellent suggestions for hardware to use, plus how she helped me, made the difference. She also helped put air in my bike tire, and on more than one occasion, has been a lifesaver. She’s always upbeat and brightens up the rainiest days. She is professional and knowledgeable about everything the store carries and knows exactly where items are. She deserves this award because she has demonstrated, in countless ways, her dedication to helping all her customers,” the nominator wrote.

Martorelli said she could not believe it – winning the award. As a thank you, she sent some cookies, a pin and a little dog toy to the nominator because they were part of winning the award too.

Martorelli started working at Bailey’s in 1990.

“It’s a wonderful company to work for,” she said, especially with generation upon generation working there. “It’s really great and fantastic.”

Best Tourism Boss

Pigott said great leadership, sound judgement and unquestionable support of her team were just a few traits of the winner, Sanibel Moorings Resort General Manager Kari Cordisco.

“I am super grateful to the VCB. I am very grateful for all of the work that they do every day to promote tourism in our area. We couldn’t do it without them,” she said.

Some of the reasons that were submitted, Pigott said were she “wears many hats and wears each well,” “never fails to remember staff birthdays and special events in their lives,” “knows when to give an ‘atta boy’ at the right time” and is “our biggest cheerleader.”

“They back them up, teach, cover for them, lead by example, listen well, guide and protect, share the praise and take the heat if something goes wrong. They help all of you become leaders in your fields, so that you keep growing within your organization, so that one day you find you are helping those coming up behind you,” she said.

Cordisco said if it was not for a dear friend of hers, she would not have attended the awards ceremony.

“I was going to stay back for my whole team to go,” she said.

But, thankfully that dear friend encouraged her to go.

“It was a magnificent day. I was very surprised,” Cordisco said of winning the award. “I have been nominated several times in the past, but I feel like it is preserved for someone who is fantastic. I had no idea the spotlight had gone on me.”

She said although she is very honored, it means now she has more to do. Cordisco’s focus is on her team, her biggest priority.

“If I can’t take care of my team, they can’t take care of guests. I need to do better than I ever have. It inspired me to do more,” she said of the award.

Seven years ago, she joined the staff of Sanibel Moorings Resort, a decision she still loves to this day.

“It is a wonderful place to work and a wonderful place to be,” Cordisco said. “It is the best crew. The most talented, hardworking professionals there are. There is no better team out there.”

Honor of Distinction

“The Honor of Distinction winners, they have something unique that drives them to perfection on the job while working with guests. They are a step ahead, always anticipate a guest’s needs, and then act,” Pigott said.

The award was given to Beachview Cottages Housekeeping Supervisor Dilya Gabdrkhmanova.

“I am incredibly happy and honored to have won this award. It is amazing to know that my work is so highly valued. I do believe the credit should extend to the whole of our team, Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, who are very dedicated to providing excellent customer service to all of our guests,” she said. “I am also very grateful to all of my guts who have supported me over the years. They are amazing.”

A nominator from Missouri, a retired doctor, said they have been vacationing at Beachview Cottages for years.

“Your professional team, and especially my nominee, are wonderful. Last year I had a major heart surgery, which left me in a wheelchair, but I came down for a vacation anyway,” the Missouri nominator said. “I cannot tell you how happy I am that I did that and stayed at my nominee’s resort. She checked on me daily and made sure I had a good breakfast and didn’t forget my medications. She has a very unique talent in the way she understands and deals without he needs of each guests.”

Gabdrkhmanova began working at Beachview Cottages in 2006.

“One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is to see our guests relaxing and really enjoying their stay with us. It’s incredibly rewarding when they choose to come back to us year after year. My guests are now my big family and I do everything I can to make sure they are happy here with us.”

2017 winners