AH&LA Honors Outstanding Hotel Employees with Annual Stars of the Industry Awards

At the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) Stars of the Industry Awards luncheon, hotel employees were honored for their outstanding accomplishments, service, and leadership in the hospitality and lodging industry.

AHLA The awards, held at the association’s Summer Summit at the InterContinental Houston near the Galleria, were presented to Outstanding Lodging Employees, Managers, and General Managers in three property size categories, 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 new this year, the Student Member and Student Chapter of the Year.

Winning Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, small property, is Cody Rentschler, guest service representative, Best Western PLUS Savannah Historic District.  Cody has been an integral part of the guest services team since 2009.  Not only is he employed full time at the Best Western, he also works at a local restaurant, a boat retailer, and is a full time student. He has gone above and beyond to help guests not only at the hotel, but throughout Savannah. He has assisted a grieving family with arrangements to return home, and helps maintain the property even on his days off so it is always ‘inspection-ready.’  During his down time, Cody enjoys fishing and has been recognized by local lifeguards and police for his volunteer clean-up efforts around his fishing holes.

The winner of the Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, medium property, is Bob Cantelli, van driver and house person, Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Airport.  Bob is the definition of a team player.  He readily fills in when other employees have been unavailable.  He is always prompt with the shuttle, which the airline crews appreciate as well as Hilton guests.  He has even converted other hotel guests into loyal Hilton guests by helping them when in need.  Bob won the Spirit of Garden Award from Hilton in 2011.

The winner of the Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Large Property, is Les Leal, guest services manager, Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Denver.  Les manages the airport transportation system for the Doubletree, as well as their sister property, Red Lion Denver; manages a full service bell stand, a staff of 25, and a fleet of 15 passenger vans.  Les is always smiling and carries out his job with a unique style that makes both guests and team members feel welcome and at home.

Winning the Outstanding Manager of the Year, Small Property, is Darian James, sales/catering manager, Colcord Hotel in Oklahoma City.  He has helped both guests and co-workers with having the perfect wedding, even going so far as to drive a groom to the church. He gives a lot of his time to his community by volunteering at The Miaisha Orphanage, acts as the social chair for the Alliance of Emerging Professionals, and participates is various charity marathons. DJ definitely leads by example.

Winning the Manager of the Year, Medium Property, is Deborah Croce, director of human resources, The Ritz Carlton Central Park New York City.  Debbie’s personable ways make everyone who works with her feel special.  She is passionately involved in the monthly activities the hotel hosts at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is part of the “Community Footprints” initiative.  She has received countless notes and letters, thanking and blessing her for acts of kindness that truly made the difference in someone’s life.  She leads the hotel in community outreach programs all year long, such as the NYC Winter Coat Drive, Rack-and-Wrap It, city mentoring programs, and various charity walks.

There were two winners of the Outstanding Manager of the Year, Large Property.  Edward Shimanski, front office manager, Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, and  Farhad Keshawarz, laundry department manager, Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ.

As the front office manager, Edward is responsible for hiring, training, scheduling, and directing Lodge operations.  He is actively involved with community programs such as the United Way, the Lebanon Valley County Domestic shelter, and Relay for Life. Ed is consistently supportive and enthusiastic about his position, and with his engaging personality and respect of other staff, he is the consummate professional.

Farhad has been part of the Westin team since 2003.  During that time he has also served on the Joint Task Force as a translator for the U.S. government.  His service to the government prompted the Westin Kierland managing director to create the “Farhaf Keshawarz Award” for his steady leadership, demeanor, and strong voice while keeping his team-mission focused.

Winning the Outstanding General Manager of the Year, Small Property, is Bryan Davis, general manager, Riverwind Hotel in Norman, OK.  Bryan exemplifies leadership and employee relations by talking the talk and walking the walk.  He makes a point to provide guests with personalized service and making a real impact.  Bryan does many things for employee morale, such as having a chili cook-off for the staff, and these impressions transfer over as they carry out their interactions with customers and guests.  He also volunteers on the Membership Services Committee, takes part in the Clean the World recycling program, and interacts with local charities. He has recently been accepted in the Certified Hotel Administrator program.

The winner of the Outstanding General Manager of the Year, Medium Property, is Cherie Davis, general manager, Miyako Hybrid Hotel in Torrance, CA.  Cherie has been part of the hotel community for the past 30 years.  Not only is she the GM, she is also the director of sales and marketing, as well as the human resources director.  Under her direction, the Miyako Hybrid is first in comp set for rate, revenue, RevPar and customer service.  Cherie’s belief in “green is the betterment of the tourism industry” has led her to speak to several businesses in the Southwest, and Miyako has received awards and recognition for its environmental focus.  She spent 19 years as an officer in the Military Intelligence Corp., has co-authored two books, and is involved in missionary work abroad.  She leads by example and has created a work environment of trust, support, and delivering the best.

The winner of the Outstanding General Manager of the Year, Large Property, is Jerry Keyes, general manager, Courtyard by Marriott Magnificent Mile & River North in Chicago. Jerry has over 22 years of hotel experience, 13 of those have been spent with Marriott International. He has earned the reputation of the Mayor of River North because of his easy, approachable demeanor and the way he reaches out to everyone around him.  He has earned many loyal customers in his tenure and can often be seen pitching in around the hotel, be it vacuuming the lobby or stocking the market.  Jerry is very active in community outreach throughout the River North area of Chicago including Crime Stoppers and ‘Back on my Feet,’ which is a program to help the unemployed.

Winning the Women In Lodging Connect Leader of the Year is Rebecca Eastham, director of business and industry services, Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, OK.  Rebecca has served as a leader and a role model with in the hotel community as both a professional and an individual.  While on faculty at OSU, Rebecca led the establishment of the student chapter of AH&LA and presents regularly at the chapter meetings.  She has served on the OH&LA board of directors since 2008, and is currently the chair of the Oklahoma WIL Connect Council.  She also serves on the board of trustees for the Oklahoma Hospitality Foundation.  Rebecca’s career has been centered on the development of individuals in the hotel industry and she continues to share her experience and mentor young professionals.

Winning the Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader is Tommy Beyer, general manager, Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Airport.  Tommy graduated at the top of his class from the University of South Carolina and has been working full time in the industry since his junior year.  His hotel performs far above the Hilton brand standards and financially out performs hotels in his market. After managing a Hampton Inn for two years and winning numerous awards, he moved to Hilton and has been GM of the Hilton Garden Inn since 2010.  Since then he and his team have increased the hotels ranking from #347 to #72 within the Hilton brand. Tommy is not only an excellent businessman, but a budding philanthropist who volunteers for a youth group at a local church.  He is described by his staff as a man of stellar character and one that empowers them daily.

Winning the first AH&LA Student Member of the Year award is Cynthia Beans, University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, WI.  Cynthia is currently serving as the president of the University of Wisconsin-Stouts’s AH&LA Student chapter, and sits on the Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association board as a student representative.  Under Cynthia’s direction, the student chapter membership has doubled to 66 members from last year.  She is passionate about community service and not only stresses the importance of giving back, but acts on it.  She is an active force in several food drives throughout her community, always setting the bar higher.

The winner of the first AH&LA Student Chapter of the Year is the University of New Orleans.  This university is one of the founding AH&LA Student Chapters. They have worked closely with their state partner, and the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association to provide exceptional learning, networking, and career opportunities for members.  The chapter has a big focus on volunteering as well, including the annual Tourism Tee-Off Golf Tournament and the Annual Holiday Party; coordinating a fall semester student luncheon and exam week breakfast to introduce students to the organization and the mission; and for the past two years have partnered with Children’s Hospital collecting more than 2,000 Crayola supplies for the Art Cart which provides sick children with an artistic outlet.  Through their charitable efforts they have established valuable public relations in the community for AH&LA, their Student Chapter, and the University of New Orleans.

Many of AH&LA’s partner state associations choose their own employee award winners, which are submitted to the association for national judging.  This year’s national judges are Stephanie Ricca, editor in chief of Hotel & Motel Management magazine; Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality magazine; and Glenn Haussman, editor in chief, Hotel Interactive, Inc.  Judges for the WIL award are Vail Brown, CMHS, vice president, STR; Nancy Poor, senior vice president, owner relations, Wyndham Hotel Group; and Stefani Raggio, senior regional director of people & culture, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Cintas 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  

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