The California Hotel & Lodging Association elected its first Asian-American woman as Chair of its 2023 Board of Directors during its annual meeting at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
Hee-Won Lim-Grosvenor, Vice President and General Manager of the Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry, will lead the Board and the Executive Committee as CHLA celebrates its 130-year anniversary in 2023.
CHLA’S 2023 Chair, Hee-Won Lim-Grosvenor plans to focus on diversity and membership engagement during her one-year term, leading the executive committee, whose members include: Past Chair Tom Patton, CHA, Ramada by Wyndham Santa Barbara; Vice Chair
Dhruv Patel, Ridgemont Hospitality; and Secretary/Treasurer Cormac O’Modhrain, Sunstone Hotel Investors.
Stars of the Industry Awards
Hospitality is a people business. Our focus every day is on the people who walk through our doors—and delivering the best possible guest experience depends on our people and their skill, commitment, and dedication to service.
Each year, CHLA acknowledges the best of the best in our industry in California with our Stars of the Industry Awards. The 2022 Awards, determined by a select judging committee, were presented in November at a special ceremony at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. Over the next few pages, you’ll see the winners and learn something about each of them in words from their nomination submissions.
We salute the many worthy nominees for the 2022 awards and congratulate the winners for demonstrating the excellence we all strive for in our industry.
HD Supply Housekeeping Award, Small/Medium Property
Maria Medina, Best Western Plus Villa Del Lago Inn
Accepting the Award on her behalf, Sunny Patel, Owner
Maria has been with the property for 16 years, and is instrumental in how our housekeeping department operates. She is the go-to person for all questions, training, and translation between staff and Spanish speaking customers. While Maria has more than earned her right to take her weekends off, she is the first person to volunteer to work weekends and holidays and is always thinking about other staff members. During the pandemic, we lost all our staff, yet Maria stayed working full time and helped in various departments. Maria does extra things for our routine business without even asking. When she notices that we have construction workers as guests, she will place extra disposable rags in their rooms for their muddy boots. When she knows we have events, she will make decor out of the towels to make that room extra special. Maria Medina is a great example of the heart of hospitality!
HD Supply Housekeeping Award, Medium/Large Property
Mario Escobar, The Waterfront Beach Resort
In the short amount of time he’s been with the property, Mario has demonstrated a genuine care and concern for his new housekeeping team that have immediately welcomed him in. On one notable day, one of our guests traveling with small children departed for Santa Monica and forgot her passports in the hotel safe. Mario took it upon himself to drive the passports to Santa Monica from Huntington Beach after work. Without an ounce of hesitation, he requested permission to do so all on his own. We received an email from the guest who was completely amazed by his genuine care and nature and she said, “I was honestly blown away. He did not want anything from me, only to make sure that we received the passports… My husband and I travel a lot with our family, and I have never known someone who has gone out of their way to do something nice for us without expecting anything in return.” By exceeding the guest’s expectations, Mario has created a lifetime Hilton guest.
Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Small Property
Miguel Lopez, Bernardus Lodge & Spa
For more than 20 years, Tim Sherman, as Bell Captain and Miguel Lopez as valet were the pillars of the arrival and departure experience. They were brothers in arms, embodying loyalty and dedication above all else, and their daily duet became an essential Bernardus experience for loyal guests and locals alike. Last July, Tim tragically passed away without warning. As in shock as he was, Miguel was resilient, calm and open-hearted. From his home, he fastened a simple black ribbon to his uniform as a symbol of remembrance and mourning, and returned to work. Every local, every returning guest, every associate has a story about Tim. And Miguel gave them each the gift of an open ear, along with grace and dignity as he took the time to truly hear what they were saying. More than anything, Miguel showed us all that it is possible to live, smile and grieve at the same time. Many Bernardus employees wore and continue to wear black ribbons on their uniform to honor the leader we lost—and in support of the leader that has emerged. Miguel exemplifies what it is to have a heart of hospitality and a soul of a leader.
Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year, Medium/Large Property
Keith Defiebre, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
Keith demonstrates his commitment to memorable service every shift. One example of his thoughtful and outstanding service happened when a guest called for a wheelchair to be delivered to their room. Keith was on the job. He not only brought them the chair as requested but was later observed pushing the woman who requested assistance to a restaurant on nearby Cannery Row. He let them know to call for him when they were ready to come back. He then went back to the restaurant and wheeled her back and this was several blocks away. Keith also has been an elite level cyclist for over two decades competing professionally and representing the U.S. Recently he was in the Philippines to promote women’s bicycle racing. He supplies his team there, the Keith DeFiebre cycling team, with bikes and equipment, enabling them to train while he is back home, an expense that comes out of his pocket each year. He is an outstanding example of a hospitality professional who represents the best in our profession in Monterey County, but also represents the state proudly.
Outstanding Manager of the Year, Small Property
Natalie Salinas, Holiday Inn Express & Suites
Natalie joined Aelius Management Group in 2021 when our company had just acquired the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Dinuba. At the time the property was in a bit of a distressed situation. Natalie, who has lived in Dinuba almost her entire life, applied for the GM position. She was a 30-year hospitality veteran who had taken a leave because of the death of a close friend. But when she came in for her interview with us, her energy was screaming hospitality. Our property at that time had an empty feeling. Since joining the team, she has made the property so inviting where all our guests constantly feel welcomed, appreciated, and taken care of. She has gone out of her way day in and day out to make sure she is meeting the demands. Not only has she shown that effort to our guests, but our staff feel it too. We have received multiple recognitions from IHG on our customer service and cleanliness levels. Natalie has also earned AAA Three Diamond designation. Throughout the year she consistently shows her true hospitality nature by hosting events that the guests can participate in, staff feeling appreciated, and ownership being able to take pride in. We truly feel that she embodies the true meaning of hospitality.
Outstanding Manager of the Year, Large Property
John Bernier, Hilton San Francisco and Parc 55 San Francisco
Being a proud union member, I have never thought I would nominate a member of management, but John doesn’t act like a typical member of management. During the pandemic, John made himself available to all the laid off members to assist them with applying for and securing our unemployment payments and helping us get through the mess that was the EDD. He continues to help members with problems with the EDD. After the hotel reopened, he worked hard to welcome us back and did more than any other HR director in the city to educate us on Covid Safety Protocols. And since then, he has volunteered to lead free training sessions on the new Responsible Beverage Server law open to any server or bartender in the city of San Francisco. He has helped over 200 people outside of the Hilton and Parc 55 continue to work without interruption and benefits every hotel in San Francisco who use extra servers and bartenders from the union hiring hall. John is someone we in the union refer to as a “brother”. This is a rare honor ever given to a member of management from a union, but he has earned it.
Outstanding General Manager, Small Property
Kurt Bjorkman, The Ranch at Laguna Beach
If you look up the word hospitality in the dictionary, Kurt Bjorkman’s name will be listed. Kurt lives and breathes hospitality and has a true heart. For Kurt, service starts with taking care of his team. In Kurt’s words “In order to take care of our guests, we need to take care of each other first.” An example of this is Kurt never wants to see a team member be stressed on the job, either due to high business levels, short on staff, or a team member that encounters a discerning guest. With this Kurt has trained in each department to learn the jobs, so if we are down a team member or are busy, he can easily step in to relieve the staff and serve our guests. If there’s a guest that needs special attention, Kurt is the first to step in and smooth things over, while not undermining our staff or taking credit for resolving and issue. Kurt’s servant heart doesn’t stop with serving guests. He’s also very passionate about sustainability and has put in to place many sustainability programs. In a nutshell, Kurt is one of us, he’s on our level and is admired and adored by all his team. He is kind, thoughtful, generous, and welcoming. He really is the true definition of hospitality.”
Outstanding General Manager, Medium Property
Chris Sommers, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa
Within a year of taking his position, Chris had to make the heartbreaking decision to close the property due to the pandemic. While this was the most difficult time of his career, he advocated for the hourly associates, he oversaw the distribution of food to staff as the kitchen closed, and then spent the next two months patrolling each day to ensure the property was secured during the closure. He personally filled bags with food and essentials, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizers, in preparation for delivery to the hotel associates. When the hotel reopened, he was there to greet associates who were returning and, on many days, he was working alongside them—clearing tables, folding towels, and parking cars. Throughout it all, he maintained a positive attitude and his encouraging spirit helped the staff get comfortable in the new paradigm of mandatory masks, social distancing, and deep cleaning. Chris’ leadership has also been instrumental in growing our management staff. He continually challenges them with a “you can do it” spirit. While other properties struggle to staff and are unable to reopen fully, Chris focused all efforts to safely open as many services as possible with the end goal of rehiring as many associates as possible and getting the team back to work. Chris has the heart and passion of a true hotelier.
Outstanding General Manager, Large Property
Younes Atallah, Loews Santa Monica Beach
Younes’ impact to the industry, Santa Monica community, and people around him was immediately felt when he arrived in Santa Monica over two years ago. He’s made it a priority to not only serve the staff and guests at Loews, but the businesses and residents of the Santa Monica Community. Since 2020 he’s served as a member and is currently Chair, of the Tourism Marketing District Committee. In May 2021, Younes was appointed to the SMTT Board of Directors as a member and now serves as our Vice Chair. He also serves on the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and supports many local non-profits. Younes has thrust Loews Santa Monica Beach hotel back into the spotlight by bringing in cutting edge artists, designers, and providing unique experiences. Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is once again “the place to be” throughout the year by offering a series of events that are both new and innovative. No matter what he’s planned, he always includes a giving back to the community component which spotlights his giving nature. He prides himself on the smallest of details, he’s reasonable and caring to each person he encounters. I’ve seen the changes in employee morale, and hotel performance demonstrates the level of service offered at the property since Younes took the helm. I personally can’t wait to see what Younes and his team do next.
Stevan Porter Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year
Elisabeth Balourdas, Rosewood Miramar Beach
Elisabeth, or better known to her colleagues as Lizzy, began her hospitality career at a young age watching her mother host dinners and parties at their home. As she grew up, she knew she wanted to be a part of the industry that her mother, a Director of Catering, had worked in. Upon graduation from Cal Poly Pomona, she was hired by the Caruso Group, a prominent real estate development company, to be part of the Caruso Accelerated Management Program and participated in their first CAMPer program. Placed at Rosewood Miramar Beach, a Caruso property, she started her first job in food & beverage as an assistant manager running the pool & beach operation. From there, she moved to various outlets including Malibu Farm, the resort’s 3-meal restaurant. Eventually she was given the opportunity to be the assistant director of banquets. However, within a few months of being placed in the banquets department, her director left, and she was tasked with running the department. It is her dedication, commitment, and drive that during those six months on her own, she was able to run the $14 million 60+ person operation on her own with the assistance of two banquet captains that she was promoted to director of banquets. The resort is proud of “Lizzy” Balourdas.
Women in Lodging Connect Leader of the Year
Joan Harvey, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa Beach
Joan has been our Director, Sales & Marketing at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa for four years now and has worked with Accor for over 23 years. Amazing, respectful, empowering, and strategic are just some of the words shared by Joan Harvey’s team when asked to describe her leadership style. We’d say she is the perfect recipe for a well-balanced leader and mentor – thoughtful with her messages, leads with her head and her heart, smart, effective and drives results.
Joan puts her team first. There is no greater example of this than when the pandemic hit and her decision to take a furlough herself so that a few of her team members could stay on board and continue to work. When it came to building back after the pandemic, Joan adapted and pivoted time and time again. Joan encouraged the team to look for additional revenue streams and unique ways to connect with guests. Joan has assisted in improving the guest room collateral and content, enhancing our website along with other third party websites, and successfully launched a new social membership club.
This will be the best year of performance in the Hotel’s history. But you can still find Joan out and about on property when she has a few minutes picking up trash and showing a sense of pride in our resort.
Community Service Award
Melissa Begin, Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection
Hotel Paradox team member Melissa Begin initiated a community service on behalf of the Hotel Paradox in 2019 that remains in practice. With the goal of maintaining the health and beauty of the San Lorenzo Park, which is between the hotel and business in downtown, she created a program called “Bridging the Gap”, which allows hotels to “adopt” a block of the San Lorenzo Park and commit to clean it up on a quarterly basis. Melissa has engaged with many different businesses in the downtown area and, because of her efforts, the clean-ups have been conducted on a consistent quarterly basis. The Bridging the Gap River beautification project collects approximately 200lbs of garbage per clean-up and is a great success for the hotel, community, and businesses in the area. Congratulations Melissa and congratulations Hotel Paradox on this beautiful and successful project.
The Inaugural CHLA DEI Award
Doubletree by Hilton San Jose
Hilton is not just a company committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion; we embody it. One example is Nancy Lopez, AKA “Chef Fancy Nancy.” Here’s what she had to say: “I am a transgender woman with a passion for culinary arts. My motivation and inspiration have always been my mother. From the age of five I used to make tortillas, do housework, and even make my clothes…This is when I began to realize that a boy had been born with the feelings and soul of a girl. My biggest obstacle had to be my father who, in seeing me engage in “feminine” activities, would be angry with my mother for allowing me to do so. His solution was to take me to the fields to do more labor-intensive jobs. I sowed and picked for years of my childhood, and during this time is when I realized that my life was not going to be easy. But in the end, that work made me the great worker and fighter I am today and have been throughout my life. Today, I am 50 years old, and I continue to work hard in the kitchen to get ahead, but I do it with great pride and joy because I know I have a purpose. Besides cooking for people, being of service brings me the greatest joy. Honestly, my well-being depends on the work I do as a volunteer and in building community. It’s important to me to help the community the way the community has helped me. I am so thankful for my Hilton Family! I have found a HOME at the DoubleTree by Hilton San Jose! They CARE, and it shows!”
Good Earthkeeping Award
The Argonaut is committed to environmental sustainability by participating in numerous programs/initiatives, committees, and investing in the property to remain a leader in “Good Earthkeeping” in San Francisco. To assist other properties with their green efforts, Regional Vice President Stefan Mühle, co-founder/former chair of the San Francisco Hotel Council’s Sustainability Committee, consistently encourages and educates other hotels to participate in the many available initiatives. The Hotel is very active in working with vendors and leaders of the industry who have taken an active approach to greening their businesses. Most importantly, though, the property openly shares field tests and findings (including successes and failures) and encourages as many team members as possible and other hotels to participate to push the proverbial envelope.
Guest Relations Award
Magic Castle Hotel
While our independent hotel isn’t fancy, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved by being creative and taking a different approach to guest service. We’re currently the #6 hotel on TripAdvisor out of 409 in all of Los Angeles. This is not easy and is a result of giving our guests an experience that is so far beyond what they expected, that by the time they leave, they feel compelled to tell people about us…. and to write about their experience. Here’s just one such review: “The service is without equal. The vibe of this hotel is unmatched. The staff never failed to impress us, and always went above and beyond to accommodate our requests and to make our stay enjoyable.” And another: “This hotel is a sanctuary from the bustle of LA and feels like home.” We live “service” at Magic Castle Hotel and guests tell me almost every day how they don’t want to leave.