Even though I have no direct connection to Arlington's hospitality industry, the morning of March 18 will find me front-and-center at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, as the Chamber holds its 10th Annual Hospitality Awards, saluting some of the true superstars who work on the front lines of the industry.
And even if you don't have any direct connection, either, I'd encourage you to purchase a ticket (or a table!) for the event. There are three main reasons.
1. To say thank-you to a vital Arlington industry.
According to state figures, Arlington's hospitality industry drew an eye-opening $2.78 billion in tourist and business-traveler spending in 2012 to the county. That's higher than any other jurisdiction in Virginia, edging out Fairfax County ($2.75 billion) and representing more than double the visitor spending of that summertime mecca, Virginia Beach. These tourism revenues boost the local economy, and the tax revenue they generate helps support the high quality of life in the local area.
The world of hospitality is an incredibly competitive industry, and those on the front lines who have the most interaction with guests often make or break the experience. Saluting the best in the profession is the right thing to do.
2. To hear some incredible stories.
The hospitality industry is legendary for employing workers for lengthy periods of time, but whether a worker has been there for a few months or a few decades, he or she can make all difference the difference to a visitor's experience.
Consider the case of Teklay Gebre, who last year was honored with a Hospitality Superstar Award for his work at the DoubleTree by Hilton Crystal City. At the hotel, Gebre was approached by a woman who had been part of a contingent of World War II veterans and spouses having a reunion in the local area. The guest told him that she believed she had left her camera in a taxi after spending a full day sightseeing. The camera was not expensive, but what was inside was priceless - there were photos of the woman's husband, who recently had passed away.
Gebre used his extensive contacts in the taxi industry to locate the driver, but a search through the cab turned up nothing. Undaunted, Gebre convinced the driver to bring the cab to the hotel and conducted a more thorough search. The camera was found and reunited with its grateful owner. Tell me that isn't a heart-warmer of a story! And it's just one of dozens every year.
3. The event is just plain fun.
Despite the early hour, it's a raucous group that turns up and fills the ballroom to celebrate the achievement of their peers. The multi-cultural nature of the staff of Arlington's hospitality industry only adds to the fun, as winners come from every corner of the country and every corner of the globe.
As Rich Doud likes to say, it's the most uninhibited Chamber event of the year. (Rich loves it so much, he's the one who reads off the name of each recipient, even though some of them can be tongue-twisters. Although our Chamber president is soon to retire, I'm going to make it my mission to see if he can be enticed to come back in future years to continue that tradition.)
Another fan of the awards program is Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada, who calls it one of his favorite events of the year. "I'm not necessarily a morning person, but I am for this," Tejada said at last year's event.
So now, the secret is out: The annual hospitality awards aren't just for the hospitality industry. Get your ticket now; I promise a good time is in the offing.
Scott McCaffrey is managing editor of the Sun Gazette newspaper group and the Chamber's Vice-Chair for Government Affairs and Economic Development.