Going into its twentieth year, approximately 400 local tourism industry insiders will gather on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 to celebrate the achievements of front-line staff during the Stars of the City Recognition Evening, held in partnership with Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality & Tourism.
This annual event, which is an industry favourite, aims to celebrate front-line service staff members, meaning housekeepers, bellmen and waiters among others, who have gone above and beyond their job description to help Ottawa visitors or to make their stay particularly memorable.
Nominated by the visitors themselves, these people have helped Ottawa guests get to a hospital, fix their cars, track down lost luggage and may have even provided a home-cooked meal. The Stars stories are heartwarming and there are many. For this nomination year (Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 31, 2015), 1,118 nominations were submitted for more than 88 local businesses and organisations.
Steve Ball, President of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association (OGHA) and formerly with St. Joseph Communications, said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism that the Stars of the City program was born in the 1990’s after Ottawa Tourism kept receiving unsolicited feedback from visitors who had received exceptional service.
He further noted that at the time, a few Ottawa hotels had their own recognition programs in place. “So we thought it would be better to create a bigger program,” Ball said. “That way, there could be bigger rewards available and a bigger opportunity to get industry recognition at one official event.”
Ball noted that what’s unique about the program is that it highlights the efforts of Ottawa’s front-line staff that tend to be younger and in junior positions. “We wanted to try to motivate and stimulate front-line staff by offering real recognition as well as real awards,” Ball said, adding the front-line staff positions are those that leave not only first impressions, but also lasting impressions, on Ottawa’s visitors.
Ball said another unique aspect of the program is that the stories come directly from someone who benefitted from a person’s service and not from a manager or supervisor. “You’re getting it directly from the benefactor of the service,” he said. “That’s what’s neat about it.”
A particularly heartwarming finalist nomination for this year’s Star of the City Recognition Evening was submitted for Blueline Taxi driver Bahador Ayoubzadeh.
After not being able to fly home to Newfoundland due to an outdated driver’s license, Ed Didham and his wife were stranded in Ottawa, having to go from one motor registry location to another. Seeing that they were tired, frustrated and running low on funds, Ayoubzadeh decided to help the couple.
He drove them around the city at no charge. He and his wife, Hourah Keyan, even welcomed the couple into their home for a meal. “Everything they could possibly do for us, they done it,” Didham told a CBC News reporter in July. “We didn’t know what to say to thank them. We were so surprised. For people like that to do that for us.”
Ball said some of the greatest Stars stories over the years have come from situations in which the front-line staff member acted out of their own good character, rather than on behalf of their employer. “They’re acting on behalf of their own personality and their own heart, to help people enjoy their stay,” he said. “Those are the ones that are special and there are tons of them.”
Ann Meelker, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa’s downtown core, said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism that the Recognition Evening is great as it also recognises those working behind the scenes such as hotel housekeepers. “It’s such a hard job and it’s usually behind closed doors,” she said. “These are the types of people we really love to see acknowledged.”
Meelker noted that in addition to the official Stars program, the Lord Elgin runs its own ‘Star of the Month’ program in which exceptional staff members are highlighted at a company meeting and are given a gift. But in terms of the Ottawa Tourism Stars program, she said every nomination a staff member receives is meaningful. “Everyone here really cheers each other on when they get one. It’s really quite lovely to watch,” Meelker said.
Lord Elgin staff member Christopher Ward is a multi-year Stars finalist, receiving a nomination this year for helping a young visitor enjoy the city. When a 13-year-old boy didn’t seem too excited about spending time in Ottawa, Ward created a scavenger hunt for him about Ottawa’s famous landmarks. “He’s just one of these guys who will go and help people, even on his day off,” Meelker said.
Cindy VanBuskirk, General Manager at CF Rideau Centre, said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism that the Stars of the City program has really grown since its humble beginning. “I think our very first event was a barbecue on the terrace of the old Congress Centre,” she said. “It’s really come a long way and it shows no sign of slowing down.”
VanBuskirk noted the program has evolved from a tourism base to the whole community. She said the awareness level of the Stars of the City program is “extremely high” among not only front-line staff, but owners and operators of many Ottawa accommodations as well as attractions. “I think that’s one of the great things about the program; it doesn’t just begin and end with tourism members,” VanBuskirk said. “It’s really a community program now.”
According to VanBuskirk, though visitors may stay in a fabulous hotel and see wonderful attractions during their trip, it’s really the people they meet along the way that make the difference. “A program like Stars definitely elevates and acknowledges the key contribution that front-line staff make to creating those incredible memories for visitors.”
For Paul Reid, Guest Experience Representative at the Holiday Inn & Suites Ottawa Kanata, the best part of the Stars program is the recognition that front-line staff receive. “It opens up a dialogue for the guest,” Reid said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism. “If you’ve gone above and beyond, it’s a good way for the guest to know you’ll be acknowledged for what you’ve done.”
Reid, who’s been in the tourism industry for nearly 29 years, won the overall Star of the City Award along with a colleague in 2013 after they came to the aid of a guest who had been involved in a car accident.
While Reid’s colleague took care of the front desk, he recovered the guest’s car and got her room ready, as she had been rushed to the hospital. Upon her return to the hotel, the guest could just relax as everything was taken care of. “She nominated me for that and it ended up working out for me,” he said.
In addition to a Star Award, both Reid and his colleague received an all-inclusive trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. “I’m 46-years-old and that was my first adventure of that type,” he said, adding that with a family and bills, such a vacation would not have been possible on his own. “It provided me with something I probably would’ve never had the opportunity for.”
Reid noted Stars of the City is a positive program as it really encourages staff members to go one step further for that Ottawa visitor. “It prompts people to go that extra [mile],” he said. “So of course, it’s great for the employee and the employer.”
To learn more about the Stars program or to nominate an exceptional Ottawa front-line staff member, browse the Stars of the City website or get in touch with Ottawa Tourism’s Membership team. Good luck to all of the 2015 Stars finalists!