SEATAC, WA -- Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear an apron, others wear a polo shirt, and some have chef’s hats. After the immense pressures COVID-19 put on the hospitality community, Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority is highlighting how hard-working, everyday people make a huge difference in our community. Ten Hospitality Heroes across a variety of roles in the hotel industry were celebrated for their hard work, selflessness, and contributions to their teams at the SEA Airport Luncheon hosted by the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce on August 4, 2022.

Mark Everton, CEO of Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority, frames the importance of tourism to our local economy: “Tourism employs 5,110 people in our community, that is 1 tourism job for every 18 residents. Visitors to our community spent almost $788 million in 2019. Tourism’s economic impact can be found in every block in every neighborhood in each of our communities.”

While these are the first named Hospitality Heroes, this is not the first nor the last time that Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority is recognizing workers for being the beating heart of the hospitality industry. There are plans to make this an annual event to continue bringing these unsung heroes into the spotlight. The ten people being recognized for 2022 are:

  • Joy Armstrong, Housekeeping Supervisor, DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport
  • Aleyna Foster, Sales Coordinator & Front Desk Supervisor, Element Seattle Sea-Tac Airport in Tukwila
  • Jordan Melonson, Front Desk Supervisor, Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac
  • Carmen Montero, Food & Beverage Manager, Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila
  • Jose Mora, Cook, Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center
  • Maria Pina, Room Attendant, Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila
  • MaryAnn Reeves, Housekeeping Supervisor, Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center
  • Cindy Rueda, Housekeeping Supervisor, Residence Inn by Marriott Seattle Sea-Tac Airport
  • Jason Sutton, Cook I, DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport
  • Senada Zekic, Housekeeping Supervisor, DoubleTree Suites Seattle Airport-Southcenter

 

Joy Armstrong - DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport

Joy Armstrong

Housekeeping Supervisor
DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport
Nominated by Katrina Cook, Assistant Director of Human Resources

“Joy Armstrong is a Housekeeping Supervisor at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport. She has been with us for 11 years. During the pandemic, the DoubleTree shut its doors in April of 2020. We laid off most of our team members, including Joy. In June of 2020, we had an opportunity to house about 200 guests who were quarantining for a two-week period. We didn’t know the COVID status of these guests and there was a high possibility that the guests were COVID positive. We needed team members who were willing to come back to get the hotel ready for their arrival and then to clean the hotel after they were gone. This was at a time of a lot of uncertainty about COVID. Joy volunteered immediately and ran the housekeeping team. That is the most impressive thing about thing about Joy: her ability to lead the team independently. Joy was instrumental during not only that time but also when we were reopening in March of 2021 and since. As our business levels have increased, our staffing levels have not increased at the same pace. We are short in almost every position in Housekeeping and Laundry, including our management team. Joy has been filling the gaps: from opening the housekeeping department and doing daily assignments, to assisting housekeepers stripping linens from rooms, to cleaning rooms after her supervisor shift has finished, to taking guest deliveries, and everything in between. She is available for her team and will come running if they call her which given that the DoubleTree is spread out over 23 acres can mean a lot of running! We have relied on her heavily to keep the housekeeping department running efficiently and we could not have survived without her.”

 

Aleyna Foster - Element Seattle Sea-Tac Airport in Tukwila

Aleyna Foster

Sales Coordinator & Front Desk Supervisor
Element Seattle Sea-Tac Airport in Tukwila
Nominated by Joseph Blackburn, General Manager

“Aleyna was my very first hire way back in March 2021. She stewed away with me as we worked remotely over Microsoft Teams until we got to move into the hotel finally in May 2021. She was a crucial member of our opening team and helped us bust out the hotel opening in time against the odds!

“Shortly after opening, Aleyna become a steadying presence at the Front Desk for us while we weathered an incredibly challenging first 3 months of operations as we worked to get people hired. She essentially became an extension of our Leadership team without asking for anything in return. While my AGM and I were upstairs crushing cleaning rooms day in and day out, she became the face of our hotel to many guests staying with us for the first time. Even amidst all the chaos during those first few months, she never wavered and was instrumental in helping us pull through to the other side. Shortly after things became more stabilized, she expressed an interest to cultivate her skills further to learn more about the Sales side of hotel operations. She eventually received a promotion to become our on-property Sales Coordinator, while still splitting time helping at the Front Desk as the AM Supervisor.

“To this day, Aleyna graciously helps us with onboarding new talent at the Front Desk and getting them acclimated to the Front Desk role. Which, for many of our hires, have been first-time hotel workers. Seeing Aleyna's enthusiasm and dedication to the work she does has inspired some of them to even be considering permanent careers in the hospitality field. Aleyna even makes time to come in early some days to help our Night Audit crew with any issues they may have had from the night before and has been a confident voice for them when either my AGM or I have been unavailable. With her added Sales duties, she had to take on a harrowing journey of learning both Lightspeed and the Sales system. No easy feat by any means. Yet she persevered and has proven herself to be one of the more reliable sources of information for all things Lightspeed for our property. It's easy to say that Aleyna has become a foundational cornerstone of our hotel, and she's destined to do GREAT things in this industry in the years ahead.”

 

Jordan Melonson - Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac

Jordan Melonson

Front Desk Supervisor
Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac
Nominated by Byron Pihuave, General Manager

“Due to the pandemic, we had to lay off many housekeeping and front desk team members. In addition, many people decided to leave due to fear of catching COVID-19. Jordan Melonson, our Front desk manager, was in charge of housekeeping and the front desk. Although not much was known about the virus, he never doubted and continued to provide high-quality service for both departments, taking the corresponding security and sanitary measures. In addition, Jordan effectively redesigned the check-in and check-out processes and created a new way to service the hotel rooms, demonstrating leadership and courage while providing a high level of service to our guests and team members.”

 

Carmen Montero - Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila

Carmen Montero

Food & Beverage Manager
Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila
Nominated by Kristie Richardson, Complex Director of Human Resources

“Carmen has worked for us in varying capacities for 11 years, working her way up from an entry-level role to management. She primarily oversees our Complimentary Breakfast department (at least that is her ‘normal’ role) but throughout the last two years, she has taken on so much more.  She and her very small team of four breakfast cooks, also completely oversee the grab and go items for our guests. Due to the restaurant being closed throughout most of Covid this was a new venture for the hotel, and she took it over without a complaint or issue, despite herself being very understaffed. Her team took on the roles of three job classifications and Carmen was right in there, managing a highly successful department with outstanding guest ratings, while also acting as Barista at our Starbucks coffee stand, bussing tables, doing dishes, cooking breakfast, and serving our guests. She has worked tirelessly to deliver on our promise to our guests, while successfully rolling out the grab and go program, along with also taking over the amenities for our Premium suites---which is somewhat of a full-time job itself. Carmen has always been a rock start team member, but the last two years she has really shined and gone above and beyond.  We recognize her frequently as our hotel’s Hospitality Hero, so it is only fitting that she be recognized within our local community, as well.”

 

Jose Mora - Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center

Jose Mora

Cook
Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center
Nominated by Katrina Cook, Assistant Director of Human Resources

“Jose Mora has been a Cook at the Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center for over 32 years. He is an integral part of our AM Culinary team. Jose is known for his warm, friendly demeanor. He is cool under pressure and is a great cook. During the pandemic Jose took on the task of making meals for our team members. As our team member restaurant, which had been set up buffet style, has been closed, team members are now picking up their meals in the kitchen. Jose greets every team member with a smile. He puts such effort into making the team member meals excellent. His handmade salsa on Taco Tuesdays is legendary. He always makes sure that we have a new soup of the day. He makes special sauces and garnishes the meals, treating his internal guests just as well as he does his external guests. The past two years have had dark moments of uncertainty but Jose was a light for all of us.”

 

Maria Pina - Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila

Maria Pina

Room Attendant
Embassy Suites by Hilton Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport in Tukwila
Nominated by Kristie Richardson, Complex Director of Human Resources

“Maria has worked for us for 25 years and is one of our hardest working and most dependable team members. As we know, the Housekeeping departments across most hotels have been severely understaffed and struggling throughout the last two years, but Maria has remained steadfast in her dedication and loyalty to not only her fellow teammates, but to our guests.  She is an outstanding Room Attendant but moreover, she is just an extraordinary human being. She is always positive, smiling, and will say yes to whatever task we ask of her---even if it is a 10th hour or 6th day.  She is there for us in so many ways and we absolutely could not deliver on our promises to our guests, without Maria.  She also fills in other roles, such as Lobby Attendant, Laundry Attendant and Supervisor, whenever asked. She is our Jack of All Trades in Housekeeping and we are beyond grateful to have her on our team. Maria works hard and shows her heroism every single time she walks through our doors!”

 

MaryAnn Reeves - Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center

MaryAnn Reeves

Housekeeping Supervisor
Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center
Nominated by Katrina Cook, Assistant Director of Human Resources

“MaryAnn Reeves is one of our Housekeeping Supervisors. MaryAnn has worked for the Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center for 18 years in various positions in housekeeping and was promoted to a supervisor 5 years ago. She has earned the respect of her team members with her willingness to step in and help anyone, spending the majority of her shift on the floor helping her team. She will pick up rooms to clean if we are short on Housekeepers or if we get a distressed flight. She will jump in to help the Housekeepers by stripping bed linens. She will help our House Attendants with deliveries. She will take Lobby Attendant shifts when we are in need or if it is busy. She will even take maintenance requests when our engineering team is busy and it is something that she can fix. Even in the most difficult of situations, MaryAnn is always calm and collected, ready to do anything to get the job done. She will take any shift in any position to help the hotel and her team in any way that she can. With the unpredictability of our business recently, MaryAnn’s dependability has been invaluable and we are lucky to have her!”

 

Cindy Rueda - Residence Inn by Marriott Seattle Sea-Tac Airport

Cindy Rueda

Housekeeping Supervisor
Residence Inn by Marriott Seattle Sea-Tac Airport
Nominated by Danielle Pineda, Director of Sales

“I would like to nominate Cindy Rueda for Seattle Southside's Heart of Hospitality. Cindy has been with Residence Inn since doors opened in May 2018 starting her career as our laundress and was recently promoted to Supervisor. 

“Cindy's been through thick and thin with the hotel as most of us in the industry has during COVID.  However, it's her passion for wanting to make guests feel like they're royalty when they walk into one of our suites, how she uses her wit to motivate the team to push through 4pm checkouts on a Friday and it's her unselfishness of taking her time to learn the nuances of our long-term insurance guests so their linens are prepared to their liking that make us honored to have Cindy on our team through the highs and lows.

“It sounds crazy, but in hindsight, we could not have imagined how valuable Cindy's cleanliness obsession would be to Residence Inn.  Cindy is very proud - and rightfully so - of her cleanliness and organization skills. On days she's inspecting, the team quietly mutters as they know nothing less than perfection is going to pass.  In that same vein, the team knows Cindy has their backs. If a check-out requires assistance or the bathroom grout needs extra arm power, she can be counted on to help.   It's this level of care that also enabled the hotel to achieve high guest service scores during much of COVID and establish stronger ties of trust among our clients.

“Cindy's ability to help reshape what clean means at Residence Inn is why the hotel averaged nearly 90% through two years of the pandemic.  Travelers felt safe at the hotel. They could touch banal things like doorknobs and actually engage with fellow human beings without being afraid the virus would fall them. Cindy and her team are responsible for that levity, for restoring a sense of much-taken-for-granted security that the virus ripped apart. 

“As we slowly but surely emerge from COVID, retaining the client's trust continues to be key to the hotel's success, and having Cindy in our corner helps make this easier.  Our team is beyond thankful for Cindy simply being Cindy and for being a big part of the Residence Inn Seattle Sea-Tac Airport.”

 

Jason Sutton - DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport

Jason Sutton

Cook I
DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport
Nominated by Katrina Cook, Assistant Director of Human Resources

“Jason Sutton is a Cook I at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport. We have been lucky to have Jason working in that role for the past 5 years. Jason is known as being a leader for the Culinary team. Team Members look to him for direction and he takes on the role of guide and mentor very seriously, helping train and develop our team. During the pandemic, the DoubleTree shut its doors in April of 2020. We laid off most of our team members, including Jason. In June of 2020, we had an opportunity to house about 200 guests who were quarantining for a two-week period. We needed Culinary team members who were willing to come back to make meals for the guests to be dropped at their doors. Jason did not hesitate and came back to lead the team. When we reopened in March of 2021 and since, meal delivery has been a new part of our business. Jason has been instrumental in making this so successful. He helps develop the menus and ensures high food quality while rotating stock, taking real ownership of the program. He is flexible with changes as meal counts fluctuate last minute. He is always willing to go above and beyond for his team and for the hotel and we are so grateful for all that he has done!”

 

Senada Zekic - DoubleTree Suites Seattle Airport-Southcenter

Senada Zekic

Housekeeping Supervisor
DoubleTree Suites Seattle Airport-Southcenter
Nominated by Wendy LeBlanc, Director of Sales & Marketing

“Service is a really state of mind and a great service professional puts others above themselves. No one embodies this more than Senada Zekic.

“When Senada walks into a room, she announces, ‘hello, my people!’ with a contagious attitude and smile. Above that, she leads by example. Her position at DoubleTree Suites Seattle Airport Southcenter, is Housekeeping Supervisor, but most days you won’t find her behind a desk, she is working side by side with the team keeping them motivated and engaged. Senada joined the team in 2008 and worked her way up, winning Team Member of the Month 3 times and nominated more than we can count.

“It when a person faces the most challenging of circumstances, that rising above becomes almost legendary as a hospitality hero. Covid was just that time for Senada. During the pandemic, morale (especially for the front line workers in Housekeeping) was low, staffing was challenging and in the absence of our Director of Housekeeping, Senada kept the department running. She never shied away from tasks, took on extra duties and showed great care for her team. Then, tragedy struck. Senada’s daughter passed away unexpectedly. In the midst of dealing with her loss, she kept working and never showed her pain, giving her all to her team and our guests with the same positivity she always embodied. She is a strong and dedicated professional that lives up to and goes beyond the definition of service.

“This is why it is my pleasure to nominate Senada Zekic for Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority’s Heart of House Recognition.”