Arlington’s position as Virginia’s top revenue-producing jurisdiction in tourism and business-trip dollars is due in part to its geography, which entices visitors to stay in the county’s hotels and eat at its restaurants.
But it’s the personal touch among the front-line staff at those establishments that keeps the visitors coming back.
Many of those top workers were honored March 18 at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s annual Hospitality Awards. Now in its 10th year, the ceremony is a chance for the business community to recognize the efforts of employee superstars – who come from around the globe – that often go unheralded outside their own places of business.
More than 80 awardees from venues across the county were honored at the breakfast ceremony, held at the Arlington Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel. Those in attendance had the chance to hear not only their names, but what makes them stand out.
Consider the case of Fern Douglas, a food-and-beverage server at the National Diner at the Holiday Inn National Airport.
Douglas has made it her mission to serve as an ambassador of love to members of the American Council of the Blind, which has held its annual meeting in the hotel for the past five years. She greets participants by name each morning as they come down for breakfast, and takes the time to assist those with visual impairments, going through the menu with them.
The result is a win-win: Conferees have a loyal advocate in their corner, and the hotel gets repeat business from an trade association that appreciates the attention to detail.
And consider the story of David Burger of the Holiday Inn Rosslyn. As a guest was checking in at the front desk, they established rapport as both were rabid hockey fans.
It might have ended with a few shared words, but not with Burger. Before his shift started the next morning, he personally set up a tour of Kettler Capitals Iceplex, so the guest and those with him could watch the Washington Capitals practice.
“It’s always great to be able to hear the great stories and accomplishments,” said Chris Raines, general manager of the Holiday Inn Rosslyn and a member of the Chamber’s hotel general managers’ committee, which evaluates nominations to come up with the honorees.
Chamber president Rich Doud, who often calls this event his favorite on the annual calendar, said it wasn’t just winners who deserved accolades from, and the thanks of, their employers and the broader community.
“Everyone who was nominated performs above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
“This is your day,” Doud said to the nominees. “We think a great deal of you.”
For some of the honorees, it wasn’t just about exemplary service. It was about doing their best in what could have been horrible situations.
Gadisa Bulla was on the job as a steward at the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel, which is surrounded by a residential neighborhood along Columbia Pike, when he noticed that there was a fire in one of the houses nearby, and quickly realized that the son of a coworker likely was in the house. Bulla dropped everything he was doing and was able to rescue the endangered child.
How big a deal is tourism in Arlington? According to the most recent state figures, a total of $2.78 billion was spent in the county in 2012 by domestic tourists and business travelers, the highest among Virginia’s 134 cities and counties.
Fairfax County ranked second, at $2.75 billion, followed by Loudoun County ($1.56 billion), Virginia Beach ($1.28 billion) and Henrico County ($747 million), according to data compiled by the U.S. Travel Association.