Tourism and hospitality workers recognized 

(From left) Alachua County Tourism and Development Manager Jessica Hurov, Dr. Rachel J.C. Fu, and VP for the Alachua County Hospitality Council Carlene Baker on Wednesday.
(From left) Alachua County Tourism and Development Manager Jessica Hurov, Dr. Rachel J.C. Fu, and VP for the Alachua County Hospitality Council Carlene Baker on Wednesday. (Photo by Taryn Ashby)

On Wednesday, Visit Gainesville, Alachua County hosted a recognition ceremony at the UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Office in Newberry for 11 industry workforce members and two special recognition awards for hospitality leaders.  

“We thought, what better way to celebrate all the success of the industry than by recognizing the front-line workers who might not always be in the spotlight,” said Tourism and Development Manager Jessica Hurov in an interview. 

Hurov and her colleagues at Visit Gainesville reached out to leaders through the Hospitality Council. They asked leaders to nominate anyone at their property or attraction who exemplifies the county’s hospitality spirit.  

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Aloft engineering technician Willie Rodriguez (left) and VP for the Alachua County Hospitality Council Carlene Baker on Wednesday.
Photo by Taryn Ashby Aloft engineering technician Willie Rodriguez (left) and VP for the Alachua County Hospitality Council Carlene Baker on Wednesday.

“Today was all about celebrating and recognizing the individuals nominated,” said Hurov. “Without their services, we would not have the thriving industry today.”  

The industry had a record-setting year for tourism with a reported $155.8 million paid in overnight lodging sales in Alachua County. 

According to a press release, tourism supported over $211 million in wages and salaries for local jobs in 2021, and the leisure and hospitality sector supported 16,000 local jobs.  

Paid overnight lodging revenue grew from the prior best year of $110 million in 2019 to over $155 million in 2022.  

The workforce members are essential to hospitality, so guests have a positive experience, which can lead to return visits. 

The first part of the ceremony displayed a slideshow of achievements for each of the 11 workforce nominees. It ended with Hurov and Carlene Baker, vice president for the Alachua County Hospitality Council, presenting a plaque for the nominees’ work.  

Homewood Suites laundry attendant Merlinda Gibson on Wednesday.
Photo by Taryn Ashby Homewood Suites laundry attendant Merlinda Gibson on Wednesday.

“This feels awesome,” said Aloft engineering technician William Rodriguez in an interview. “Aloft is my second home. We all work together and talk to one another to ensure we are doing our best. I love my job. Whatever someone needs, I am there to help.” 

The last of the honorees — Dr. Rachel J.C. Fu and Erick Brice — were given a special recognition plaque for their leadership in tourism.  

“I was surprised since I wasn’t informed I was nominated,” said Fu. “It is an honor to be in the hospitality industry. I think the future of our industry is bright. We are in the business of happiness, so we are here to provide great opportunities, especially for our students studying and interested in this industry.”  

Recognitions 

  • William Rodriguez – Aloft Engineering Technician 
  • Cerissa Wilson – Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures Executive Assistant 
  • Amber Robinson – Owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes 
  • Amanda Hamilton – Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention Event Manager 
  • Natashua Healey – DoubleTree Front Desk Agent 
  • Drew Welch – Drury Inn & Suites Guest Service Supervisor 
  • Diane Cox – Gainesville Regional Airport Front Office Manager 
  • June Norris – Hilton Garden Inn Executive Housekeeper 
  • Merlinda Gibson – Homewood Suites Laundry Attendant 
  • Emily Prigden – Ronald McDonald House Director of House Operations and Programs 
  • Dee Holowatsch – TownePlace Suites Night Auditor 

Special Recognitions 

  • Dr. Rachel J.C. Fu – Chair and Professor of the Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management at the University of Florida and the Director of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute 
  • Erick Brice – President of the Alachua County Hospitality Council, Director of Sales and Marketing of Aloft by Marriott University Area Gainesville and a Tourism Development Council Advisory Board Member 

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