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Gold Star-gazing at Fort McMurray Tourism gala

udging by the 1,400 nominations for the annual Gold Star Awards, visitors and residents were obviously well looked after in Wood Buffalo last year according to a recent article by Carol Christian in Fort McMurray Today on January 31. That made it a record year for Sunday's seventh annual Fort McMurray Tourism gala which recognizes the "stars" of the hospitality and service industry as nominated by patrons for going above and beyond what was expected.

Winners were announced in 10 categories including the Big Sprit Ambassador Award presented to a very surprised Tim Reid, chief administrative officer of MacDonald Island. "It was one of the biggest surprises that I've had in a long time. It was something that the staff and the tourism folks did a great job keeping hidden from me," he said.

Wood Buffalo Coun. Russell Thomas announced Reid as the recipient, citing his significant accomplishments since arriving in town only two years ago. Accomplishments included spearheading the Northern Classic hockey tournament on Nov. 26 with Andrew Boutilier and Coun. Sheldon Germain as well as bringing hockey, figure skating and swimming championships to MacDonald Island. Reid also sits on several boards including Leadership Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray Tourism.

The other winners were:

  • Outstanding Guest Services, Accommodations, Pauline Ward of the Sawridge Inn;
  • Outstanding Heart of the House Accommodations, Nicole Richards, the Quality Hotel;
  • Outstanding Banquet Catering, Jessica Pacheco, Quality Hotel;
  • Outstanding Server in a Restaurant, Fiona Miller, Hearthstone Grill, Sawridge;
  • Outstanding Server in a Lunge/Nightclub/Pub, Norma Rizzuto, Hearthstone;
  • Outstanding Individual Service, Debbie Sorenson, MacDonald Island;
  • Outstanding Visitor Service at a Local Attraction, Lindsay Wry, Suncor Energy;
  • Outstanding Customer Service in Transportation, Andrew Collins, Enterprise Rent-A-Car;
  • Outstanding Media, Leithan Slade, Mix 103.7;
  • Outstanding Business, Sawridge Inn.

Angele Dobie of the Fort McMurray Tourism board of directors called the event one of the most important for the agency because it recognizes people who are "very, very important to us." "You are our secret weapon. ... You are so very important to Fort McMurray Tourism and this region." With the record-number of nominations, Dobie said the more that the Gold Star Awards program is recognized as an event really showcasing the very best of the community, "you're going to see more and more of those ambassadors, and more and more of the community businesses get on side with this event and with this program. They'll want to show off their staff too, and the staff will want to show their best to our community. That's the spin-off. That's the ripple effect that we're looking for."

During his comments on the history of the event, Peter Snook — aka Snookie — the general manager of the Sawridge Inn where the event was held, noted that expansion plans for the program include opening it to other establishments such as banks and retail outlets. He told the crowd the Gold Star Awards were created after a meeting he had with former executive director of Fort McMurray Tourism Helen Daymond back around 2003 it was at a time when Fort McMurray had gained an unenviable reputation of having some of the worst service in Alberta. He recalled that he and Daymond knew they had to do something to raise the bar, hence the Gold Star Awards.

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