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Hospitality Tourism

Lodging professionals honor 2015’s top achievers

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by Jeff Robinson
Special to Delaware Business Times 

Some of the First State’s most skilled hospitality professionals were honored at the Delaware Hotel & Lodging Association’s Annual Dinner & Awards Banquet held Feb. 26 at the Clarion Hotel near New Castle. Over 150 guests were in attendance, with awards being presented to individuals and organizations for notable success in 2015 or contributions over the course of a career.

The host was Paul Rada, general manager of the Clarion and chairman of the board of the Delaware Hotel & Lodging Association.

“The event was a great opportunity to network among our peers and celebrate those who have worked so hard this year in our industry,” Rada said after the awards banquet. “Plus, we get the chance to encourage the younger people who are just entering hospitality as a career at the same time.”

One of the most prestigious awards of the evening was earned by Bill Silva, general manager of the Westin Wilmington, who took home the honor of Hotelier of the Year.

“I know our entire team enthusiastically shines a light of warm hospitality for each and every one of our guests,” Silva said. “I was honored to dedicate this recognition to Steve Smolenski, our former general manager, who sadly passed away in January.”

Leah Markiewicz from the Christiana Hilton and Maria Rodriguez-Mendoza of the Hampton Inn Newark took home awards for Manager of the Year.

“I was so surprised to win this award,” said Rodriguez-Mendoza. “It was especially exciting because my son Jhensen was there with me to tell me he was proud of me.”

Markiewicz was also thrilled to be recognized by her friends in the industry. “I was honored just to be nominated, let alone be named a winner,” she said. She went on to recognize her entire team on supporting her success, saying, “I never would have had the success I’ve enjoyed without an amazing team behind me making dreams come true for our guests.”

Every year, the event is highlighted by the presentation of scholarships to deserving hospitality students. Two $3,000 scholarships were presented this year, with Odalys Alvarenga from the University of Delaware and Sonya Dandy from Delaware Technical & Community College being named recipients. 

The Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau also presented two scholarships of $2,500 to University of Delaware students Jenna Pekofsky and Joshua Vogel. Finally, the Kramedas family, with longstanding ties to hospitality in Delaware, presented a $5,000 scholarship to Catherine Wolff, a University of Delaware student.

While everyone in attendance celebrated the accomplishments of 2015 with delicious food and lively conversation, many also looked ahead to 2016 expecting continued positive growth in tourism. The executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, Sarah Willoughby, was optimistic about the year ahead.

“In 2016, our area is positioned to again perform well in hospitality, noted Willoughby. “With a wide variety of well-established professionals at fantastic destinations who continue to innovate in fresh new ways, bringing both first visits and return visits to Delaware. I know everyone in our industry is ready to take on the challenges that the new year brings.”

According to the Delaware Tourism Office, an estimated 8 million visitors traveled to Delaware in 2015 to enjoy everything from the world-class arts and gardens to the spectacular beaches and attractions that welcome guests to our small and wonderful state. Delivering an economic impact of over $3 billion and employing over 41,000 people within our community, tourism is responsible for over 5 percent of the state’s GDP. Nearly one in nine workers in Delaware is tied directly to tourism, holding positions at hotels, restaurants, convention centers, attractions and destinations in all three counties.


Jeff Robinson is the Director of Hospitality Operations for Forewinds Hospitality, a Delaware-based hospitality management company, and also serves on the board of directors for the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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