Unsung heroes of local hospitality industry honored Thursday at eighth-annual REACH Awards

Unsung heroes of local hospitality industry honored Thursday at eighth-annual REACH Awards

ROCK SPRINGS – Behind any successful business is a caring, hardworking staff who go the extra mile to make sure the customer’s experience is the best it can be. On Thursday night, the hard workers of the hospitality industry in the area were honored.

Employees of the hospitality industry gathered at the Holiday Inn Thursday night as the Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board honored the best at the eighth-annual REACH Awards. The T&T Board created the awards in 2008 to recognize those workers who display the best customer service.

Tourism is Wyoming’s second biggest industry and Director of the Sweetwater Travel and Tourism Jenissa Bartlett said the employees in the hospitality industry are “truly the heartbeat” of this. Since the creation of the awards, over 250 local employees have been recognized.

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Guest Speaker Chris Brown

Before handing out this year’s awards, those in attendance heard from a person who grew up in the hospitality industry and is now one of the major players in Wyoming tourism. Chris Brown started as a dishwasher as a teenager and climbed the ladder to opening the first two Outback Steakhouse Restaurants in Wyoming in early 2000. He was named Partner of the Year three times and now is a major advocate for the tourism industry in Wyoming.

Brown explained he loves events like the REACH Awards because it honors those who go unnoticed and deserve recognition. He also said these events are great because everyone in the hospitality industry has a story to tell.

Brown’s story started as a dishwasher when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. He joked he thought he had hit the big time when he was moved to prep cook which came with a raise to $4.25 a hour.

While not really planning on staying in the business as a young adult, Brown said he soon started falling in love with the hospitality industry and decided to pursue a career in the field. He explained his story is a common one in the field as almost 80 percent of managers in the hospitality industry started as a minimum wage employee.

“You are the all-stars,” Brown told the crowd. “I encourage you to take it as far as you can go.”

The tourism dollars hit record highs in 2013. Brown said 2014 continued to reach all-time high levels.

Money spent by visitors to the state was up 4.5 percent in 2014 over the record-setting 2013. Brown added the tourism industry brought in $159 million in taxes in 2014 which is up 11 percent from 2013. Jobs in the industry also increased 2 percent from 2013 to 2014.

If it were not for the tourism industry and the taxes raised, Brown explained families across the state would pay approximately $680 more in taxes each year.

Sweetwater County’s numbers were also impressive. Locally, $178 million tourism dollars were spent as the county hit $9.1 million in tax receipts. Brown said if not for tourism, the average family in Sweetwater County would pay $532 more annually in taxes.

Since 2005, visitors to the state are up 40 percent. Money brought into the state due to tourism is up 69 percent from 2005 to the current figures.

Brown is an advocates for the industry at Wyoming’s Legislative Sessions. He said it is no secret declining oil prices have hurt Wyoming and with the upcoming budget session creeping closer, it is more important now to keep funding in the tourism industry. He said the industry needs to have one strong, unified message for state leaders about the importance of tourism and the industry.


Special Honor

As the awards were given out in the eight categories, the T&T Board and leaders in the industry gave out a special recognition. Janet Hartford presented the recognition.

The award was given to John Sanchez who has been an employee at the La Quinta Inn for the past 29 years.

Sanchez was nominated this year in the Maintenance category and was actually the recipient of the REACH Award for Employee of the Year in 2008. According to his employer, Lisa Carrillo, he is definitely the “heart of our hotel.” Carrillo said he comes into work with a big smile on his face every morning, and greets everyone with a great big “good morning” when he sees them.

“Our customers and his co-workers enjoy his company and his great attitude. He definitely knows our hotel and he is the go to guy when we need help in any department,” Carrillo said.

This January, Hartford explained John got very ill and collapsed coming to work. Later that evening he was flown to the University of Utah Hospital, and after many rounds of testing, they found out he had suffered a spinal cord stroke.

He has been at the U of U since then and they are working with him to help him get his movement back in his arms, hands, torso, legs and feet. Hartford said he is a strong fighter and his main goal is to get better and be able to return back to work.

Carrillo and John’s daughter Caroline Sanchez accepted the award.


Awards and nominees


WINNER – Aubrey Bostick – La Quinta


Aubrey Bostick – La Quinta Inn

Kim Strid – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Vanya Dittman – Holiday Inn

Rachel Anson – Quality Inn

Rebecca Stallman – Holiday Inn Express

Shawn Jensen – Hampton Inn RS

Helen Alvarado – Hampton Inn RS

Eileen Cummings – Econo Lodge

Kathy Lammers – Cody Motel

Debbie Lish – Rock Springs KOA

Kelly Silvers – Outlaw Inn



WINNER – Mircea Turcan – Econo Lodge


Alicia Nieto – La Quinta Inn

Gaby Ochoe-Paz – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Lilia Rodrigez – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Hortencia Ala Torre –Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Patricia “Patty” Ellsworth – Holiday Inn

Theresa Humes – Quality Inn

Courtney Freeze – Holiday Inn Express

Paul Bunz – Econo Lodge

Michelle Thompson – Cody Motel

Debby Lish – Rock Springs KOA

Mircea Turcan – Econo Lodge



WINNER -Barry Green – Holiday Inn


Quin Phillips – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Glen Wood – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Barry Green – Holiday Inn

Juan Rodriguez – Hampton Inn RS

Richard Stillman – Econo Lodge

Gene Lish – Rock Springs KOA

Kevin Yerkovich – Outlaw Inn



WINNER -Rosie Hill – Holiday Inn Express


Aubrey Bostick – La Quinta Inn

Tina Donahue – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Eva Dallman – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Rosie Hill – Holiday Inn Express

Eileen Cummings – Econo Lodge



WINNER – Ruth Lauritzen – Green River Chamber of Commerce


Letty Jewkes – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Dave Mead – Sweetwater County Historical Museum

Joe Martinez – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Ruth Lauritzen – Sweetwater County Historical Museum

Chad Banks – Rock Springs URA

Janice Brown – Rock Springs Historical Museum

Kandi Pendleton – Sweetwater Events Complex

Chad McMartin – Econo Lodge



WINNER – Shirley Long – Hampton Inn


Peggy McKenzie – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Joe Martinez – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Kim Strid – Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Judi Laughter – Sweetwater County Historical Museum

Ron Warriner – McDonalds on Elk Street

Carissa Webb – McDonalds in GR

Pat Hutchinson – Holiday Inn

Miguel del real Dado – Quality Inn

James Dahl – Holiday Inn Express

Shirley Long – Hampton Inn RS

Mark Lyon – City of Rock Springs

Mircea Turcan – Econo Lodge

Debbie Lish – Rock Springs KOA



WINNER – KOA Campground – Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce


Hampton Inn & Suites GR

Arctic Circle

KOA Campground



WINNER – Flaming Gorge Visitor Council



Each year the Sweetwater County Travel & Tourism Board recognizes the Top five Hotels listed on TripAdvisor, a travel website providing directory information and reviews of travel-related content. This year, they recognized the top 10.

TOP 10

Homewood Suites by Hilton of Rock Springs

Hampton Inn of Rock Springs

Hampton Inn & Suites of Green River

Best Western Outlaw Inn of Rock Springs

Holiday Inn Express of Rock Springs

Holiday Inn of Rock Springs

Little America Hotel

Americas Best Value Inn

La Quinta Inn of Rock Springs

Quality Inn of Rock Springs