Meet the 2023 Hospitality Heroes
Annually, Visit Pensacola awards deserving hospitality and tourism team members that go above and beyond to provide exceptional service in the industry. Meet the 2023 winners here.
Attractions / Tours — Frisky Mermaid
When you meet Ally, you can’t help but think she’s mermazing, just check our review…they say it all.
When you meet Ally, you can’t help but think she’s mermazing, just check our review…they say it all. She started with us last year as a backup deckhand and preparing our pontoon rentals for our guests. Her duties quickly morphed into conducting the safety tutorials for our rentals and then anything else that came up during the year. While deck handing, rather than just logging the captain’s maintenance on pre-checks before each tour, she took oil and supplies down to the engine room and wanted to know what they were doing and was eager to learn. That is probably when we knew what a gem we had and just how incredibly lucky we were. She took the initiative to take on those tasks herself, and before you knew it, our Senior Captain was talking to her about her Captains’ license. By the way…not just the standard 6 passenger Captain’s license, but one that would allow her to run the big boats. Her journey to Captain began and she started driving the boat during tours and docking the boat as well - a impressive skill that not everyone can do! There are no jobs too dirty for her, she just gets in and makes it happen. Ally provides such exceptional service in so many ways it would be difficult to list them all. She is always so positive and makes everyone around her smile. Our guests love her and brag about all the Pensacola history they learned from Ally, or say things like “Ally was incredible with our littles and we learned so much about dolphins and other wildlife” and “this was educational and we laughed so hard”. It is also not uncommon for her to start a dance off with the kids when they start to lose focus or get antsy.
Ally consistently and seemingly fields lots of questions at once, deals with different personalities with ease, gently handles challenging guests with sensitivity, language barriers and special needs and does so in such a way that everyone feels her individual attention. She knows people by name, offers guests to take Titanic pictures or group pictures on the bow, remembers repeats and makes sure they have a memorable ride. Basically, she makes them feel at home with the utmost professionalism and always with warmth and a sense of humor.
She is such an integral part of our Mermaid Crew, always takes the lead and the payoff is endless with customer reviews and recommendations. She goes above and beyond every trip. It would be hard to imagine what more we could ask for from Ally and what a Pensacola ambassador she is! She embodies the cheerful spirit of Frisky Mermaid helping us create our culture and is truly a treasure taking safe care of up to 49 passengers at a time, multiple times a day. Below are just some of the many Google reviews, honestly, not even scratching the surface.
There are countless little mermaids, pirates, students, Mom’s & Dad’s, Grandparents, family members and now friends that are indebted to Ally for making their tour special. Whether it’s a wedding engagement, a couple’s special day, a burial of someone’s loved one at sea, someone’s terrifying first boat ride or their third time onboard, she has a passion for customer service and hospitality and strives to give people an extra special experience.
Restaurant/Dining — Tap the Coast
It's my honor to nominate Betsy McDonald for this award not only as a hospitality hero, but a hero to our community as well.
It's my honor to nominate Betsy McDonald for this award not only as a hospitality hero, but a hero to our community as well. Betsy has worked part-time for Tap the Coast since March 2021 when she relocated back to the Pensacola area. Our team was growing at that time, and she was the perfect addition, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in the food & beverage industry. Since joining us, she has helped us expand to offering new services, become more effective in operations, and is always a great representation for Tap the Coast at events. Betsy's "wow factor" is hard to capture in words - it just has to be experienced. Her presence and energy exude positivity in every way. From an internal perspective, she leads with a "teamwork makes the dream work" and "together we can achieve more" mindset; and the external client experience is always a 5-star moment. On several occasions Betsy has been requested as the bartender for events because of one single interaction she had with potential clients. We've received rave reviews from enthusiastic clients naming Betsy personally as a highlight of their event. We often bartend for destination weddings, bachelorette trips, etc. We see ourselves as a "welcome committee" of sorts for the hosts and their guests visiting Pensacola and it makes me so proud to hear that we've had a positive impact on their time spent here, as it's a reflection of not only our business, but community as a whole. While Betsy is a phenomenal employee and excellent bartender, perhaps her greatest "wow" service and impact is through her work at Habitat for Humanity, where she is the Director of Programs. Betsy worked with Habitat for 2 years in North Carolina before returning home to Pensacola, where she wanted to continue the work she's so passionate about. She was promoted to her current position after just 9 months of joining the team, which speaks volumes in itself. As the Director, she works directly with members of the community as they purchase their first home, supports clients to prevent foreclosure, and heads up a group home buyer education program. She launched a HUD certification program in 2021 (becoming certified herself) and serves on the area's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. With homelessness and poverty a major issue in our community, Betsy's impact in this way makes her a hero to all of those she serves! I'm proud to have her on our team and believe she is deserving of recognition as a Hospitality Hero.
Lodging — Residence Inn by Marriott Pensacola Airport
Our hotel motto is “providing service so memorable our guests tell stories about it” and anyone who has visited our property can attest to Jackie’s contribution in making that happen on each visit.
Our hotel motto is “providing service so memorable our guests tell stories about it” and anyone who has visited our property can attest to Jackie’s contribution in making that happen on each visit. From delivering fresh baked cookies to guests, babysitting their furry friends, or remembering their favorite snack to surprise them, she never fails to impress us with her consideration and creative approach. She has even created her own personalized recommendation list for customers to ensure they experience the best of what Pensacola has to offer.
Jackie was part of our opening team in 2019 and has been a vital member ever since. She continues to display the same exemplary attitude since day one and her ability to put the guest experience above all else has transformed each visitor into a loyal customer! However, her dedication and thoughtfulness has not only extended to the guests that visit our hotel but to her fellow team members. Jackie displays extraordinary compassion for others, and she never hesitates to give her coworkers a helping hand, no matter how big or small. Whether it be taking them home from work, helping them move and even helping some find shelter when they had nowhere else to go. Her mentorship and support for her coworkers has led many employees on a better path and I know they are eternally grateful for her. Jackie’s heart of gold and undeniable work ethic is what makes her our Hospitality Hero.
Captain Andy Ross
Transportation — Niuhi Dive Charters
Captain Andy has consistently been an outstanding ambassador for the best of Pensacola. As a dive charter captain, he not only "just drives the boat" but provides a truly memorable experience to visitors.
Captain Andy has consistently been an outstanding ambassador for the best of Pensacola. As a dive charter captain, he not only "just drives the boat" but provides a truly memorable experience to visitors. Everyone remembers Captain Andy! He really is a legend in the Pensacola dive world. Captain Andy makes sure each person feels important, from the beginner diver to the salty technical diver, and people come back time and again to dive with him and Niuhi Dive Charters. He helps guests that are coming from out of town to find the perfect hotels and places to stay, place to eat, and other activities for non-divers in the group as well as "after diving" activities. Captain is also a real estate agent, and he has quite literally "sold the dream" to many of his dive customers. Many have purchased vacation homes, investment condos, and moved to Pensacola because of the love that Andy shows for our city and the representation he provides to his customers.
More About Nominee: Captain Andy has been instrumental in the lionfish world and getting local divers to participate in lionfish tournaments. Captain Andy was recognized as a Hero for locating a lost diver after 8 hours. Captain Andy is one of those loyal guys that will truly give you the shirt off his back.