Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports highlighted and honored members of the community Thursday night and five standout members of the hospitality industry were given awards for their contribution to Tuscaloosa tourism.

The Tuscaloosa Tourism Bash was first held last year, and returned Thursday to bring tourism industry members to pack out the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center for a night of food and fun to celebrate the advancement of tourism efforts in the area.

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Kelsey Rush, president and CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, said the event was created to celebrate the people of the industry who work together to make the Tuscaloosa visitor economy successful.

The organization awarded five members for being "Hospitality Champions of the Year" through four categories, including two who received hospitality trailblazer awards. This year's award recipients include:

  • Cheree Slaten, Hotel General Manager of the Year
  • Craig Williams, Restaurant General Manager of the Year
  • Heather Dill, Hotel Sales Professional of the Year
  • Sandra Fincher, Archibald-Williams Hospitality Trailblazer of the Year
  • Heidi Patton, Archibald-Williams Hospitality Trailblazer of the Year

"We have great people who work day in and day out to create good, warm and welcoming experiences for our visitors and they deserve to be celebrated," Rush said.

Rush, who took over as the head of the local organization following Don Staley's retirement in July, said she hopes to build off of Staley's foundation to continue to advance the growth and development of tourism in the city.

"We have some really exciting thing happening," Rush said "As an organization, we are going to go through some strategic planning, but we really want to continue building on the success of bringing opportunities to the Tuscaloosa community and to advocate and support our hospitality and tourism industry," Rush said.

(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)

During a Q&A session, Mayor Walt Maddox said funding from the 2019 ELEVATE Tuscaloosa tax plan is one of the many efforts that helped the advancement of experience economy.

"When you see River District Park or the Northern River Walk, you're beginning to see the contours and legacy of ELEVATE that is going to truly continue to raise our community," Maddox said.

Maddox said several projects that are apart of ELEVATE, including the Saban Center and an event center that will be located in the heart of the Downtown entertainment district, will assist with the continual growth of the tourism economy in the city.

"It's going to create [hotel] room nights, it's going to create an extra turnover of tables at restaurants," Maddox said. "We need that in an experience economy. People want to come somewhere where they can have that experience economy. That is where we need to put our stake in the ground and compete and ELEVATE gives us the opportunity to do that."

Stay connected with the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates on economic development happening in and around the Druid City.

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