Hoteliers, an often-overlooked segment of West Alabama's workforce, were the guests of honor last Thursday night at the first-ever Tuscaloosa Tourism Bash downtown at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center.

The event, organized by Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports, celebrated the hospitality industry and the hundreds of people it employs in the area. TTS President and CEO Don Staley also surprised four "Hotel Champions" of the year with the first awards of their kind to recognize their service over the years and particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is an exciting honor to be able to show appreciation to these hotel partners, and to all of our hospitality partners across Tuscaloosa County,” Staley said. “As we have witnessed over the past two years, these individuals are incredibly resilient and dedicated and I am so proud of their efforts to help make Tuscaloosa County a great place to live, work, and visit.”

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Huey Harris, who works at SureStay Hotel by Best Western on Doris Pate Drive in southeast Tuscaloosa, was named General Manager of the Year.

(Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports)

Traci Channell of Triad Properties was named the Hotel Sales Professional of the Year.

(Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports)

Two other recipients were named Hospitality Trailblazers, which Staley said was made to be given to individuals who support the community’s hospitality industry or are in a non-managerial position at a hotel and put care into action and personify the heart of hospitality.

Dr. Alvin Niuh was given the first award for his three decades of mentorship through the University of Alabama's Hospitality Management program. Staley said Niuh has taught thousands of students and made a lasting impact at the University, throughout Tuscaloosa and everywhere his students have landed in their careers.

(Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports)

Jean Archibald, the guest services manager at Tuscaloosa's Travelodge, was chosen to receive the second Trailblazer award, but Staley said shortly after reviewing award nominations, TTS was shocked to learn that Archibald died unexpectedly earlier this year.

TTS awarded Archibald the Trailblazer title post-humously, and when her family accepted the honors, the venue responded with a standing ovation and no small amount of tears shed.

(Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports)

The emotional night continued when Staley announced that from now on, the awards will be known as the Archibald-Williams Hospitality Trailblazer awards in honor of Jean and of Lester Williams, who spent three decades at the Hotel Capstone before his death in 2020.

The night also included presentations from two hospitality industry titans -- Chris Cavanaugh of the Magellan Strategy Group in Asheville, North Carolina and Al Hutchinson, the President and CEO of Visit Baltimore.

The two speakers sandwiched the awards ceremony with presentations about how local hospitality workers and TTS are tasked with selling the story of Tuscaloosa and attracting visitors to not just football games, but to the Civil Rights Trail, the city's incredible restaurants, the wealth of natural resources in the area and more.

Cavanaugh, Hutchinson and Staley also noted that the tourism industry in Tuscaloosa is set to explode in the near future as the Saban Center, the River District Park, expansions of the Riverwalk and more projects are funded and completed through mayor Walt Maddox's Elevate Tuscaloosa tax plan.

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