700+ Celebrate Hospitality’s Best of the Best at Explore St. Louis’ Annual Meeting & Awards

Wednesday September 20, 2023

By Catherine Neville

ST. LOUIS - On Thursday, September 14, 2023, Explore St. Louis hosted more than 700 guests at its Annual Meeting and Awards ceremony, celebrating success in St. Louis travel, tourism, meetings and events. Explore St. Louis honored local All-Stars, Hospitality Heroes and Superheroes, along with the Civic Pride Foundation’s Spark of St. Louis Award and the Kim Tucci Heart of St. Louis Award. This year’s event also recognized Spark Grants recipients, an annual partnership grant awarded through the Civic Pride Foundation and sponsored by Midas Hospitality Group.  

Photos courtesy of Explore St. Louis are available here. We are happy to connect you with any of our awardees and are available to give further information on the FY23 annual report and the state of the travel and tourism industry in the St. Louis region. 

Explore St. Louis’ annual meeting featured:

  • Remarks from Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page
  • More than 200 Hospitality Heroes, including seven Superheroes (Details on the Superheroes honorees are here and below*, along with videos telling their stories)
  • All-Star Awards were given out to the Convention Public Safety Taskforce, St. Louis Gateway to the Arts Initiative, Tourism Mission to London and St. Louis Celebrity Marketing Campaign stars Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Nikki Glaser
  • Tamara Keefe, Founder and CEO of Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery, was awarded the Kim Tucci Heart of St. Louis Award
  • Spark of St. Louis Awardees included Jody Sowell, Missouri Historical Society, and Min Jung Kim, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum
  • Inaugural Spark Grant recipients were Nick Bognar of Indo, Simone Faure of La Patisserie Chouquette, Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books, artist Cbabi Bayoc and Julio Zegarra-Ballon of Zee Bee Market

Explore St. Louis also released its annual report for FY23. Read it here. Highlights include:

  • In FY23, visitors spent an estimated $5.89 billion in St. Louis City and County
  • St. Louis’ tourism industry supports jobs for 91,000 hospitality professionals throughout the region, with 3,400 at America’s Center
  • According to surveys at America’s Center, 90% of convention attendees rate their experience in St. Louis as very good or excellent
  • Explore St. Louis volunteers and part-time destination specialists interacted with more than 300,000 visitors across our six visitor centers and America’s Center

Meet the 2023 Explore St. Louis Hospitality Superheroes:

Berrin Abdullah, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel St. Louis – Westport
When a guest who was running late struggled to get a ride to the airport due to a connection issue, Berrin Abdullah immediately offered to drive him. The guest was so impressed, that he wrote the following review: “Berrin delivered me to the curb at Southwest Airlines. On the way there, I complimented the excellent meals that I had in the restaurant, and she remembered what I ordered! Only an engaged professional would have that attention to detail. I tried to give her gas money but she refused, saying, ‘Anything for a guest!’ WOW! What Service! What Care!"

Rodney Anderson, Courtyard by Marriott St. Louis Downtown/Convention Center
Rodney Anderson does his work with grace, tact, and respect for guests as well as his fellow team members. Just as Rodney was heading on a well-deserved vacation, he got a call that a water main break had flooded the basement and left the entire property without water. Rodney dropped everything and spent the next 48 hours – with no sleep – protecting the building’s systems, extracting water, cleaning up, turning off faucets in each of the 165 units, and working with the city to restore water while ensuring all other operating systems remained unharmed as a result.

Konner Bryant, Hilton St. Louis Airport
When a guest called about an upcoming reservation, Konner Bryant learned that her child, who was traveling with her, was terminally ill. Konner asked about the child’s favorite snacks and activities, and he took it upon himself to purchase some of the child’s favorite things for his St. Louis trip. Konner arranged for the family to be upgraded to a suite, and on his off day, he came in to place the gifts in the room. He even set up a dinner at a Mexican restaurant – their favorite! This kindhearted action is a great example of the hospitality and kindness that Konner exudes.

Ashley Butler, Saint Louis Science Center
Ashley is empathetic, and she can anticipate issues. When a family of four arrived at the Saint Louis Science Center, Ashley immediately noticed that they were flustered. When she greeted them and asked how their day was going, Ashley learned that they were going to be late for another attraction, they had planned an activity that was not kid-friendly, and they didn't know what they were doing for dinner. So, she seated them in the on-site OMNIMAX Theater, exchanged their tickets to the other attraction, organized three new kid-friendly activity options, got them a parking discount, and suggested family-friendly restaurants that were affordable and near their hotel. She made herself their personal concierge!

Laura Futrell, St. Louis Lambert International Airport
An abducted, unaccompanied minor who was classified as “at risk” was being reunited with his family, but the uncle picking him up forgot his identification, a requirement for the release process. Understanding the urgency of the situation, Laura Futrell swiftly took action. Working with the caseworker, she ensured that the necessary arrangements were made to verify the uncle’s identity, and when the caseworker had difficulty finding the boy in the airport, Laura contacted the airline to confirm that his flight had arrived, walked the entire airport to find him and escorted his uncle to the meeting point.

Rodney Holifield, G2 Secure Staff, St. Louis Lambert International Airport
On an unforgettable Christmas night, a passenger relying on a wheelchair found herself and her companion in need of transportation. Amidst the holiday chaos, Rodney Holifield went above and beyond to offer his assistance. After realizing that taxis and rideshares weren’t options on this snowy night, Rodney personally drove the pair through the storm to the Central West End. Rodney went quite literally the extra mile, surpassing the expectations of his role. He defied the notion of “off duty,” recognizing that the true measure of one’s character lies in the willingness to lend a helping hand when it’s most needed.

Team Members, Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo was contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill a young boy’s dream to be a zookeeper for a day. He and his family came all the way from Virginia for the occasion. The team planned the whole day, guiding the child around the zoo to visit the animals and get up close and personal with the penguins. For lunch, a group of zookeepers visited with the family, the highlight of the boy’s trip. One zookeeper even invited the family to watch a training session with an otter, which wasn’t planned. The boy had an amazing time, and it wouldn’t have been possible without these amazing team members at the Saint Louis Zoo!