Explore Asheville Celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week With Inaugural Heroes of Hospitality Luncheon Recognizing Outstanding Ambassadors of Asheville and Buncombe County

The inaugural Explore Asheville Heroes of Hospitality awards ceremony celebrated more than 30 individuals nominated for their exemplary service and dedication as ambassadors of Asheville and Buncombe County on Monday. Nearly 160 professionals from the travel and hospitality industry as well as city and county leaders attended the luncheon, held at The Omni Grove Park Inn, to honor these outstanding contributors to the community, including the six inaugural recipients of the Heroes of Hospitality Awards.

"We are so excited that nearly 160 partners have gathered to celebrate and shine a spotlight on some amazing humans that are a part of our travel and hospitality community," said Vic Isley, President and CEO for Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.

The Heroes of Hospitality event took place during National Travel and Tourism Week (May 19–25), an annual celebration that underscores travel’s essential role in driving our national and local economies, cultivating vibrant communities, and forging connections. The national celebration was established in 1983, the same year that the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority was created.

In 2022, visitors contributed nearly $3 billion to local businesses throughout Buncombe County and supported nearly a billion dollars in wages for local residents. More than 30 travel and hospitality team members, who have direct contact with or provide direct support or entertainment to visitors and customers, were nominated for the award in its first year. The six recipients of the inaugural Heroes of Hospitality Awards included:

  • Ryan Jackson, customer host with Fox-n-Otter Escape Rooms: Celebrated for his genuine welcome, infectious joy, and commitment to service, Ryan has received 259 5-Star Google reviews mentioning his name, with many more on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other platforms.
  • David Teafatiller, outdoor adventure guide with Hike Bike Kayak Asheville: A certified Blue Ridge naturalist, stands out for his kindness and genuine interest in guests and their experiences, and was noted for his genuine southern hospitality.
  • Marco Gaspar, chef de partie at The Lobster Trap: Gaspar has been indispensable to the restaurant's excellence and success, serving for 18 years.
  • Maura Juarez, housekeeper with Virtelle Hospitality at the Holiday Inn Express Asheville Outlets: her housekeeping services over 16 years have been consistently inspiring to both team members and guests, including delighting families with towels crafted in the shape of elephants.
  • Marsha Furness, assistant manager for Talloni, A Shoe Salon: Marsha has a long career in retail, developing relationships with customers who return year after year, and was recognized for her care and love for the people she serves.
  • Ralford McIntosh, banquet server at The Omni Grove Park Inn: McIntosh was honored for his decade-long career at The Omni Grove Park Inn, including heroic action in saving the life of a dining guest who was choking.

Each winner received a $500 gift card and a handcrafted, engraved award made locally by Asheville artist Asher Holman at Small Batch Glass, recognizing their invaluable contributions to the hospitality industry and the community. 

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