Sonoma County Tourism (SCT), the region’s official Destination Stewardship Organization, announced today its inaugural “Stars of the Industry” in a virtual ceremony closing out its annual meeting. The awards, recognizing two hospitality businesses and two hospitality professionals, were designed to celebrate the best of the industry in the categories of Customer Engagement, Environmental Stewardship/Sustainable Practices, Front of the House, and Heart of the House.

The 2021 honorees are:

  • Safari West, Customer Engagement
  • Benziger Family Winery, Environmental Stewardship/Sustainable Practices
  • Bianca Nicastro with Aperture Cellars, Front of the House
  • Tiffany Rodriguez with Costeaux French Bakery, Heart of the House

“We could not let the last year go by without recognizing the hard work of those who truly rose above the challenges to become superstars during these unprecedented times,” said Claudia Vecchio, President and CEO at SCT. “Our goal is to grow this into an annual event where we can celebrate this extraordinary industry and those who make their work environment and the customer experience so special.”

Sonoma County Tourism solicited the local hospitality industry to submit nominations. A committee then paired the nominations down to three finalists in each category before inviting the industry to vote for the winners.  

Customer Engagement recognizes a hospitality business that worked creatively and with ingenuity to keep customers engaged throughout the global pandemic. The winning company, Safari West, found a creative way to cope with the coronavirus lockdown through its inventive “Zoomfari” program, which dropped Safari West’s amazing animals and guides into virtual corporate meetings and family get togethers. This initiative reached thousands of people and helped inspire future visits to Safari West and Sonoma County. The finalists were Capo Creek Winery, Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country, and Safari West.

Environmental Stewardship/Sustainable Practices recognizes a hospitality business that has developed a culture toward integrating environmentally sustainable practices with everyday operations, while maintaining quality service and meeting guest expectations. The winning company, Benziger Family Winery, has a deep commitment to sustainability that extends to its biodynamic farming practices, wastewater recycling ponds, electric charging stations, recycling bag program, and annual park cleanup. The finalists were Benziger Family Winery, Coursey Graves, and Safari West.

Front of the House recognizes a front of the house employee who goes above and beyond to provide excellent customer service to guests and exemplifies dependability, teamwork, and dedication to the industry. As Estate Host for Aperture Cellars, winner Bianca Nicastro has been lauded for going the extra mile for her customers by delivering wine to homes and hotels, connecting patrons with last minute dinner reservations, and creating custom referral and suggestion lists for guests. The finalists were Bianca Nicastro with Aperture Cellars, Harry Roberts with Spreckels Performing Arts Center, and Lynne Skilling with Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.

Heart of the House recognizes a heart of the house employee who goes above and beyond to help the behind-the-scenes operation run smoothly and, like front of the house, exemplifies dependability, teamwork, and dedication to the industry. Winner Tiffany Rodriguez, who serves as the bakery’s Retail Operations Coordinator, was described by her employer as “the glue that holds the Costeaux hospitality teams together.” Her leadership style is celebrated for being people-focused, with a commitment to fostering a caring work environment for all. The finalists were Chris Bowland with Bodega Bay & Beyond Vacation Home Rentals, Nisha Patel with the Flamingo Resort, and Tiffany Rodriguez with Costeaux French Bakery.

“We’re delighted by the response we’ve received from our hospitality partners regarding this initiative,” said SCT Senior Director of Community Engagement, Kelly Bass Seibel. “Our businesses know it’s the exceptional service that visitors receive that keep them coming back to Sonoma County. It’s only right that the generosity, ingenuity, and dedication of our hospitality workforce be recognized and celebrated through these awards.”

A recording of the Stars of the Industry celebration, as part of Sonoma County Tourism’s annual meeting, can be accessed at sonomacounty.com/partners/annual-meeting.

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Sonoma County Tourism is the region’s official Destination Stewardship Organization. Through a multi-channel sales and marketing program, the organization promotes Sonoma County as a global visitor and meetings destination, where diversity thrives, and everyone is welcome. Leveraging the region’s unmatched assets, wine, culinary, wellness and sustainability continue to define its character. Pre-pandemic, tourism generated $2.3 Billion in visitor spending, $194 Million in tax revenue and employed more than 23,000 Sonoma Countians. Post-pandemic, SCT will work with partner businesses to rebuild the tourism economy, regain critical revenue and reestablish a vibrant workforce. For more information, visit www.sonomacounty.com