The 61st Annual Calgary White Hat Awards Showcase Outstanding Tourism and Hospitality Service

Calgary has been paying tribute to outstanding customer service professionals since 1962 with the Calgary White Hat Awards. Presented to tourism and hospitality industry employees, the awards honour individuals who have excelled in their fields. Congrats to this year’s award recipients.

Exceptional Rising Leader

Winner: Alexis Wignaraja 

Residence Inn by Marriott Calgary Downtown/Beltline District

Great leaders don’t just guide others; they also exhibit humility, empower their peers, act as role models and are present for those who rely on them. It’s qualities like these that prove Alexis is a future leader to watch. Each day, Alexis strives to set excellent examples for her colleagues and shows genuine empathy and concern, all while providing a supportive and inclusive work environment. She exceeds guest expectations, so they have fond memories of Calgary long after their vacation ends. Alexis, we are truly proud to award you with your White Hat Award for your leadership and care.  


Exceptional Server: Centre City

Winner: Haley Cusack

Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation

Whether a guest is visiting the Telus Club Lounge for the first time or the hundredth, Haley ensures everyone gets the most out of their experience. She prides herself in making sure guests have memorable visits, from the simple act of bringing popcorn to a guest’s son, delivering a celebratory beverage to a regular guest right before Christmas, or handing out handmade holiday cards to local fans. Wonderful, cheerful, amazing and always smiling are just a few of the ways her customers love to describe Haley. Thank you for your dedication to true hospitality, Haley; you are more than White Hat worthy. 


Exceptional Service: Airport | Airline

Winner: Sheena Hazime


Sheena’s warm and welcoming demeanour always puts guests at ease and makes them feel valued and appreciated. She offers personalized help to every WestJet customer she interacts with, including assisting with specific requests or offering customized travel tips. In one case where a flight got cancelled for 35 passengers due to bad weather, Sheena didn’t hesitate to step up. She personally organized hotels and meal vouchers and made sure each guest got transportation. Sheena, your ability to naturally foster a supportive and collaborative environment makes it a true pleasure to award you this White Hat Award.


Exceptional Service: Heart of House

Winner: Iryna Afutina

Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire

Iryna is no stranger to hard work and lending a hand. She is always in motion, from helping take the lead during the bustle of the Christmas season, throwing on an apron to help the kitchen staff, or taking the initiative to create and execute a Ukrainian-themed menu for the staff cafeteria. But even with her bustling workdays, Iryna maintains a calm attitude that puts those around her at ease. Since starting, Iryna has been nominated for Heartist of the Month numerous times. Now, Iryna, it is our great pleasure to award you with your very own White Hat Award. 


Exceptional Server: North

Winner: Stephanie Sytsema

Best Western Premier Calgary Plaza Hotel

Stephanie is passionate about her work in customer service — a role that she doesn’t plan to leave until she retires — and that passion has created lasting relationships with her clients. Guests from as far as Dubai choose to come to Calgary again and again because of Stephanie’s heartfelt service. Stephanie also has a natural gift for sensing guests’ moods and helping uplift them. She also supports and cares for her co-workers; Stephanie is learning sign language to communicate with a fellow co-worker who is deaf. Stephanie, you are truly worthy of your White Hat Award. 


Exceptional Service: Tourism Volunteer

Winner: Vivian Crandall

Calgary Airport Authority

As the last of the original volunteers who started in the White Hat program in 1991, Vivian is an invaluable and irreplaceable volunteer in Calgary and the tourism industry. For the past 32 years, Vivian has been a trainer, mentor, friend and advocate and has always seen her role at YYC as a part of her life. Over the years, she has made all her fellow volunteers feel welcome, helped each one feel like a part of TeamYYC, and instilled a sense of pride in their own roles in the industry. Vivian, your White Hat Award truly reflects your pure and selfless dedication to giving back. Wear it with pride!


Exceptional Service: Housekeeping

Winner: Twyla Nearing

Sandman Hotel & Suites Calgary South

Twyla loves what she does and ensures that every guest who comes to Calgary is given exceptional service and care. And it’s not just Twyla’s managers that think that! Helping and connecting with others comes naturally to Twyla, and as a result, it’s not uncommon for guests to leave her special gifts to show their gratitude. And many guests also stay in contact with her even after leaving Calgary. Twyla also took it upon herself to take a course in reading body language to improve guest experiences by using her observations to tailor services and support. Congratulations, Twyla, on your well-deserved White Hat Award! 


Exceptional Service: Driver

Winner: David Foster

Ambassador Limousine Service

The only regret David feels about his job as a driver with Ambassador Limousine Service is that he didn’t start 10 years earlier! David’s efforts are truly next level; he believes his guests don’t just pay for a driving service. They also deserve to hear interesting tidbits of information on the area they’re driving through and to get unique recommendations on things to do. One time, David used his own car and personal time to take a British tourist to her shopping destination and took her two boys to Eau Claire to rent scooters and have some fun. That is just one of many stories shared by happy customers about David, which makes awarding you with this White Hat an absolute pleasure!


Exceptional Service: Guest Relations

Winner: Jill Marven

Fairmont Palliser

Jill puts her heart into her work. When a VIP guest came to visit, Jill stepped up and helped delegate all the tasks that had to be done before their arrival. At the same time, she coordinated with her team to support other guests and ensure they got the same care and attention as always. After COVID-19, Jill made an extra effort to make sure guests felt valued and appreciated during their visits by taking the time to chat and make each one feel special. Jill, for being a genuine ambassador of Calgary’s Western Hospitality, you are truly worthy of your White Hat win!


Exceptional Server: South

Winner: Michelle Stockert

Delta Hotels by Marriott Calgary South

For Michelle, her position as a food and beverage supervisor isn’t a job; it is a chance to get to know her guests and make them feel like family. When a large group of people came in, Michelle helped find a place for them to sit together. Then, when she overheard that they were having a bad day, she took it upon herself to get them laughing, joking, and feeling better. Unknowingly, Michelle helped 24 members of the Royal Canadian Army. They were so impressed with her wonderful care that they awarded Michelle a civilian medal for being “beautiful inside and out and for completely lifting them up.” For your natural gift of connecting with guests, we are proud to award your White Hat Award. 


Exceptional Service: Administration

Winner: Angela Hendy

Hampton Inn by Hilton Calgary Airport North

When interacting with a new client or group, Angela thinks about what makes them unique and how they want to experience the city. Then, she provides very customized and tailored options to each individual. She also makes a point of recommending places she has visited herself, which gives her recommendations a personal feel. To showcase Calgary’s unique experiences and hospitality further, Angela established a social reception every Wednesday, where guests can learn more about Calgary. Angela, we tip our White Hats to you for your well-deserved recognition.


Exceptional Service: Reception | Reservations

Winner: Per Jensen

Sandman Hotel & Suites Calgary Airport

Per’s compassion, thoughtfulness, and dedication to helping others are qualities he delivers to each interaction with guests, especially when supporting evacuees from the Northwest Territories during last year’s wildfire season. Per made sure the new guests, who had left all they knew, would feel at home: he helped them with laundry, contacted the government to organize a pay plan and ensured the front desk staff knew they were the first people at the hotel these worried guests would talk to. At the end of the two-month stay, letters from kids, parents, and other evacuees poured in with personal acknowledgements of Per’s care. Per, your patience, helpfulness, and genuine care make you a true fit for your White Hat Award.


Exceptional Service: Banquets

Winner: Steve McMullen

Calgary Stampede

For Steve, passion means giving the best that he can every time. It doesn’t matter how many events Steve has worked on that day; what matters is that his guests’ first-time experience is memorable. While catering banquets can bring unique challenges, Steve always finds a way to thrive, adapting to different needs and effortlessly tackling any problems. Steve, for representing the true spirit of what hospitality in Calgary means, you more than deserve this White Hat.


Exceptional Service: Beverage Specialist

Winners: Douglas Lee

The Dorian, Autograph Collection & Courtyard by Marriott Calgary Downtown

Douglas showcases Western hospitality by catering to guests in his own special way. If customers can’t find something specific from the drink menu, he’ll find out what flavours they like and make them a custom cocktail. Doug thrives on seeing people happy with his creations and finds true purpose in helping others. During the Stampede, for example, Douglas went above and beyond to ensure some international guests got the most out of their experience. He personally escorted them to the C-train and told them about some of the best things to do at Stampede. Douglas, you are a true Calgary ambassador, and you fully embrace the core values of Western hospitality. We proudly tip our White hat to you!


Exceptional Service: Attraction

Winner: Donald Hanna

Heritage Park Historical Village

As a historical interpreter/demonstrator with Heritage Park, Don has a special way of drawing in people of all ages. He makes sure that everyone, from children to older adults, enjoys his demonstrations and learns something new. During one visit, Don was presenting to a group of Ukrainian immigrants. A small child in the group who didn’t speak English and looked unhappy caught Don’s attention. He decided to do something about it and crafted a unicorn horseshoe based on the unicorn on the little girl’s shirt. The presentation and gift completely transformed the little girl’s frown into a smile. Don, for representing the true heart of tourism and the welcoming spirit of Calgary, we proudly present your White Hat Award!


Exceptional Service: Non-Server

Winner: Rio Wittwer

Heritage Park Historical Village

Keeping one’s cool, even under pressure, isn’t always easy. Rio handles such busy days with poise and competence. While working on Canada Day, the busiest day of the year, Rio helped support her fellow staff and guests and fulfilled her own roles while ensuring everyone felt welcomed and heard. For example, Rio went beyond her duties that day to assist serving staff by spreading out reservations, keeping ketchup bottles full, and refilling water cups for guests, all while leading guests through to their seats in an organized way. Despite the crowds, no complaints were made, thanks to Rio’s dedication and calm. Rio, you do Calgary proud with your generous gift of care. We congratulate you on your White Hat Award!


Exceptional Server: Tour Escort | Guide

Winner: Dan Fraser

Toonie Tours

As a retired Calgary police officer, Dan brings a wealth of knowledge and genuine passion for his city to each tour he leads. Dan starts his tours by connecting with his guests as individuals and learning how to accommodate different interests. On a recent tour he led, Dan was introduced to a fellow police officer visiting from Germany. With so much in common, a three-hour tour wasn’t enough — Dan took his fellow officer to a Bass Pro Shop for a unique Canadian experience. Dan also helped him arrange a trip to the mountains. Dan, you have truly earned your White Hat award for your open and caring heart and selfless approach to service. 


Exceptional Server: Culinary

Winner: Stanislav Lomanovskyy

Delta Hotels by Marriott Calgary Downtown

Stanislav brings his “never say no” positive attitude to work each day and is always eager to learn new things. Stanislav shines not only in his culinary role but also through his passion for customer service. When a Ukrainian family and their young child were dining at the hotel, Stanislav found out their international document had been flagged for inspection, causing them to worry. Stanislav took it upon himself to help the family by taking them to the airport and waiting with them for over three hours. In the end, the error turned out to be a simple mistake, which was fixed in no time. Stanislav, wear your White Hat with the same pride and positivity you bring to each day!


Mayor’s White Hat Award

Jen Duffy

TELUS Spark Science Centre

The recipient of this year’s Mayor’s White Hat Award inspires others with their compassion, authenticity and empathy. For the past 25 years, they have brought a can-do attitude and joy-filled approach to their work. They put people first. As the leader of their organization’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, they have fostered a culture of belonging and acceptance. Following a recent government decision that directly impacted the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, this individual went out of their way to personally check in with colleagues who were members of the community, ensuring they were supported and cared for. 

Part of what sets this individual apart, and a key aspect of what makes them a White Hat Award Winner, is their ability to seamlessly step into the shoes of their guests and anticipate their needs to ensure a memorable experience. One example is when a young dinosaur-loving visitor came to visit their workplace, and this individual took it upon themselves to let the young visitor act as a paleontology field guide during the tour. They have also taken the initiative to create a program that helps young people realize that conservation is for everyone.

With a bachelor’s degree in both education and zoology and a master’s in paleontology, they are passionate about education and are always learning. For the young minds this individual has the privilege to educate, they strive to help foster curiosity and an enthusiasm for life-long learning. As a part of that drive, this individual also created, led, and implemented the programming for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation for the organization they work for. Their ongoing support in this program to welcome Elders and Knowledge keepers and advocate for thoughtful Indigenous Science programming in the community is shaping future leaders and learners towards an open-minded and inclusive environment for everyone. 

As one of their fellow colleagues aptly said, this candidate inspires those around them to be better humans. 


Doug Johnson Service Award

Linda Ehman

Calgary Airport Authority

Each year, the Doug Johnson Award honours an individual’s commitment and longevity in the tourism industry. This year’s winner continues this legacy. Since beginning their volunteer journey over 30 years ago, this individual has strived to be the best they can be while making others’ experiences as positive and memorable as possible. 

Even after decades in the tourism industry, this individual still has immense passion and dedication. And that enthusiasm isn’t just for visitors within the city, either. Any time they get the chance to travel overseas, they sing Calgary’s praises. Best of all, many travellers to Calgary visit the places this winner recommends. 

This individual is generous and humble. They are a true team player, providing positivity, encouragement and support to others and inspiring those around them to celebrate each other. 

In their current hospitality position, this White Hat champion has continued to shine when highlighting the best qualities that Calgary and its people have to offer. They are always delighted to be a shoulder to lean on, an enthusiastic tour guide or an encyclopedia of knowledge. They find unique ways to appeal to each guest and create a ripple effect that continues to spread as guests leave the city and share their experiences with friends and family.

This content was produced for the advertiser by RedPoint Media for commercial purposes. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Avenue staff.

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