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Prestigious Nominations Unveiled for the 32nd South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year

Updated: Oct 17, 2023



Nominations for the 32nd Annual South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year Award are here. The nominees will be recognized with an award presented by the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Board at the luncheon, to be held on November 16, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Miami, the Presenting Sponsor of the event.


These hospitality trailblazers have dedicated themselves to promoting our beautiful region, enhancing the visitor experience, and giving back to their community.



Our industry is well represented with a fantastic group of leaders nominated this year for this prestigious award. Here are our 2023 nominees:

  • Bibi Andrade, Bibi Art Media, Inc.

  • Julissa Kepner, Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay

  • Mychal Milian, Marriott, and AC Hotel Fort Lauderdale Airport

  • Jonathan Plutzik, The Betsy South Beach

  • Eric Poms, Orange Bowl Committee

  • Gene Prescott, Seaway Hotels Group

  • Ceci Velasco, Ocean Drive Association

Distinguished past recipients of the South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year Award include, Steve Atkins, President of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Peter Ricci, Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Paul George, History Miami, George Neary, Tours “R” Us, Wendy Kallergis, GMBHA, Henry Delgado, Smith & Wollensky, Rocco Angelo, Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, William Talbert, III, Alvin West, Sr. Retired GMCVB, and Academy Founders, Stuart Blumberg, Retired, Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, Bob Dickinson, Retired, Carnival Cruise Lines, and the late Alyce Robertson, Miami Dade Downtown Development Authority, Tony Goldman, Goldman Properties, and Jeanne Westphal.


We welcome once again Belkys Nerey as our MC. The five-time Emmy award winning journalist Belkys Nerey was born in Havana and raised in Long Island and Miami. Completely bilingual, she started her television career as a reporter for a South Florida cable station. In 1994, she joined WSVN-7 and during her tenure at the Miami Fox affiliate, Ms. Nerey has covered major news stories and, up until recently, co-anchored the pop-culture driven Deco Drive. She is currently anchoring the 5,6,10 and 11pm newscasts on WSVN-7.


Belkys Nerey, a five-time Emmy award winning journalist


This year’s event features great speakers including Jane Wooldridge an award-winning business, arts and travel multimedia journalist and veteran of the Miami Herald and Susie Batlle, owner and founder of Azucar Ice cream located in the heart of Little Havana.


Suzy Batlle was born into a Cuban family in 1968 in Coral Gables, Florida. For 20 years she excelled as a banker until the industry plummeted in 2008. At that moment, she decided to take on another venture. She opened Azucar Ice Company in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.


Susie Batlle, owner and founder of Azucar Ice cream


Azucar quickly became a South Florida staple for tourists and locals alike, serving ice creams reminiscent of Cuban, Cuban-American and Hispanic cultures. Some flavors include Cafe con Leche, Flan and Sweet Plantains and names include Abuela Maria, Willy Cherrino and El Mani Loco. Batlle has since opened a warehouse for the expanding business and a second location in Marlins Park.


Batlle’s success with Azucar has helped revitalize the Little Havana area. She also serves as a board member with Viernes Culturales, a monthly cultural festival held in the area, and a member of Miami Dade College’s advisory board and of the Merchants Alliance.The successful entrepreneur has crafted a unique Cuban-American experience and feel in Azucar Ice Cream Company, including shirts with Cuban phrases and slang, music and artwork featuring Celia Cruz.


Jane Wooldridge: Award-winning journalist and Miami Herald veteran


Jane Wooldridge currently serves as Senior Director of Development. In this community-focused role, she works with civic, arts and business organizations and foundations to create strategic, tax-deductible partnerships supporting public service journalism amid a fast-fluctuating media landscape.


Prior to her current role, she served as the Miami Herald’s Business Editor, responsible for business and arts coverage in print, online, multimedia, and live events. Her teams have won multiple journalism awards, including Best in Business in the SABEW awards and the Esserman-Knight Award for public service.


Previously she was the Miami Herald’s Travel Editor, winning top honors as both an editor and individual Journalist of the Year in the prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards.

The Hyatt Regency Miami is the Presenting Sponsor of the event with Show Technology, a South Florida based audio visual production company, a long-time supporter of the event as a Signature Sponsor. Additional sponsors will be announced in the coming weeks.

Celebrating 36 years of success, the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism is a member of the non-profit, NAF. NAF has refined a proven model that provides young people access to industry-specific curricular, work-based learning experiences and prepares them for college and industry careers. Academies (Hospitality & Tourism, Culinary, Education, and Arts and Entertainment) are in 20 Miami-Dade County public high schools. Proceeds of the luncheon benefit work-based learning activities and scholarships for AOHT students and professional development for teachers.


Tickets for the South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year Award luncheon are $135.00 for an individual ticket or $1,350 for a table/vendor sponsorship. To learn more click here.


By ML Staff. Images courtesy of South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year Award

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