It was a good night to be from Traverse City.

We’re talking about the March 23 “Stars of the Industry” awards banquet at the 2015 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, where three of the big awards went to Traverse City honorees.

A coalition of ten local wineries won the Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration for their program to train and certify employees at local tasting rooms. A Traverse City chef won the “Culinary Star of the Year” award for his commitment to excellence and community spirit. And the head of Traverse City Tourism won the “CVB Star of the Year” award for his leadership in local and state tourism development efforts.

The Northwest Michigan Wine Tasting Room Training Program is a two-year effort between the wineries of Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula. Ten wineries, headed by a five person steering committee, collaborated throughout to create a credentialed program for wine tasting rooms that features education, training and competency in the areas of customer service, wine fluency and alcohol management. This program developed the curriculum and instructional materials and then trained 16 individuals with skills that they did not possess before.

Left Foot Charley

The project’s oversight committee included Brian Lillie of Chateau Chantal, Meridith Lauzon of Left Foot Charley, Andrew Jacobson of Black Star Farms, Cristin Hosmer of Villa Mari, and Kirstin Policastro, formerly of 45 North. Created “by the wine industry for the wine industry,” the program is the first of its kind, giving tasting room employees skills and tips to further enhance customers’ experience and boost the credibility of the wine industry. The next objective is a statewide roll-out of the training program.

The awards were presented by the Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan – a group of over 47 statewide tourism associations, corporations and convention and visitor bureaus – on behalf of the Michigan Travel Commission, which created them to elevate the status of the state tourism industry and promote innovative collaboration. Two other projects – one in Grand Rapids and another in Brighton – also received awards.

At the same banquet, Marc Pritchard, executive chef at Traverse City’s Park Place Hotel, was named the “Culinary Star of the Year” by the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association. Pritchard, a native of the United Kingdom, has worked in the United States for 18 years, almost all of it at the Park Place. He was cited for being for being “a consistently creative chef with a passion for food, presentation and attention to detail” and a leader who “encourages and inspires his team…with good humor, professionalism and a relentless commitment to quality.”

Pritchard was classically trained at the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism, and Creative Studies in Birmingham, England. In addition to his time in the kitchen, he coaches young soccer players in the area and also carves ice to support the festivities around Santa's arrival for the downtown Traverse City Association. His White Chicken Chili has won the “best in category” prize 12 times in the annual Downtown Traverse City Chili Cook-Off.

Last – but definitely not least – our own Brad Van Dommelen, president/CEO of Traverse City Tourism, was named a “CVB Star of the Year.”

Van Dommelen was cited by the awards committee for his “industry knowledge, determination, attitude and imagination” in bringing Traverse City to the attention of new national and international markets, as well as his leadership at the state level, including his work to bring about a change in Michigan law allowing destination marketing organizations to increase their tourism promotion funding to further benefit their communities and the state.

Organized in 1981 as the Traverse City Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Traverse City Tourism is the area’s official destination marketing organization.  Its focused mission is to stimulate economic growth by attracting convention business and developing leisure tourism.

Pritchard and Van Dommelen were among 14 awardees recognized at the annual banquet, including hotel and tourism workers from Detroit, Lansing, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Dearborn, Adrian, East Lansing, Harbor Springs, Gaylord, Port Huron and Frankenmuth.

The Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association represents hundreds of hotels, motels, resorts, and bed and breakfasts that comprise more than 50,000 guest rooms throughout Michigan. MLTA is the only statewide trade association advocating for the state’s lodging and tourism industries.