Doug Bennett: The MVP of Hospitality

As a Humanitarian Award Winner, I received an invitation from Louisville Tourism for a 3-day weekend to attend the Muhammad Ali Awards. In a pre-COVID era, I would have enthusiastically said “yes” without hesitation. However, my excitement was tempered by concerns as I learned about Kentucky’s political landscape, uncovering challenges to rights for women and marginalized groups. As a petite, middle-aged, Asian American woman, my safety took precedence, given the increasing hate attacks against Asians nationwide.

While Louisville boasts more diversity than the rest of Kentucky, it’s essential to recognize that the state ranks among the top 7 least racially diverse and top 5 least educated in the nation.

The statistics were not encouraging; with only a 2.7 percent Asian American population in Louisville, the perceived risk was elevated. Despite being honored as one of the Humanitarian Award Winners, the thought of navigating a new city, especially one with a lower Asian American presence, left me in a dilemma.

Should I stay or should I go?

Will it be safe for me? Living in a quiet suburb in Seattle, my decision to attend the Muhammad Ali Awards in Kentucky required serious contemplation.

As an Asian Inclusion Advocate, I’m acutely aware of the surging hate incidents against Asians nationwide. Daily reports of stabbings and weekly murders, often overlooked by mainstream news, have compelled me to alter my daily routines, no longer feeling comfortable walking alone outside my home.

The other Humanitarian Award Winner, PCMA Advocate of the Year and Webbie Award Winner was attending too, Lakshmee Lacchman-Persad would be joining in. By the way, do you know a Webby Winner, big deal!

Amid these concerns, I encountered a genuinely warm individual, Doug Bennett, the Executive Vice President at Louisville Tourism. A year ago, in a bustling 4000+ person convention, Doug went out of his way to greet me, radiating warmth that set him apart from the crowd.

When I expressed my travel concerns to Doug, he listened, and my response was a definitive “I am in.”

My Experience in Louisville

Doug and his assistant, Karen, orchestrated a stay that exceeded mere logistics. From a centrally located hotel, the Galt House, with a breathtaking view of the Ohio River to seamless airport rides and thoughtfully curated tours.

Louisville Slugger Museum – Despite my initial disinterest in baseball, the tour on bat-making proved surprisingly enjoyable.

Evan Williams Bourbon – As a non-drinker, I found appreciation in learning about the bourbon-making process.

Kentucky Science Museum – This became my favorite excursion, with the top floor dedicated to “Identity” offering unexpected joy.

Trolley De’Ville Tours – Travis’s insights on $1 mansions and colossal “can openers” were eye-opening.

Muhammad Ali and Ali Center

Before stepping into the Ali Center, my knowledge of this influential man was limited. His decision to donate prize winnings from his first fight spoke volumes about his character. The modern, interactive Ali Center, with triggered audio and video, provided a captivating experience. The reception and awards banquet, surrounded by those who admired Ali and his family, contrasted my initial concerns about “Kentucky” laws. In Louisville and at the awards, I felt not only comfortable but also inspired.

The List of Humanitarian Award Winners, embodying Ali’s core principles:

• Confidence • Conviction • Dedication • Giving • Respect • Spirituality

Do watch all of these brief acceptance speeches and learn about they incredible humanitarian efforts.

This gives me hope, knowing there are individuals worldwide making positive impacts. Because, we got to learn about them, I feel less isolated and feel like there is a loose team out there of do-gooders. If we can work together, we can feel the difference we are making.

The Most Memorable Aspect

Personal touches set the trip apart – a dinner at Doug’s favorite restaurant, a mini-tour of the vibrant locale, and introductions to influential figures like Muhammad Ali’s wife and Lonnie Ali, Khaliah Ali, and Marilyn Jackson, president and CEO of the Ali Center.

Additionally, the Muhammad Ali Center and the Grady Hotel, our event hosts, were conveniently located one block away, with Doug ensuring my safety by walking me to and from the events.

The value in this trip was the kindness shown by Doug and his wife, echoing the spirit of the Muhammad Ali Awards. This hospitality, I realized, was more than mere actions; it created an environment where we felt truly honored. “We,” meaning Lakshmee, the other Humanitarian Award winner. Doug Bennett, you’ve earned the title of the “Most Valued Person of Hospitality.” Thank you!

From Doubt to Delight

The question is, can we make this the norm rather than an anomaly? The answer is yes, if people choose to do so. Individuals like Doug and Karen are exemplary in modeling this behavior, showing that hospitality is not just a checklist of services but a genuine warmth. Reflecting on my Louisville experience, I think about how the changed my perspective and my experience. I appreciate those who go out of their way to be welcoming. Let’s work together to make this the norm.

Doug Bennett: The MVP of Hospitality

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