A special Lifetime Achievement Award was made to tourism pioneer Suzy Soto at the Taste of Cayman opening dinner in recognition of her dedication to tourism in the Cayman Islands over the years.
The award was given to Mrs. Soto from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association at the dinner which took place in Hemingways Restaurant on 1 July.
‘I was shocked and delighted and very appreciative. I was very honoured and it is surprising to realise that I’ve reached this stage of my life,’ commented Mrs. Soto.
She went on to thank the Hyatt Hotel and the CITA board members and members along with those who were members in the past but are no longer.
Mrs. Soto also praised the work of the Hyatt chefs and the Cayman Islands Culinary team.
‘The dinner was so perfect. Every single course was perfect. I was in awe of what the Hyatt went through (in Hurricane Ivan) and of the standard of the dinner,’ she said.
A wonderful biography detailing Mrs. Soto’s life was read out at the dinner by Mrs. Bobbi Flowers. It went as follows:
‘In 1961 Suzy Soto made her first trip to Grand Cayman as a tourist and loved it so much that in early 1963 she moved her young family (three daughters – Sheree, Karie and Barrie) here. The family moved to Grand Cayman to open a small resort hotel known as The Tortuga Club (currently the site of Morritt’s Tortuga Club) in East End which opened in December 1963.
‘She worked tirelessly to manage the operation in the days when creativity was key. There was no electricity, no telephone service or televisions, so she created fun and exciting ways to keep guests happy; for example, a special rum drink that she served in real homemade bamboo glasses to thirsty guests arriving from the long dusty ride to East End. From the very beginning her creativity impacted the hungry with scrumptious and unique recipes.
‘During the early years there was only a handful of hotels and along with these other hoteliers, Suzy worked hard to develop tourism in the Cayman Islands and indeed throughout the Caribbean. In 1963 she was a part of the founding members of the first Cayman Islands Hotel Association. While her husband at that time, Eric Bergstrom volunteered his time working at the Cayman Islands Tourist Board, Suzy held down the resort in East End. Her creativity came through when she created the familiar cartoon-like mascot ‘Sir Turtle’ that was used in special packages for the hotel (playing on the title of the hotel ‘Tortuga’ for turtles) including honeymooners, divers etc. This well known figure was later given (sold for $1) to the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and has been our recognized tourism mascot for the past 40 years.
‘Suzy was very busy but still found time to contribute two native sons to the islands with the birth of her sons, Kris and Eric James. She raised her five children well and life was exciting at the remote hotel site where fishing, diving, sailing and water skiing kept the children busy. Suzy was also very active in developing tourism in the Caribbean region and was a part of the founding members of SHAC (Small Hotels Advisory Council), a part of CHA (Caribbean Hotel Association). This council supported the small hoteliers who faced unique challenges in the tourism market. It also developed training and development opportunities for smaller resort properties and was a very integral part of this specialized market growth in the Caribbean.
‘In the mid 1970’s, after selling the hotel, Suzy became General Manager of London House where she worked hard to open the property and build business. She brought her hotel management skills to this new product and made it a success. During this time she married her husband, Bob Soto, and continued to be very active in the tourism industry.
‘After several years at London House, Suzy decided to open a restaurant in Red Bay (now the site of Durty Reid’s) called The Cracked Conch. The restaurant became very successful and moved to West Bay Road next to the Lone Star. Suzy was very active in her business and has created some wonderful recipes (‘cook book soon come!’). At a time when restaurants were opening and closing, Suzy managed to maintain her success through the good times and the bad. In 1995-96 she made the bold move to build her own property and move the restaurant to its current location in West Bay, next to the Turtle Farm.
‘Suzy retired from the business, finally, in May after a long career and is referred to as one of the pioneers of the tourism industry in the Cayman Islands.
‘Over the last 40 years Suzy had dedicated her life to helping attract Caymanians into the industry and was instrumental in developing an awards scheme to recognize all levels of tourism employees. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards over her long career in tourism. She has worked very hard to help develop award structures for all people in the industry from the housekeepers to managers.
‘She was very active in the tourism associations throughout the years and has served as a Director on the Board of the Cayman Islands Hotel Association and the Cayman Islands Hotel & Condo Association. She was a founding member of the Restaurant Association and served as its President at one time.
‘Suzy, although she would never admit it, has been very proud of the role she has played in developing tourism in Cayman and in 2003 was recognised by her Majesty the Queen and honoured with a Certificate and Badge of Honour for her significant contribution to tourism over the years, something that she quietly cherishes. She was also named as one of the 500 pioneers during the quincentennial event in 2003 for East End.
‘This has been an incredible accomplishment – a not bad for a nurse/model from Wisconsin!’