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AAA Four Diamond Award.

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Turning Stone Resort receives three accolades

By Robin Buda -- Today staff

VERONA, N.Y. - Diamonds aren't just a girl's best friend. They signify a certain level of excellence for resorts and restaurants in the eyes of AAA.

The Lodge at Turning Stone, The Tower Hotel at Turning Stone and Wildflowers Restaurant at Turning Stone were awarded the automobile association's Four Diamond awards May 16 at the Great Room in The Lodge. Around 50 Turning Stone employees, from maids to managers, were in attendance to witness the award ceremony.

John Sansone, AAA assistant vice president, presented the awards to Frank Riolo, chief operating officer, Turning Stone Resort and Casino; Karen Ramirez, vice president of hotel and spa operations; and Andrew Lee, vice president of food and beverage.

All three establishments are enterprises of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. (OIN owns Four Directions Media, parent company of Indian Country Today.)

Riolo thanked all of the employees for working to achieve this award.

''When you start out, when you build a structure like this, there's no life in this building. Employees put the life in a building. And we're very fortunate here to have such passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable employees. And of course that's the reason we're celebrating this today.''

''It is my pleasure to be here to present to you all not one, but three AAA Four Diamond awards. ... Congratulations to all of you for putting forth such a fine effort in making this happen,'' Sansone continued.

This is the third Four Diamond Award for The Lodge and the second for both The Tower and Wildflowers.

Sansone explained how the ratings are determined.

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''Lodgings and restaurants are visited by more than 65 AAA tourism editors each year throughout North American and the Caribbean to conduct unannounced evaluations, scrutinizing areas such as cleanliness, ambiance, amenities and service. These field inspections determine the AAA diamond rating.''

Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative and CEO, commented on how the culture of the OIN played a part in receiving these awards.

''The Oneida culture has always emphasized hospitality and welcoming guests into your home,'' he said in a release. ''The AAA ratings are a reflection of our heritage and our commitment to providing the best experience for our guests.''

New York state is included on the list of top states/provinces with the most Four Diamond award winners, with 40 lodgings and 49 restaurants.

AAA Four Diamond Award winners are members of a select class. Four Diamond lodgings account for 3.6 percent of the more than 32,000 lodgings rated by AAA and just 2.7 percent of the 28,000 rated restaurants.

''AAA Four Diamond winners are members of an elite group, demonstrating unwavering commitment to superior hospitality - attentive service, premier comfort, impressive surroundings and an extensive selection of amenities,'' said Tom Chestnut, president/CEO of AAA Western and Central New York, in a release. ''The fact that three Turning Stone Resort and Casino properties have received these coveted awards is indicative of the level of excellence guests can expect.''

''The Turning Stone Resort and Casino is unique in that it is the only location throughout all of New York state to receive three prestigious awards,'' Sansone added.

''Offering world-class golf, gaming, entertainment and accommodations, Turning Stone is recognized as a leader in the critical industry of travel and tourism and plays a tremendous importance in the central New York region. To have three properties within one resort earn this designation ... distinguishes the Turning Stone as a destination unto itself.''

Lee credited the hard work and dedication of the staff and the high standards of the management in working together to achieve this level of excellence.

''We set very high standards for service and quality, so the hardest part is to keep it consistent. And when they come rate us, you don't know when they're rating us, so you have to be on your toes almost every single day. It's not like they tell you, 'I'm coming to rate you.' So, in order to do that, it's very hard work to achieve that. It's really an exciting and satisfying honor to receive this award again.

''It's great teamwork and everybody worked hard together to get this.''

For more information on Turning Stone Resort and Casino, visit For more information on how an establishment achieves AAA Four Diamond status, visit