When I first moved to Western Massachusetts, I’d occasionally hear people talking about Howdy. I mean talking “about” it rather than simply saying it as a greeting, which I would expect since “Howdy” seems more like a Western/Southern expression than a New England thing. But I digress.

Anyway, after a little bit of checking around, I quickly learned that Howdy in this context was/is the name of an awards program run annually by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. The idea is to recognize folks who work in the hospitality industry (food servers, hotel staffer, etc.) and do a great job of being friendly, knowledgeable about the area, and so forth. The rationale is that if you feel like you’re getting noticed, you’ll put that extra effort into more encounters, and visitors wind up having a good time and wanting to come back.

This all seemed like a very cool (and super-logical!) idea to me and it didn’t take long for me to nominate great bartender I liked in Northampton, a super-helpful B&B owner in Amherst and a Chicopee hotel clerk who really helped a visiting friend out of a jam. I think one of them went on to become a Finalist. So, if you’ve received great service in Western Mass, consider nominating the person who helped make your meal, drink, stay or visit extra-special right here. You’ll be helping a deserving worker receive much-deserved accolades.

One of the things I liked most about the Howdy program is that the Bureau always uses judges from outside the area to determine who wins. This way, there’s no “insider” connections and no conflicts of interest. The winners win on their own merit, period, as it should be.

But now there’s a new twist on this system, and it’s what got me writing: the People’s Choice. In the traditional Howdy Awards categories (Accommodations, Attractions, etc.) the winners are chosen by the aforementioned panel of judges. However, in the People’s Choice Award winner is going to be determined by how many “Likes” each Finalist earns on the Bureau’s Facebook page.

There is one catch: it doesn’t begin until April 10, 2018, after the Howdy Finalists are named. Look for the photo album titled “2018 Howdy Finalists.” There will be either a photo of each Finalist, or if there isn’t a photo available, a logo representing where they work. And it’s a short window; the opportunity to support your favorite Finalist ends at midnight on May 16. So, don’t delay!