Ali Gimenez remembers the 1982 conversation she had with her cousin, who worked for Tampa International Airport’s cleaning services at the time.
“She told me about the airport’s tour program and that they had a job opening,” Ali said. “She said, ‘I know you like children and talking to groups, and you like working with people.’ So I went to Civil Service and applied.”
Ali got a phone call six months later, came to work, and almost 32 years later, here she is: A Senior Guest Services Representative who has helped hundreds of thousands of passengers at Tampa International Airport, along with her work giving guided tours and educational talks at schools. She has also represented the airport at local fairs and festivals, and served as a Spanish translator for the media and visiting dignitaries from Latin American countries.
Ali’s patience, sense of humor and compassion for others makes her a natural fit for a job that involves working with a range of personalities and situations.
“Every day is different,” Ali said. “Not everyone who comes through here is traveling for fun. Some people are heading to a job interview, or they are visiting someone who is ill. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to.”
Ali moved here from Cuba with her entire family when she was 19 years old, speaking hardly any English. She earned her high school diploma and attended a technical school learning office assistant work, typing, accounting and other tasks. Her first professional job was working for seven years as an accounts receivable patient representative at the now-closed Centro Asturiano Hospital in Ybor City. She then worked for a doctor’s office as an office assistant and medical assistant for a few years before learning of the TPA guest services job.
With her experience helping people and understanding the Latin culture and language, she has been an invaluable asset to the airport, especially in recent years with the addition of flights to Cuba and Panama, said Director of Guest Services Brenda Geoghagan.
“Ali provides exemplary customer service on a daily basis,” Geoghagan said. “She assists airport customers with information and directions, including Spanish-speaking customers who need transportation, rental cars and hotel shuttles. She is also very attentive to passengers arriving on the Cuban flights, ensuring their process through Customs goes smoothly.”
Ali said she is very much “a planner,” and lately her plans include mostly spending time with her 30-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old grandson. She loves to read and has been learning how to garden.
She also watches a lot of National Geographic shows about exotic places around the world and dreams of traveling one day. (“Right now, I just travel with my mind,” she said.) Ali has never been to Europe and wants to go to Spain, Italy and Austria.
Until then, Ali hopes to make the most of her years at Tampa International Airport. She had a conversation recently with her cousin who first talked her into applying for the airport job. That cousin, Maria Rodriguez, still works for the airport’s Triangle Services janitorial crew, and has for more than four decades.
“She asked me, ‘Do you remember when I said you would be great at this job?’” Ali said with a laugh. “I would have never thought I would be here, or anywhere, for more than 30 years.”