Jimmy O' Connor has entertained thousands of tourists over the years as the lead singer in a rock band. Lately, he's made a name for himself as the owner of Jessie James Cruises, home of the famous glass bottom boat.

Now the 62-year-old, who is recuperating from a mild stroke suffered on a Caribbean cruise last month, has been recognized for his contributions to the tourism industry by being named 'Best of the Best' at the Visitor Industry Partnership Excellence Awards last week.

About 440 people were nominated, 54 made it through to the finals. Eighteen top winners were chosen ranging from 'Best Doorman' (Desmond Smith at the Fairmont Southampton) to 'Best Chef' (Alfred Konrad at Mulligans Restaurant at the St. George's Golf Club).

Mr. O'Connor won in the 'Activities and Attractions' category and then ultimately, 'Best of the Best'.

Speaking to us yesterday, he said: "I'm very, very proud. I was stunned when they called my name, but all the guys have been saying 'you really deserve it'."

Mr. O'Connor has a long history in the entertainment business. In the 1960s his band 'The Scavengers' were known as the Bermuda Beatles. Older readers will recall many a hot, sweaty night in the Guinea's Discothèque on Burnaby Street listening to the band. The actress Lucille Ball was one of many celebrities in the audience.

The band eventually disbanded but Mr. O'Connor re-emerged with 'The Happening BDA' who performed to sell-out crowds throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

In the late 1980s Mr. O'Connor became a boat captain and Jessie James Cruises was born - named after his mother and father.

"I used to work years ago with my dad. I always liked boats. My dad was a captain and I always loved sailing," he said.

The VIP judges didn't choose Mr. O'Connor just for running a successful, friendly business though - they liked the way he takes on and trains and inspires young people, some of whom have gone on to form their own businesses like Sunny Sullivan who now owns the parasailing company, Skyrider Bermuda.

The award means a lot to Mr. O'Connor but more than anything he hopes young people will see it as a sign that the hospitality industry is respected, that workers are acknowledged and that it is worth being a part of.

After all these years, through all the ups and downs, Jimmy O'Connor is positive that tourism is on the turn and that investment in the product is paying off.

He said: "It's not just me who feels this way; a lot of my friends in the business have had a different feeling about tourism over the past two to three years. There's more hope."

The key is selling the idea to a new generation of Bermudians.

Right now Mr. O'Connor is hoping his trainee, 17-year-old Dominic Roberts, will become his new captain. "He's such a great little guy. He to me is the future of Bermuda. He can't wait to get on the boat and tell people how proud he is as a Bermudian."