Agent Issues 7th Annual Travel Weekly Readers' Choice Awards Winners 2009 January 18, 2010 Share 1 -- Our readers have spoken. Their votes have been tallied, the awards handed out. Travel Weekly is proud to present the winners of our 2009 Readers' Choice Awards. What sets these awards apart in the industry, and in publishing at large, is that our readers, and our readers alone, determine the nominees, the finalists and, ultimately, the winners in each category. And those readers -- as producers, sellers and consumers of travel and tourism products and services -- are, we feel, the best arbiters of taste, talent and top-notch delivery. "After the release of this year's winners, the Travel Weekly Readers' Choice Awards have been called both the 'industry insiders' award' and 'the gold standard' by the consumer press," said Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly's vice president and editor in chief. "There's no question that our readers have once again identified the elite group that's best in the industry in terms of both product and service support." The following are the winners in their respective categories: Airlines For airlines, the watchword for 2009 was survival. The carriers cut capacity and revamped their schedules to adapt to the dampened demand for air travel brought on by the recession. The airlines filled their planes by offering deep discounts and other promotions, and most reported losses throughout the year. By the end of the year, demand had started to hold steady, and airlines were starting to boost fares. But the carriers are still offering discounts in key markets as passengers continue to hunt for the lowest prices. At the Readers' Choice Awards, Southwest Airlines took top honors in the Best Domestic Airline category, while the award for Best International Airline went to Virgin Atlantic Airways. The winner in the new Best Business/First Class category went to Singapore Airlines. Accepting the award for Southwest Airlines was Marilee McInnis, public relations manager. The Dallas-based upstart unseated three-time winner American Airlines, which had won the domestic category in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, racked up its second consecutive win, and fourth win overall, in the international category. It also took the title in 2005 and 2006. Accepting was Jim Mezoff, vice president of marketing for North America. Front-cabin winner Singapore Airlines is one of a handful of carriers to offer new, private first-class suites, in addition to traditional first- and business-class cabins. Accepting the award was James Boyd, vice president of public relations for the U.S. Car Rental Perennial favorite Hertz swept the Car Rental category, taking both domestic and international honors for the seventh and sixth consecutive years, respectively. Accepting the award was Pamela Wright, division vice president of travel industry and partnership sales. Rail Vacations Travel Weekly introduced a new award category this year honoring the suppliers offering the Best Rail Vacations. Rocky Mountaineer, purveyor of 70 train vacation packages and four rail journeys through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies, was the first winner in the category. Rocky Mountaineer's Elizabeth Johnsen, director of sales, and Bob Nicholas, vice president of sales, accepted. GDS Another new award for 2009 was given to the Best GDS. The winner was Sabre, the leading U.S. system by market share and the oldest of the GDSs. The Sabre Travel Network also includes GetThere, which provides corporate travel reservation technology; the Nexion host agency; the Trams back-office system; and Trams ClientBase Marketing Services. Sabre's Gerry Moore-Murray, Eastern Division vice president, and Deirdre Copjec, Eastern Division account director, accepted the award. Best Resort Worldwide The St. Regis Bora Bora, a Starwood resort, was voted Best Resort Worldwide by our readers for the second year in a row. The property, the first St. Regis in remote French Polynesia, opened in 2006 at a cost of $1 million per bungalow. The two-bedroom, overwater units, perched on stilts over a lagoon, continue to draw waves of discriminating guests from overseas thanks to their sheer luxury, as well as the views of Bora Bora, Mount Otemanu and neighboring islands Tahaa and Raiatea. Benjamin Sinclair, director of sales and marketing at the St. Regis New York, accepted on behalf of his French Polynesian colleagues. Hotels 2009 might best be remembered as the year of great deals for hotels. With new hotels opening around the world at the very same time demand was dropping, low rates and creative packages became the norm, giving travelers a host of bargain options. Despite the many new options, it appears readers, for the most part, remain loyal to those companies that have gained solid reputations for consistency. Three hotel companies won two awards each, and several held onto their honors for the second -- or third, fourth or fifth -- year running. Marriott International was again honored by Travel Weekly readers as tops in both domestic-chain hostelry and sales and service, for the sixth consecutive year in both categories. Accepting was Julius Robinson, vice president of sales, Marriott International. For its part, InterContinental Hotels Group took home the awards for best hotel company in both Asia and Europe for the second year running. Accepting the awards were Alice McQuade, director of travel agency sales and marketing at InterContinental, and Laura Fastie, director of supplier relations at American Express. And Sandals Resorts repeated prior wins in the Best in Caribbean and Best in All Inclusive categories. This was the Jamaica-based chain's seventh consecutive win in the Caribbean and its fourth for all-inclusives. Warren Cohen, senior vice president of marketing and sales development at Sandals, accepted. South of the border, Riu Hotels & Resorts won the Best in Mexico award, unseating three-time winner Palace Resorts. Accepting was Albert Martinez, public relations manager. A Mexico-based all-inclusive chain, meanwhile, repeated the top honors it earned in the relatively new Boutique category, which was introduced in 2008. Accepting on behalf of Karisma Hotels & Resorts was Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing. Starwood Hotels & Resorts held onto the Best in Hawaii/South Pacific title, first won in 2006, that it wrested back from Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts last year. John Mannion, director of sales and marketing programs at Starwood's Luxury Collection, accepted. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts held its own, taking the top honors for Best in Luxury for the second consecutive year. The award for Best in Upscale also stayed in the same hands in 2009, going to Westin Hotels & Resorts -- again, for the second year in a row. Mannion of Westin's parent company, Starwood, returned to the podium to accept the award. Hampton Inn, a Hilton brand, hewed to the pattern, holding onto its Best in Midprice title for a second year. Best in Vegas The Bellagio Las Vegas scooped up the Best in Las Vegas honors, holding onto the title (launched in 2008 as Best Casino Hotel) for a second year. Ed Fiorovante, sales executive with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, accepted on behalf of Bellagio owner MGM Mirage. Tour Operators In 2009, tour operators had to innovate around a fast-paced, drastically changing travel climate. After Mexico business plummeted in spring following the swine flu outbreak, operators used aggressive deals and alternative destination promotions to weather the storm. In the rest of the world, they negotiated intensely with suppliers to deliver greater value and attractive pricing to travelers hesitating to book vacations. And they didn't stop there. Operators continued to offer new products and services throughout a very trying year. From new pre- and post-cruisetours to complimentary private airport transfers, tour operators stayed in the game with enticing, creative offerings. Travel Impressions, nominated in eight out of 11 tour operator categories, won Best Tour Operator, Sales & Service for the fifth straight year. Accepting the award were Steve Gorga, president and CEO; Elyse Elkin, vice president of corporate strategic products and Latin America; and John Hanratty, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. They were joined by Francesca Bonavita, executive vice president and general manager of American Express Vacations. Gogo Worldwide Vacations won in two categories: Best Domestic Tour Operator, ending Travel Impressions' three-year run; and Best in the Caribbean, unseating Apple Vacations. Michele Kish, president, accepted the awards. Another double-winner was Abercrombie & Kent, which took home both Best in Africa and Best Luxury Operator for the fifth straight year. Trafalgar Tours won Best International Tour Operator for the third consecutive year; accepting was Melanie Cole, vice president of sales for Trafalgar. For Best in Asia-Pacific, Travel Weekly readers chose Pacific Delight Tours, ending the four-year winning streak in the region for the Globus Family of Brands. Pacific Delight President Larry Kwan accepted the award. But in the Continent category, Globus hung on, winning Best in Europe for the fifth year in a row. Globus President and CEO Scott Nisbet accepted the award. Pleasant Holidays continued to prove its longevity in the Best in Hawaii category, earning top honors for the sixth consecutive year. Accepting was Amy Terada, vice president of marketing. Another tenacious winner in North American travel was Tauck World Discovery, which won Best Tour Operator, Canada for the fifth straight year. Tauck CEO Dan Mahar accepted. Apple Vacations won Best in Mexico for the sixth time consecutively. Sandy Babin, vice president of marketing, accepted. Cruise Last year was the year of the bargain for cruises, and savvy cruisers took note. By dropping prices to as low as $25 per day, the cruise lines managed to fill their ships. And while prices remained low by the end of 2009, there was some uptick in the market, and high hopes going into 2010. Royal Caribbean International garnered four honors in 2009: Best Cruise Line Overall, Best Cruise Line in the Caribbean, Best in Sales & Service and Best Cruise Ship Overall. The company has held the overall and Caribbean titles since the first Readers' Choice Awards in 2003; it first captured Sales & Service from previous titleholder Carnival Cruise Lines in 2008. Freedom of the Seas won Best Cruise Ship Overall for the second year in a row. Accepting for Royal Caribbean were Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales; Ken Muskat, vice president of sales; and Joanne Schimelman, associate vice president of national accounts. Another multiple winner was Celebrity Cruises, which not only won Best Premium Cruise Line for a second year but took home Best Rookie Cruise Ship and Best Premium Cruise Ship, as well, thanks to the new Celebrity Solstice. Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales for Celebrity, accepted the awards. Carnival Cruise Lines won best Domestic Cruise Line for the third straight year. Kirk Neal, regional vice president, Northeast, and John Migliori, business development manager, western and southern New Jersey, accepted. Holland America Line won accolades as Best Cruise Line in Europe, an honor it's held for five years running. Charlie Dunwoody, senior director of national accounts, and Christine Stevens, director of sales for the Eastern region, accepted the award for HAL. Princess Cruises took Best in Alaska, a title it's lost only once, in 2006, for the sixth year. And among cruise ships, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 won Best Luxury Cruise Ship for the sixth consecutive year. Accepting both awards were Anthony Viciana, regional sales director, and Alycia Oliphant, national accounts manager. Crystal Cruises won Best Luxury Cruise Line, unseating five-time winner Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Accepting for Crystal was Gregg Michel, president. River Cruising River cruising was for many a bright spot during a difficult year. Despite the loss of river cruise pioneer Peter Deilmann Cruises, the remaining river cruise players continued to grow their fleets with new ships in Europe in 2009. River cruise operators reported ongoing healthy growth in a blossoming segment that appears to show few, if any, signs of slowing down. At the Readers' Choice Awards, Viking River Cruises, purveyor of river cruises and cruise tours in Europe, China, Russia and Ukraine, won Best River Cruise Line for the fourth year in a row. Accepting the award was Michele Saegesser, Viking's vice president of sales. Destinations The motto in this year's competition for top spots among destinations seemed to be: Plus ca change. Despite the addition of a new Africa category and the debut of some new entrants, a near-decade-long status quo largely ruled the evening. However, three perennial winners that were ousted by upstarts in last year's competition regained their top rankings for 2009. First, Jamaica won back Best Caribbean Destination from the Dominican Republic, the surprise winner for 2008; Jamaica had held the title in 2004 and 2007. Accepting for the land of reggae, rum and relaxation were John Lynch, director of tourism and chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board, and Anthony King, the JTB's regional director of airlines and tour operators. Similarly, Sydney came back from Down Under to recapture Best Asia-Pacific City, which it lost after three years to Hong Kong in 2008. Repeating its performance last year, Australia proper also won Best Asia-Pacific Country, its sixth consecutive win. Turning to the Continent, Rome won back the title for Best European City from Barcelona, which had unseated it last year. Italy, meanwhile, held onto the award for Best European Country for the sixth year. Riccardo Strano, director of the Italian Government Tourist Board in New York, was on hand to accept both awards. In the new Best Africa Destination category, South Africa, host of the 2010 soccer World Cup, beat Botswana, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania in the race for first place. Among remaining destination categories, the competition played out as it had in previous years. Costa Rica was named Best Central or South American Destination for the sixth year, and the Riviera Maya won Best in Mexico for the sixth consecutive time. Accepting for the Riviera Maya were Javier Aranda, tourism director, and Gabriela Verduzco, director of promotions, of the Riviera Maya Tourism Bureau. Seemingly unbeatable Vancouver, which has won Best in Canada every year since 2003, once again took the top spot for 2009. Dayna Miller, director of travel trade sales for Tourism Vancouver, accepted the award on behalf of the West Coast city. Stateside, the status quo prevailed, too. Hawaii won Best U.S. State for the sixth time in a row, and, in the intra-Aloha State showdown, Maui took first place as Best in Hawaii, also for the sixth year. Terryl Vencl of the Maui Visitors Bureau accepted both awards. Las Vegas, meanwhile, continued its reign as Best U.S. City with a fifth consecutive win. Accepting the award was Art Jimenez, senior director of leisure sales at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Theme Parks The Magic Kingdom continued to cast a spell on Travel Weekly readers in 2009, with Walt Disney World winning Best Theme Park yet again. The Orlando attraction has won the category every year since the inception of the Readers' Choice Awards in 2003. Methodology Award recipients, representing the best of the best in the travel industry in 58 categories, were chosen by the readers of Travel Weekly in several rounds of online voting. The open-ballot phase of the voting was conducted during the summer of 2009. Readers were invited to write in the name of any company they believed best exemplified each particular category. The leading vote recipients were then identified as finalists, and voting on finalists took place through early November. The Lifetime Achievement Award winners were chosen by the awards committee of the Travel Weekly staff. Charitable Cause Cited This year, Travel Weekly recognized one charitable cause during the awards ceremony: Tourism Cares. Tourism Cares works to preserve historical sites and treasures through volunteerism and grants and to provide scholarships for students studying hospitality and tourism. Lifetime Achievement Awards Travel Weekly's annual Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals who, in the course of their careers in travel and tourism, consistently have demonstrated leadership and insight, effected change or innovation and made extraordinary contributions to both organizations and the industry at large. This year's honorees are: Phillip Gordon, chairman, Globus Family of Brands; Priscilla Alexander, president and founder, Protravel International; and Nina and Tim Zagat, co-founders and co-chairs, Zagat Survey. Phillip GordonA native of Australia but a longtime resident of the U.S., Phillip Gordon has spent more than 30 years of his professional life with the Globus Family of Brands, which includes Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways. In 2004, he was named president and CEO of Globus parent company Group Voyagers Inc. and in 2009 became the company's chairman. Gordon began his career in Italy as a tour director guiding American travelers. He joined GVI's Europe operations department in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1976. Four years later, he moved to New York to launch Globus and Cosmos' Visit America Program. He eventually moved into product-planning department; GVI credits his stint there with turning North America into one of the company's most successful ventures. In 1985, Gordon was named managing director of product development and operations for North America, South America and Pacific-area programs. An active member of the National Tour Association and the U.S. Travel Association, Gordon also served as COO of the Globus Family of Brands from 1998 to 2004. Priscilla Alexander Priscilla Alexander is founder and president of Protravel International, ranked No. 22 on Travel Weekly's 2009 Power List, with estimated annual sales topping half a billion dollars. Alexander, a New Jersey native, fell in love with travel while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. After returning to New York, earning a master's degree at Columbia University and working in education, real estate and other fields, Alexander switched gears and became a travel agent. She launched Protravel in 1984 as the U.S. branch of a larger operation in France, from which it split amicably six years later. In the years since, Protravel has grown to a firm with sales of more than $650 million and 22 offices employing some 700 people in both the U.S. and London. Protravel is consistently the world's top producer for Virtuoso. Protravel was the first Premium Member of ASTA as well as a member of ASTA's Corporate Advisory Council. Over the years, Alexander has served on just about every advisory board established for the retail travel industry and is recognized year after year by Travel+Leisure magazine in its A-List issue. In honor of Protravel's 25th anniversary, Alexander has launched Protravel Village, a three-year development project to create a self-sustaining community for 500 people in Rwanda. Nina and Tim Zagat Nina and Tim Zagat started their now world-famous Zagat Survey in 1979 as a hobby. They were early pioneers in what would later be called "user-generated content," in the process launching a publishing company that would eventually become a multimillion-dollar global enterprise. Their restaurant guides, as well as later hotel and cruise ship guides, were the first to rate restaurants through public opinion surveys, initially conducted on paper questionnaires and, later, online. In 2000, the Zagats, both lawyers and married since 1965, were recognized as Entrepreneurs of the Year by both Ernst & Young and Harvard Business School, and were inducted to New York University's Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2001. Nina attended Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine when she and Tim were practicing law in Paris. In 2007, she was named one of Crain's New York's 100 Most Influential Women. Tim has served in various prominent civic, cultural and charitable capacities including the boards of the Partnership for NYC and NYC & Co. Special Recognition: Nadine GodwinThis year at the Readers' Choice Awards banquet, former Editor at Large Nadine Godwin was honored for her decades of service to both travel journalism in general and Travel Weekly in particular. Godwin retired at the end of 2009, after 37 years as a reporter and editor with this publication and 40 years in travel journalism. Her remarkable career was recognized with a plaque honoring her "for 37 years of valuable contributions to Travel Weekly and the industry." Godwin joined Travel Weekly in 1972 and served in a variety of roles, including as a reporter covering retail travel and technology and as the editor overseeing destination coverage. She became managing editor in 1992. In January 1996, she began an 18-month stint in London as editor in chief of Travel Weekly U.K. She returned to New York as Travel Weekly's editor in chief in 1997. Since stepping down as editor in chief in 2001, she has served as editor at large, focusing on travel retailers and technology. Godwin is also the author of two books, "The Complete Guide to Travel Agency Automation" and "Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia."