Travel Weekly honors 2013 Readers Choice Awards winners

2013 Readers Choice Awards gala ceremonyTravel Weekly is proud to present the winners of our 2013 Readers Choice Awards.

What sets this annual competition apart is that it is our readers, and our readers alone, who determine the nominees, the finalists and, ultimately, the winners in each category. A record number of industry voters, just under 9,000, participated in the process this year.

"Among our readers are travel counselors, industry marketing executives and the CEOs of the world's largest travel companies, a group uniquely qualified to evaluate a very crowded field of potential nominees," said Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly's editor in chief.

Winners were selected in 62 categories in the airline, car, hospitality, rail, GDS, agent education, tour, cruise, destination and theme park sectors. (View the complete list of nominees here and a slideshow from the gala event here or by clicking on the photos.) 

"More than 1 billion people will cross international borders this year, and many times that number will travel domestically," Weissmann said. "Somebody has to counsel, transport, entertain, enlighten and house all these travelers, and the Readers Choice Awards winners are the very best at doing just that."

Among the memorable moments: Delta CEO Richard Anderson, who was present, stayed at his seat but sent employees, including flight attendants, pilots, operations managers and customer service and sales reps, on stage to accept the carrier's award in the Domestic Airline category. But when Virgin Atlantic won in the International Airline category, he took the stage with Chris Rossi, Virgin Atlantic Airways' senior vice president for North America, a reminder that Delta owns 49% of that airline.

The following are the winners in their respective categories:

Airlines

Bob and Arnie with Norwegian Cruise Lines executives.For the third year in a row, Delta Air Lines was awarded best Domestic Airline, while Virgin Atlantic took the title in the International carrier category for the sixth year in a row. Emirates Airlines won the Business/First Class category for the second time.

Car Rental

Hertz continued to dominate the category, making yet another clean sweep, with top honors in both the Domestic and International categories for the 10th and 11th years, respectively.

Best Rail Vacation

Rocky Mountaineer repeated its victory in the Best Rail category for the fifth straight year with its vacation packages on four rail routes through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

Best GDS

Sabre, the leading U.S. system by market share and the oldest of the four major GDSs, took the category for the fifth year running.

Best Travel Agent Educational Program

Princess Cruises' OneSource Academy took the title in this category for the first time, besting the winner from the last two years, Norwegian Cruise Line's NCL University.

Hotel Chain

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide won the award for Top Overall Hotel Group, a new Readers Choice Award category introduced this year.

Marriott International took the title in both the Hotel Chain: Domestic and Hotel Chain: Sales & Service categories for the 10th consecutive year.

Bruce Shulman with reps from VIP Vacations.Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide took the Asia crown from InterContinental Hotels Group, which had held the title for five years. However, InterContinental stayed on top in Europe, for the sixth time in a row.

Sandals Resorts took both the Hotel Chain: All-Inclusive and Hotel Chain: Caribbean categories, for the eighth and 11th years, respectively.

In the Hotel Chain: Mexico category, Dreams Resorts & Spas held onto its title for a second consecutive year, while Mexico-based chain Karisma Hotels & Resorts took first place in the Boutique hotel category for the sixth year in a row.

For the fifth year in a row, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide took the top prize in the Hotel Chain: Hawaii/South Pacific category.

There were no surprises on upper end, where Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts was voted best in Hotel Chain: Luxury for the third year in a row, and Westin Hotels & Resorts took honors for best Hotel Chain: Upscale for the sixth straight year.

Hampton Inn also maintained its dominance of the Hotel Chain: Mid-Priced category, winning the honor for the sixth straight year.

Best Las Vegas Hotel

Readers love a classic, with fan favorite Bellagio Las Vegas taking the crown for the sixth year in a row, or every year since the category was introduced in 2008.

Best Resort Worldwide

The St. Regis Bora Bora, a Starwood resort, was voted Best Resort Worldwide by readers for the sixth straight year. The property, the first St. Regis in remote French Polynesia, opened in 2006 at a cost of $1 million per bungalow.

Tour Operator

Tauck World Discovery took top honors in the Domestic Escorted category and Gogo Worldwide Vacations won the Domestic Packaged category, both for the fourth straight year, or ever since Travel Weekly split the Domestic tour operator category in two, creating Escorted and Packaged categories.

Tauck also claimed its fourth title in the Tour Operator: Canada category.

Apple Leisure Group representativesTravel Impressions took the Tour Operator: Sales & Service category for the ninth straight year, and also notched the top spot in the Tour Operator: Caribbean category again.

Globus took the top spot for best Tour Operator: International for the second year in a row, and also held onto the No. 1 slot in the Tour Operator: Asia-Pacific category. The company also took back the Tour Operator: Europe title from Trafalgar, which nabbed it from Globus in 2012, ending Globus' seven-year run.

Abercrombie & Kent won again in both Tour Operator: Africa and Tour Operator: Luxury for the ninth straight year.

For the 10th year in a row, Pleasant Holidays was tops in the Tour Operator: Hawaii category, while Apple Vacations held onto the Tour Operator: Mexico prize, also for the 10th year running.

Cruise

Royal Caribbean International took top honors in five categories this year, dominating the cruise category; sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises nabbed three of its own.

Royal Caribbean took the titles once again for Cruise Line: Overall; Cruise Line: Domestic; Cruise Line: Caribbean; and Sales & Service. With its 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International took the top spot in the Cruise Ship: Overall Individual category, a category the Norwegian Epic held for two straight years. Royal Caribbean has held the Overall and Caribbean crowns since the first Readers Choice Awards in 2003 and has held the Sales & Service title every year since 2008.

Princess and Cunard Line execsCelebrity picked up honors for the best Cruise Line: Premium for the sixth year in a row, and best Cruise Line: Europe for the fourth straight year. It also nabbed Cruise Ship: Premium honors with the Celebrity Reflection, taking that category for the fourth straight year.

Princess Cruises was once again voted best Cruise Line: Alaska, a title it's lost only once, in 2006. The cruise line also became the first winner of a new category, Cruise Line: Itinerary Designs.

Princess' sister company Cunard Line won Cruise Ship: Luxury with the Queen Mary 2, for the 10th consecutive year.

For the third year in a row, Seabourn took top honors in the Cruise Line: Luxury category. The small-ship line also took the top spot in another category that debuted this year, Cruise Line: Under 1,000.

Norwegian Cruise Line took the top prize in the Cruise Ship: Rookie category for the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, which debuted with a New York-themed hull painted by Peter Max.

Viking River Cruises execsViking River Cruises won the Cruise Line: River Cruising category for the eighth year in a row, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's ship the S.S. Antoinette was victorious in the best Cruise Ship: River Cruising category, for the second year in a row.

Tahiti bested Australia for best destination in the Asia/Pacific region, snapping Oz's nine-year winning streak.

Destinations

England, in its Summer Olympic rebound year, managed to hold onto the Destination: Europe title for the second year in a row.
In the Caribbean, St. Lucia took top honors for the Destination: Caribbean category for the third year in a row.

There were no surprises in the Central/South American category, where Costa Rica nabbed top honors for the ninth year, or in Africa, where South Africa held onto the top prize, which it has never lost since the category was introduced in 2008.

Riviera Maya won once again in the Destination: Mexico category for the 10th consecutive time, and Canada's Pacific coast city Vancouver won the Destination: Canada category again, as it has every year since 2003.

Here at home, Hawaii won the Destination: U.S. State category for the 10th time in a row, while Maui took the top honor among the Hawaiian Islands, also for the 10th year running.

Perennial favorite Las Vegas kept the crown in the Destination: U.S. City category, with its ninth consecutive award.

Theme Park

Walt Disney World took the Theme Park crown yet again: The Orlando resort has held the title every year since the inception of the Readers Choice Awards in 2003.

Methodology

Travel Weekly's Readers Choice Awards recipients, representing the best of the best in the travel industry in 62 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, during which readers were invited to write in the name of any company or destination they believed best exemplified a particular category.

The leading vote recipients were then identified as competition finalists, and voting on those select finalists took place through early November. The two Lifetime Achievement Award winners were chosen by the awards committee of the Travel Weekly staff.

Lifetime Achievements

Travel Weekly presented two Lifetime Achievement Award winners. This award pays tribute to individuals whose efforts have led to extraordinary results within an organization and who have also made significant contributions to the industry as a whole.

Lifetime Achievement Award winners Rossi Ralenkotter and Richard AndersonThis year, the recipients were:

  • Richard Anderson, CEO, Delta Air Lines
  • Rossi Ralenkotter, President and CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

Richard Anderson

Anderson has served as CEO of Delta since 2007. He is also a member of its board of directors.

His initiatives, often described as irreverent and revolutionary, have produced a new vision of what a modern carrier can be. Under his leadership, Delta has reduced its debt while strengthening revenues, profoundly affecting how analysts look at U.S.-based legacy carriers.

Under Anderson, Delta has extended its reach through partnerships including transatlantic joint ventures with Air France-KLM and Alitalia, equity-based partnerships with Virgin Atlantic, Gol and Aeromexico, and preferred codeshare agreements with China Southern, China Eastern and the Alaska Airlines Group.

Anderson has more than 25 years of aviation experience. He began with Continental Airlines in 1987, and moved to Northwest Airlines, where he was CEO from 2001 to 2004.

He took a three-year break from aviation to join United Health Group but came back to take the helm at Delta in September 2007.

He currently serves as chairman of IATA's board of governors and recently served as chairman of Airlines for America's board of directors.

A native of Galveston, Texas, Richard holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston -- Clear Lake and a doctorate in law from the South Texas College of Law.

Rossi Ralenkotter

As president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Ralenkotter is responsible for marketing one of the world's most famous and visited cities.

Ralenkotter's 38-year tenure at the LVCVA oversaw the launch of "Vegas Stories," best known for the "What happens here, stays here" taglines, and one of the most successful branding campaigns in tourism history.

Under Ralenkotter, Las Vegas is the world's trade show capital, hosting 45 of the largest 200 trade shows.

He began his career at the LVCVA as a research analyst, climbing the ranks to CEO in 2004.

Before joining the LVCVA, Ralenkotter worked for a local telephone company.

He is a member of ASTA, Destination Marketing Association International, the American Society of Association Executives and the Hotel Sales Marketing Association.

Ralenkotter was appointed to the travel and tourism advisory board for the U.S. Department of Commerce and currently serves as chair of the board.

He earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from Arizona State University and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and served as a first lieutenant in the Air Force.

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