Every year, a handful of lists are published naming a number of top travel specialists by either destination or specialty. Getting named to one of the lists is not only something most agents consider an honor, it is a designation that also becomes a useful marketing tool for them, an acknowledgement that helps further establish their credibility as sellers of travel.

While the lists are not limited to just those who identify as travel agents or advisers -- tour operators, destination management companies and even some other business models appear on each -- agents do make up a healthy portion of the lists.

"I think it's just a sort of badge of honor for people to be recognized for the work that they do," said Paul Brady, senior editor at Conde Nast Traveler, which publishes an annual list of travel specialists.

Jim Augerinos, president of Perfect Honeymoons, agreed. This year, he was named to Travel + Leisure's A-List, the 15th year it has been published. The A-List features 137 travel specialists, and Augerinos won a spot based on his expertise in honeymoons as well as his adeptness in working with millennials, according to the list citation.

He said that being on the list made him feel like he had an advanced degree in travel.

"I kind of look at it as a little bit of a badge of honor, validating all the years I've spent planning honeymoons," he said. "In looking at the other agents on there, a lot of them that I know I really respect, and I know that they're the best in the business. So to me, it was more of a 'wow! I feel very lucky to be in this group of people' type of thing."

Paul Brady
Paul Brady

The lists are carefully vetted by their publishers.

Brady starts curating Conde Nast Traveler's list toward the end of each summer by sending detailed questionnaires to potential specialists, asking about their business model, what they've done to help their clients and client recommendations.

"Along with some reporting help, I and other reporters will go through all of that information, verify it, do follow-up questions, interview the clients, take a look around and see what kind of stuff these people have been able to pull off," Brady said. "Then there's the process of figuring out who's the best of the best, and that's who we're trying to put in the magazine every year."

Finding the specialists -- and there are 164 in Conde Nast Traveler's list this year -- is a good amount of work, he allowed, but it's necessary in order to find the right specialists to feature.

"There's a million great stories that these people have, and I think what we're trying to do is put readers in touch with the right folks who can take their trip from good to extraordinary," Brady said.

Wendy Perrin, founder of WendyPerrin.com, was formerly responsible for assembling Conde Nast Traveler's list (the idea originated years ago when she suggested publishing her Rolodex of contacts after receiving multiple requests for specialists from travelers. It was originally known as Wendy's List). Today, Perrin publishes the Wow List on her website. The list is updated throughout each year and features a variety of specialists.

Perrin goes a step beyond vetting specialists to place on her list by actually putting potentials to the test: Before anyone new makes it onto the list, she sends traveler inquiries their way so they can plan and book their trips. They will only make the list if they receive enough positive reviews.

Wendy Perrin
Wendy Perrin

"The proof is in the pudding," Perrin said. "The proof is in how good are the trips, really: When travelers come back, how do they review the trip-planner's services?"

Once specialists have been named to a list, they frequently use the designation -- usually in the form of a small graphic with the list's name and the year -- in their email signatures, on their websites or in other forms of marketing. Augerinos, for example, uses it in email and on the web.

He said the designation lends credibility to the specialists named, both with suppliers who might not have known them before and with clients.

"I just think that having that recognition," he said, "that validates me even more to my clients."


JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI