Readers' Choice gala honors best of the best

The night, in pictures

Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the event, and here for a video.

Travel Weekly is proud to present the winners of our 2010 Readers' Choice Awards. What sets this annual competition apart from -- well, the competition -- is that it is our readers, and our readers alone, who determine the nominees, the finalists and, ultimately, the winners in each category. And as producers, sellers and consumers of tourism product and services, those readers are, we feel, the best arbiters of not only taste but talent and top-notch delivery.

"These awards identify the industry's finest," said Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly's vice president and editor in chief. "The professionals who read and rely on Travel Weekly have the expertise to select those businesses, destinations and hotels that provide a higher level of service to their clients. Our readers can be confident that these winners represent the best this industry has to offer."

The following are the winners in their respective categories:

Airline

In three airline categories, 2010 shaped up to be a repeat of the previous year, with Southwest Airlines nabbing the top spot in the Domestic Airline category, Virgin Atlantic named the No. 1 International carrier and Singapore Airlines recognized for best Business/First Class product.

Car Rental

Perennial favorite Hertz made another clean sweep in Car Rentals, winning top honors in both the Domestic and International categories for the eighth and seventh years, respectively.

Best Rail Vacation

Travel Weekly introduced the Best Rail Vacation category in 2009. Inaugural winner Rocky Mountaineer, purveyor of 70 train vacation packages and four rail journeys through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies, repeated its win in the category in 2010.

Best GDS

Also first awarded in 2009 was the best GDS category. Inaugural winner Sabre, the leading U.S. system by market share and the oldest of the GDSs, also repeated its win in 2010.

Best Travel Agent Educational Program
A new category in 2010, the Travel Agent Educational Program title -- contested by six entrants from the cruise, hotel and tour operator industries -- was won by hotelier Marriott International, for its Marriott Excellence! retailer training initiative.

Hotel Chain

Marriott International was named best in both Hotel Chain: Domestic and the Hotel Chain: Sales & Service category for the seventh consecutive year, in both categories. Meanwhile, InterContinental Hotels Group repeated its wins as best chain in both Asia and Europe for the third year running. It was also deja vu in the Hotel Chain: All-Inclusive and Hotel Chain: Caribbean categories, where Sandals Resorts repeated prior wins, for the fifth and eighth years, respectively.

South of the Rio Grande, Secrets dislodged 2009 winner Riu from the top spot in the Hotel Chain: Mexico competition.

Another Mexican chain, Karisma Hotels & Resorts, hung on to top honors in the Boutique hotel category, for the third year in a row.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide won accolades from Travel Weekly readers as best in the Hotel Chain: Hawaii/South Pacific category, for the second year running.

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts was voted best in Hotel Chain: Luxury for the third year, as was Westin Hotels & Resorts in the Hotel Chain: Upscale category. In the Hotel Chain: Mid-Level category, Hampton Inn, a Hilton brand, also won for the third year running.

Best Las Vegas Hotel

The French axiom plus ca change held true in the Best Las Vegas Hotel category, where the Bellagio Las Vegas claimed the top spot, an honor it's held since the category was introduced in 2008.

Best Resort Worldwide
The St. Regis Bora Bora, a Starwood resort, was voted Best Resort Worldwide by our readers for the third 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.

Tour Operator

This year, Travel Weekly divided the Domestic tour operator category in two, creating categories for best Tour Operator: Domestic Escorted and best Tour Operator: Domestic Packaged. The inaugural winner in Domestic Escorted was Tauck World Discovery, which also won the Tour Operator: Canada title. Gogo Worldwide Vacations, last year's overall Tour Operator: Domestic winner, held onto its title by winning the new Tour Operator: Domestic Packaged category. The company also won in the Tour Operator: Caribbean category, for the second consecutive year.

Travel Impressions, nominated in seven out of 12 tour operator categories, won the Tour Operator: Sales & Service category for the sixth straight year.

Double-winner Abercrombie & Kent took home both Tour Operator: Africa and Tour Operator: Luxury for the sixth straight year, while Trafalgar Tours won Tour Operator: International for the fourth consecutive year.

For top Tour Operator: Asia-Pacific, Travel Weekly readers chose Pacific Delight Tours, for the second year in a row.

Turning to the Continent, Globus proved itself unbeatable yet again, winning Tour Operator: Europe for the sixth straight year.

Pleasant Holidays was once again tops in the Tour Operator: Hawaii category, earning honors for the seventh consecutive year. Apple Vacations won best Tour Operator: Mexico for the seventh consecutive time.

Cruise

Royal Caribbean International garnered six honors in 2010, winning the top spot in the Cruise Line: Overall; Cruise Line: Domestic; Cruise Line: Caribbean; Sales & Service; Cruise Ship: Rookie; and Cruise Ship: Overall Individual categories. 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. In addition to winning best Rookie Ship, Royal Caribbean's new Oasis of the Seas knocked sister ship Freedom of the Seas off the Cruise Ship: Overall Individual pedestal after a two-year stint at the top.

Another multiple winner was Celebrity Cruises, which not only captured best Cruise Line: Europe from reigning titleholder Holland America Line but won best Cruise Line: Premium for a third year and took home best Cruise Ship: Premium, as well, thanks to repeat winner the Celebrity Solstice.

Princess Cruises was voted best Cruise Line: Alaska -- a title it's lost only once, in 2006 -- for the seventh year. And among competing cruise ships, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 won best Cruise Ship: Luxury, also for the seventh consecutive year.

Crystal Cruises won the top accolade in the Cruise Line: Luxury category for the second consecutive year.

Viking River Cruises, purveyor of river cruises and cruise tours in Europe, China, Russia and Ukraine, won in the Cruise Line: River Cruising category for the fifth year in a row. Meanwhile, Avalon Waterways' ship the Avalon Scenery snagged top honors in the Cruise Ship: River Cruising category.

Destination

Jamaica held onto the top spot in the Destination: Caribbean category that it had grabbed back from the Dominican Republic in 2009.

Down Asia-Pacific way, Australia was named best destination in the region for the seventh consecutive year. Turning to the Continent, Italy held onto the award for best Destination: Europe for the seventh year.

In the two-year-old Destination: Africa category, South Africa, host of 2010's soccer World Cup, once again bested Botswana, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania in the race for first place in 2010.

Among remaining destination categories, the competition played out very much the same as it had in previous years. Costa Rica was named the best Central/South American destination for the seventh year, and the Riviera Maya won top honors in the Destination: Mexico category, also for the seventh consecutive time.

Vancouver, which has won the Destination: Canada category every year since 2003, once again took the top spot for 2010.

Stateside, the status quo prevailed, too. Hawaii won in Destination: U.S. State for the seventh time in a row, and, in the intra-Aloha State showdown, Maui took first place in Hawaii, also for the seventh year. Las Vegas continued its reign as top Destination: U.S. City with a sixth consecutive win.

Theme Park

Despite the record-breaking hullabaloo Harry Potter brewed up over at Universal Orlando resort in 2010, Mickey Mouse held onto Travel Weekly readers' hearts in 2010, with Walt Disney World winning the Theme Park category yet again. The Orlando attraction has ruled 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 59 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 2010. 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. The honorees for 2010 were Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.; Jimmy Murphy, chairman of Ama Waterways; Nancy Strong, CEO of Strong Travel Services; and Kay Urban, president and CEO of Amadeus Americas.

Richard Fain

Richard Fain, who first joined Royal Caribbean in 1979 as an outside director on the company's board of directors, has served as the cruise line's chairman and CEO since 1988.

Prior to joining Royal Caribbean, Fain spent 13 years as treasurer, CFO and joint managing director of the Gotaas-Larsen Shipping Corp., a London-based owner and operator of cargo ships.

Fain is a former chair of CLIA, the Miami Business Forum and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In 2004, he received the Ultimate CEO Award from the South Florida Business Journal and was inducted into the South Florida Business Hall of Fame in October 2004. He has also served as chair of the Pow Wow Host Committee in Miami.

Fain has been internationally recognized, as well, having been named to the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (French Legion of Honor), and named commander, first class, of the Order of the Lion by Finland. He and his wife, Colleen, have four children and reside in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Jimmy Murphy

Born and educated in Ireland, Jimmy Murphy spent nine years with a retail travel agency in Dublin before moving to the U.S. He then served as a sales executive with Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus for 11 years. In 1969, Murphy was one of the founders of Brendan Tours, which he sold in 2007.

Murphy served as national treasurer of ASTA for four years and was founding president of the USTOA. In 2002, along with Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, he founded river cruising company Ama Waterways.

Nancy Strong

Nancy Strong is a name that has become synonymous with excellence in luxury travel. With more than 35 years of experience in travel, she has been recognized by ASTA as Travel Agent of the Year. Strong persistently looks forward to serving each client with her knowledge of travel and tourism, while continuing to expand her presence within the industry.

Married for more than 50 years and the mother of five boys, Strong has diligently applied herself to attaining a professionalism and depth of knowledge that has been recognized by the industry as exceptional. This is witnessed by the fact that she has been asked to serve on over 20 industry advisory boards such as Travel + Leisure magazine, Ritz-Carlton, Starwood St. Regis Luxury Hotels and Abercrombie & Kent.

Strong Travel Services is a long-time Virtuoso member agency and member of ASTA. It is listed as A List and Super Agent by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Kay Urban
With more than 30 years of experience in travel, Kay Urban directs Amadeus' efforts in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Her responsibilities include sales and marketing, commercial operations, strategic planning, business development, and customer training and support for Amadeus' travel agency, travel supplier and specialty customers in the Americas.

Prior to her current role, Urban served as executive vice president and COO for the company. In 2001 and 2002, Urban held dual roles, also serving as director of global customer support for Amadeus Worldwide, leveraging her global perspective and expertise across the company and sharing her time between corporate offices in Miami and Nice, France. Urban has also served as vice president of customer support and operations, where she was responsible for all activities that "touch" the Amadeus customer and initiated many leading-edge customer services, such as online learning and support tools.

Urban began her travel industry career in 1977 as a reservations agent for Eastern Airlines. She was on the ground floor of travel distribution when in 1982 she joined Industry Automation, which subsequently became System One. Beginning in 1986 at System One, Urban held positions in strategic planning and customer support. She subsequently advanced through several key executive management positions of increasing scope and responsibility, through System One's acquisition by Amadeus in 1997.

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