Travel Weekly proudly presents the winners of our 2011 Readers Choice Awards. What sets this annual competition apart is that our readers, and they alone, determine the nominees, finalists and, ultimately, winners in each category. As producers, sellers and consumers of tourism product and services, those readers are the best arbiters of taste, talent and top-notch delivery. The ninth annual Readers Choice Awards ceremony took place Dec. 15 at the Plaza Hotel in New York. (View the complete list of nominees here and a slideshow from the gala event here or by clicking on the photos. All photos by Andrei Jackamets/Andrei Jackamets Photography.)
"The Readers Choice Awards have been called both 'the gold standard' and the 'industry insiders award' by the consumer press, and for good reason," said Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann. "Our readership understands what sort of effort it takes to really impress a traveler. Not only are the travel professionals who vote avid travelers themselves, but they hear firsthand the compliments, and complaints, of millions of traveling American consumers. The companies that win Readers Choice Awards clearly represent the best of the best."
The following airlines, car rental and rail vacation companies, GDSs, hotel and resort groups, cruise lines, tour operators/wholesalers and worldwide destinations are the winners in their respective categories:
In the three airline categories, first-time winner Delta Air Lines took wing as best Domestic Airline for 2011, while transatlantic force Virgin Atlantic Airways repeated past wins by being named the No. 1 International carrier, and Pacific-based kingpin Singapore Airlines yet again was recognized for best Business/First Class product.
History repeated itself in 2011 in the Car Rental category with perennial reader favorite Hertz winning top honors in both the Car Rental: International and Car Rental: Domestic categories for the eighth and ninth years, respectively.
Best Rail Vacation
Travel Weekly introduced the Best Rail Vacation category in 2009. Rocky Mountaineer, purveyor of 45 Canadian vacation packages and four rail routes through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies, repeated its victory in the category for the third straight year.
Also first awarded in 2009 was the Best GDS category. Sabre, the leading U.S. system by market share and the oldest of the four major GDSs, also won for the third year in a row.
Best Travel Agent Educational Program
Travel Weekly introduced the Travel Agent Educational Program category in 2010. Contested by six entrants, this year from the cruise and hotel industries, the 2011 award was won by NCL University, from Norwegian Cruise Line.
Reader favorite Marriott International was named best in both the Hotel Chain: Domestic and Hotel Chain: Sales & Service categories for the eighth consecutive year.
Also tops with readers, InterContinental Hotels Group repeated its wins as Best Hotel Chain in both Asia and Europe for the fourth year running.
In both the Hotel Chain: All-Inclusive and Hotel Chain: Caribbean categories, Sandals Resorts repeated its wins for the sixth and ninth years, respectively.
In the Hotel Chain: Mexico category, Secrets won top honors for the second year running.
Another Mexico-based chain, Karisma Hotels & Resorts, took first place in the Boutique hotel category for the fourth year in a row.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide repeated wins in 2009 and 2010 by taking first prize in the Hotel Chain: Hawaii/South Pacific category.
Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts was voted best in Hotel Chain: Luxury, dislodging a prior three-time winner, while Westin Hotels & Resorts held onto best Hotel Chain: Upscale for the fourth year. In the Hotel Chain: Mid-Priced category, Hampton Inn, a Hilton brand, also won for the fourth year running.
Best Las Vegas Hotel
Given the competition both on and off the Strip, this year's winner in the Best Las Vegas Hotel category might not have been a completely sure bet, but the Bellagio Las Vegas once again proved the odds are stacked in its favor, as far as Travel Weekly readers are concerned, by claiming the top spot; the iconic casino-resort has captured the award every year since the category was introduced in 2008.
Best Resort Worldwide
Amid stiff competition from across the globe, the St. Regis Bora Bora, a Starwood resort, was voted Best Resort Worldwide out of six finalists by Travel Weekly readers for the fourth year in a row.
Two years ago, to better recognize and honor the realities of the tour operator marketplace, Travel Weekly split the Domestic tour operator category in half, creating separate categories for best Tour Operator: Domestic Escorted and best Tour Operator: Domestic Packaged.
The inaugural winner in Domestic Escorted, Tauck World Discovery, repeated its win in 2010 with top honors in the category, and it also repeated a win north of the border, in the Tour Operator: Canada category.
Gogo Worldwide Vacations won best Tour Operator: Domestic Packaged for the second consecutive year.
Travel Impressions won the Tour Operator: Sales & Service category for the seventh straight year and also took the prize in the Tour Operator: Caribbean category.
Abercrombie & Kent took home both Tour Operator: Africa and Tour Operator: Luxury for the seventh straight year, while Trafalgar demonstrated it was best Tour Operator: International for the fifth consecutive year.
Globus proved itself unbeatable in the Tour Operator: Europe category, coming in first for the seventh straight year, while also taking top honors in the Tour Operator: Asia-Pacific category.
Pleasant Holidays was yet again tops in the Tour Operator: Hawaii category, earning honors for the eighth consecutive year. South of the Rio Grande, Apple Vacations was named best Tour Operator: Mexico by Travel Weekly readers for the eighth year in a row.
Turning to the cruise industry, Royal Caribbean International garnered honors in five categories in 2011, winning the top spot in the Cruise Line: Overall; Cruise Line: Domestic; Cruise Line: Caribbean; and Sales & Service categories as well as best Cruise Ship: Rookie, for the Allure of the Seas.
Another multiple winner among cruise lines was Celebrity Cruises, which earned best Cruise Line: Europe for the second year as well as best Cruise Line: Premium for a fourth time. Celebrity also took home best Cruise Ship: Premium, thanks to repeat winning vessel the Celebrity Solstice.
Up Last Frontier way, Princess Cruises was voted best Cruise Line: Alaska -- a title it's lost only once, in 2006 -- for the eighth year. Among other competing cruise ships, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 won best Cruise Ship: Luxury, also for the eighth consecutive year. Norwegian Cruise Line placed first in the Cruise Ship: Overall Individual category, thanks to reader favorite the Norwegian Epic.
The Yachts of Seabourn won top honors in the Cruise Line: Luxury category.
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 sixth year in a row. Avalon Waterways' ship the Avalon Panorama sailed to victory in the Cruise Ship: River Cruising category.
St. Lucia proved to be the little island that could, notching its first win in the Destination: Caribbean category.
Meanwhile, Australia -- according to many industry surveys, Americans' No. 1 aspirational vacation destination -- was named best destination in the Asia/Pacific region for the eighth consecutive year. Turning to the Continent, Italy held onto the award for best Destination: Europe, also for the eighth year.
In the three-year-old Destination: Africa category, the Rainbow Nation of South Africa bested competitors Botswana, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania in the race for first place.
Among remaining destinations categories, the competition in 2011 played out very much the same as it had in previous years. Costa Rica was named the best Central/South American destination for the eighth year, and the Riviera Maya took top honors south of the border in the Destination: Mexico category, also for the eighth consecutive time.
The scenic Pacific Northwest metropolis of Vancouver, which has won the Destination: Canada category every year since 2003, once again took the top spot for 2011.
Stateside, Hawaii won in Destination: U.S. State for the eighth time in a row, and, in the intra-Aloha State race for first place, Maui came out on top among all the Hawaiian Islands, also for the eighth year.
Among American urban destinations, perennial favorite Las Vegas continued its reign as top Destination: U.S. City with a seventh consecutive win.
Mickey Mouse and Co. maintained their hold on Travel Weekly readers' hearts, with Walt Disney World Resort, which celebrated 40 years in operation in 2011, getting a birthday present in the form of another first-place Theme Park category triumph. The Orlando resort has captured first place in the category every year since the inception of the Readers Choice Awards in 2003.
Travel Weekly's Readers Choice Awards recipients, representing the best of the best in the travel industry in 59 categories, were chosen by the readers of Travel Weekly in two rounds of online voting. The open-ballot phase of the voting was conducted during the late summer and fall. Readers were invited to write in the name of any company or destination they believed best exemplified each particular category. The leading vote recipients were then identified as competition finalists, and voting on those select finalists took place through mid-November. This year's four Lifetime Achievement Award winners were chosen by the awards committee of the Travel Weekly staff.
Tourism Cares cited
This year, Travel Weekly recognized charitable organization Tourism Cares during the awards ceremony. Canton, Mass.-based Tourism Cares works to preserve the travel experience for the benefit of tomorrow's travelers, in the following ways:
- The foundation helps to save sites that are important to travelers by giving financial assistance to tourism-related natural, cultural and historical sites around the world.
- It helps to educate those who will be the future workforce of the largest industry in the world, travel. It does this by giving scholarships to those who are studying travel and tourism, mentoring those who wish to learn to be the best and fostering internships so that those interested in the travel and tourism industry can learn hands-on. Tourism Cares also educates the traveling public on how to become more responsible travelers.
- Tourism Cares brings the tourism community together to volunteer and help clean up and restore historical sites that are in need of care and rejuvenation.
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 2011 were David Collins, former president and CEO of ARC; Dick Knodt, former president and CEO of Vacation.com; Michelle Morgan, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network; and Andy Taylor, chairman and CEO of Enterprise Holdings.
Collins retired as CEO of ARC in June after 23 years in that position. He joined ARC in 1988, following a 20-year career with IATA, during which he specialized in airline/travel agency relations and helped found two IATA subsidiary companies in this field.
In more than two decades at the helm of ARC, Collins oversaw its growth from a company of 100 employees to one of more than 400, with offices and facilities in Arlington, Va.; Louisville, Ky.; Tampa; and San Juan.
Under his leadership, ARC changed from a paper-based system to an electronic system, positioning the industry to benefit from more efficient business processes and laying the foundation for the industry to harness the potential from technological advances.
More recently, Collins led the development of ARC's data warehouse, now serving ARC stakeholders from around the world with multiple years of electronically accessible transaction history, data analysis and globally contributed content. Collins holds a master's degree in economics and law from Cambridge University in England.
With nearly 40 years' experience in the travel industry, Knodt has a record of accomplishment both as an entrepreneur and senior management executive.
Founding Carefree Travel in 1971 soon after his graduation from the University of Wisconsin, he witnessed and nurtured its growth to become one of Southern California's leading retail travel organizations.
Dedicated to travel agent education, Knodt designed and developed an associate degree program at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif., and later founded the California Travel Academy, soon after acquired by Carlson Travel Network as a prototype for a nationwide chain of travel schools. During that period, he also served on the board of trustees and as vice chairman of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (now the Travel Institute).
Knodt became active within ASTA and was elected San Diego Chapter president and to the national board of directors. As a working travel agent, he testified before an administrative law judge in the Civil Aeronautics Board Competitive Marketing Investigation. This experience and growing understanding of ASTA's importance in government and consumer affairs led to his serving as executive vice president and COO of ASTA from 1982 to 1984. He returned to this position in 1992 and served until 1998.
In 1998 he was approached by an industry friend, Tony McKinnon, with the idea of forming the largest travel agency marketing organization in North America, later to become Vacation.com. As president and COO of the organization, his responsibilities included taking seven recently acquired consortia and creating one much larger, more functional organization using the best practices of each. After it was acquired by Amadeus, Knodt took on the additional responsibilities of CEO.
Knodt has served on innumerable travel supplier advisory boards and has been recognized for his leadership abilities with awards from numerous trade groups and publications.
A travel marketing executive for 33 years, Morgan joined Signature Travel Network in 1991. At that time, the company had 25 locations in Southern California and sales of $30 million. Prior to joining Signature, Michelle had been a marketing executive for Carlson Travel Network (Carlson Wagonlit Travel) for 13 years. Today, Signature's membership has grown to 350 locations in 38 U.S. states and two provinces in Canada. The company's combined sales exceed $5 billion.
Morgan celebrated 20 years with Signature on Nov. 1. As president and CEO, she maintains the day-to-day operating responsibility for the co-operative and has been instrumental in framing the organization's strategic direction.
Morgan has charted the company's course in the areas of partnership development, marketing, technology and member services programs and especially takes pride in the fact that her organization has the lowest attrition rate of any network.
When asked the secret to her success, Morgan points to what she calls one of the most talented and dedicated management teams in the industry, including key executives such as Ignacio Maza, Karen Yeates and Alex Sharpe. She believes that through their dedication and professionalism, Signature has attained and retains its stature in the industry.
Morgan has received numerous awards and recognition within the industry. She was named one of Forbes' 25 Most Influential Women in Travel, was inducted in 2011 into the CLIA Hall of Fame (for lifetime achievement) and has served as godmother of Celebrity Cruises' newest Solstice-class ship, the Silhouette.
Taylor, who became involved in the automotive business more than 40 years ago, took on the role of CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1991 and was named chairman in 2001.
Enterprise, founded in St. Louis in 1957 by his father, Jack Taylor, is now called Enterprise Holdings. The Taylor family acquired Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental in 2007, the largest acquisition in the car rental industry, which brought the company's network of neighborhood and airport locations to more than 7,800 worldwide.
Under Taylor's leadership, Enterprise Holdings today operates Alamo and National as well as its flagship Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand, leading the car rental industry with more than a third of all airport business in the U.S. and Canada. With annual revenue of $14.1 billion and more than 70,000 employees, Enterprise Holdings is the most comprehensive service provider and only investment-grade company in the car rental industry. Through its regional subsidiaries, it also owns and operates more than 1 million cars and trucks, making it the largest car rental company in the world measured by revenue, employees and fleet.
When Taylor joined Enterprise at the age of 16 in one of the original St. Louis offices, he began his career by washing cars during summer and holiday vacations and learning the business from the ground up. Taylor continued his education at the University of Denver, receiving a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1970. Following graduation, he opted to gain some initial experience outside of the family business and began working for RLM Leasing, a Ford Motor Co. affiliate in San Francisco. After three years at the company, Taylor returned to Enterprise, which at the time operated a fleet of only 5,000 cars. In 1976, he became the general manager of Enterprise Rent-A-Car's St. Louis regional operations, and in 1980, Taylor was named president and COO.
In 2009, Taylor was inducted into the U.S. Travel Association's Hall of Leaders for his leadership role in challenging excise taxes that single out car rental customers to fund unrelated projects and programs in local communities. He is one of 81 travel industry professionals who have been inducted into the Hall of Leaders since its inception in 1969.