Travel Weekly's Readers Choice Awards for 2013 is mostly a round up the usual suspects, with hardly any surprises. Travel Weekly is a leading publication for travel agents and industry suppliers, and almost 9,000 of its readers selected winners in 62 different categories. Among the highlights:
Domestic Airline: This one—first out of the box—surprises me. Delta is a generic giant legacy airline. Its business-class product—presumably an important consideration to the industry—may well be tops in the U.S., but its coach class is the usual low-end product. Delta falls behind American and United in its terrible record for frequent-flyer seat availability. From a consumer prospective, JetBlue offers a far better coach-class product, Virgin America consistently earns higher traveler opinion scores, and Alaska seems to operate a sharper legacy-style operation.
Other Airlines: International winners are Virgin Atlantic, overall, and Emirates for business/first class, both perennial winners that track with most other ratings. But rankings for both lines are obviously based mainly on outstanding business-class service: Virgin's economy product is generic, and Emirates' economy, at least in 777s, is below average, with ultra-tight 10-across seating.
Hotel Chains: Travel Weekly's winners seem like a compendium of the largely upscale brands you expect: Marriott for domestic; Starwood for Asia and Hawaii/South Pacific; Sandals for the Caribbean; InterContinental for Europe; Dreams Resorts for Mexico; Sandals for all-inclusive; Ritz-Carlton for luxury; Westin (Starwood) for upscale; Hampton Inn (Hilton) for mid-priced; Karisma for boutique; and Starwood again for "overall hotel group." Other hotel winners include Bellagio as best in Las Vegas and St. Regis Bora Bora as world's best resort. There are no surprises here, except to see no mention of budget chains—there weren;t even any nominations for that category.
Car Rental: Hertz wins both domestic and international nods. So, what else is new?
Rail Vacation: Rocky Mountaineer—it's a credible choice for North Americans, but it's all scenery, with overnight accommodations in motels. Non-winners Orient Express, South Africa's Blue Train, and the several luxury rail cruises in India provide far more inclusive rail vacations with vintage sleepers and elegant dining car meals.
Cruiselines: Royal Caribbean for domestic, Caribbean, and overall; Princess for Alaska and itinerary designs; Celebrity for Europe and premium; Seabourn for luxury and ships under 1,000 passengers; and Viking for river cruises. Among individual ships, winners are Celebrity Reflection for premium, Queen Mary 2 for luxury, Norwegian Breakaway as the top rookie, S.S. Antoinette for river cruising, and Allure of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) as best overall. Nothing here seems off the mark.
Tour Operators: Gogo for domestic packaged, Tauck for domestic escorted and Canada; Globus for international, Asia/Pacific, and Europe; Abercrombie & Kent for Africa; Travel Impressions for Caribbean; Pleasant Holidays for Hawaii; and Apple Vacations for Mexico. Again, you see nothing unexpected here; the winners are generally among the largest specialists in their various areas. In some ways, however, this might be the most useful result for ordinary consumers, who rarely see any other useful ratings of tour operators
Destinations: South Africa for Africa, Tahiti for Asia/Pacific; Vancouver for Canada, St. Lucia for Caribbean, Costa Rica for Central/South America, England for Europe, Maui for Hawaii, Riviera Maya for Mexico, Hawaii for U.S. state, Las Vegas for U.S. city, and Walt Disney World for theme park. How's that for a list with absolutely no surprises and absolutely no imagination?
In reading these awards, you have to keep in mind than most of the votes come from travel agents and almost none from individual consumers. As such, the ratings probably reflect how well these suppliers treat agents at least as much as how well they might satisfy you, as a traveler. Read them with that frame of reference.