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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Clicks come a clattering

Our 2013 Best In Travel Poll gets underway as peripatetics peer at their screens and enlist the services of Mighty Mouse.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Which will be the top Asian travel brands?
Which will be the top Asian travel brands?

ONCE again, from May to July our readers come in to vote and demonstrate the power of Mighty Mouse, at one click deposing online Photoshop flimflam and elevating shy unknowns. This may be a small exaggeration we'll admit, as big brands with their Titanic-like forward momentum gained during the heyday of print, tend to earn some easy points resting on past laurels. Online plaudits are diminishing though as surfers encounter a plethora of family inns, boutique beds and quirky digs at sane prices that ease the pain when the pilliwinks tighten in consumer pockets. On the level playing field that is the internet, big brands have as much say as their boisterous neighbours or, often, less.

The secret of the lowly budget brand is both the unadorned sales pitch based on price – with the promise of free WiFi, a simple service that haute hammocks find so hard to emulate – and an army of indefatigable young travellers armed with the latest mobile phones and a Foursquare, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit or Facebook account. Every tweet and burble amplifies in cyberspace and it is here that brand battles are won and lost. Not in print.

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Some of the finest magazines and newspapers in Asia languish in hotel rooms (where they are distributed in bulk) as no one is prepared to pay money for them any more. Lifestyles have changed. This hotel-saturated distribution is resoundingly dormant. Travellers have no time to read magazines in their rooms and if they did, they would prefer to read in their native language. Would you pore over the decline of the Russian rouble in your room, alone, or head for a Singha beer at the local bar? Large and glossy hernia-popping magazines do have their uses. They can be dropped from a height, a hotel penthouse perhaps, to land with a satisfying thunk on thuggish tip-me-tip-me doormen below.

Each year we try to gauge how readers narrow brand preferences from such a vast and febrile universe. As old-fashioned contrarians, we do not demand nomination fees...

Each year we try to gauge how readers narrow their preferences from such a vast and febrile universe. We do not run nomination campaigns or fleece participants with the offer of short-listing their names for a fee. We do offer dropdown menus on our poll but this serves simply to help as a spelling check at a time when hotels change names like underwear. Voters may scribble in any brand they choose so long as it is relevant.

The takeaway each year from our BEST IN TRAVEL Poll is always the same. A vote is based on three things: 1) personal experience of a product, 2) feedback from friends, and 3) visibility.

There is fairly equal weighting between these factors. This is to say that around 33 percent of the decision to vote for the Insane Purple Phallic Hotel is based on an actual stay, 33 percent on peer prattle and 33 percent on brand visibility. Of course, these proportions will always vary. Interestingly, in the case of an "aspirational" luxury brand the actual stay may account for a mere fraction of the voting decision. What this means is, high-end hotels need to be far more visible in the online space that travellers inhabit to make up for the stay deficit. And not just on Trip Adviser and sales and booking channels. They need to be seen in the brand space. Many larger brands are catching on and catching up and going head to head with bratty boutiques.

Some hotels gain high ratings based largely or wholly on performance in the last two categories – feedback and visibility. While losers cavil at this “injustice” the facts are plain. To gain a sense of any brand, one must obtain a complete picture and this involves a range of references from numerous sources.

It is an odd situation when Gulliver becomes Lilliputian and vice versa. But this is what we are faced with in the arcane static-encrypted vastness of Cyberia. Here it is the little things that count. Quite literally.

Time will even things out. In the meanwhile what is clear is that travellers are increasingly seeking classic over chi-chi, small scale over super-size, and human over hi-tech. This is not to say that technology always scares people away. But technology devoid of any human element makes for a barren and frustrating experience as some modern confections are discovering. People make a product. Hospitality is about people. Remember “hospitality”? In the online age this is oft forgotten as hotels hide behind the manufactured sheen of their generic sites and general managers lurk in unaccountable anonymity. This where Mighty Mouse comes in.

Will our 2013 poll be any different? It remains to be seen. Do vote and bring your friends. Pick big, small, expensive, economical, daring or dull. There are many great choices out there. Tell us what you think. We offer no reward for your participation, no wet t-shirt jungle romp with Angelina Jolie, no state-of-the-art Audi Quattro, and no passport covers. You get the simple inalienable satisfaction of registering your voice with a few quick clicks.

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