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So who's really Top Dog?

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaOur May/June 2018 Best in Travel Poll commences with some new categories and fresh tweaks. Do pop by and cast your vote in a poll where awards cannot be bought and your voice actually counts.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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The Awards Heist - just pay to be number one

The perils of being No.1

HOW DO YOU measure value in travel? It’s a question we have long asked ourselves given the vast circumference of our global audience – with puzzling anomalies like a growing readership in China for a devoutly English magazine - and varying predilections, habits, and travel patterns. Our Best in Travel Poll launched in 2005 (just for airlines) and included for fun a worst airline category that was quickly dominated by Aeroflot and Air-India (perhaps understandably) and later the very popular Malaysian Airline System (as it was then called). We soon discovered that assorted spoilsports were taking the mickey and learned the hard way to carefully filter and check the digital footprint of voters to ensure a modicum of fair play.

Needless to add, the ‘worst’ category was dropped – much to the dismay of our readers and itchy-fingered travel competitors – and the poll was expanded to include airports, hotels, and destinations. In the main we have been conservative with categories, avoiding esoteric awards like the ‘most anticipated hotel’ (yes, this is one in circulation) or the ‘best day spa on Sukhumvit Soi 15’ and the like, that set almost all hotel faces gleefully ablush and publisher pockets a-jingle. Everyone wins.

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Measuring true value is ever more fraught these days with awards routinely bought, advertisers demanding top ranking, and magazines spawning new awards and escalating the glamour and glitz to distract attention from a lack of process as well as to mulct winners who are forced to shell out vast sums for their own ‘nominations’ and award dinners where, for a brief moment, egos are gloriously stroked.

{one hotel group that had worked ceaseless to mobilise its PR firm and staff to stuff the ballot, raged in disbelief: “But it’s impossible we are not No.1!”

It has reached a point where a few winners we contacted were visibly alarmed. “Our awards budget has been spent already,” they cried out in panic. We assured them this was a simple presentation in person and not a drive-by awards hold-up. Another PR manager was adamant that it would be “an insult” to present her CEO with just a No.3 award. We imagine he had bought a sufficient number of first prizes already.

In this age of nanosecond reflex clicks, likes and follows – all as ephemeral as the blink of an eye or bumping into a faceless commuter on the way to work – the voting process is more challenging than ever. It was brought home forcefully when one unfortunate hotel group that had worked ceaseless to mobilise students and its PR agency to stuff the ballot, raged in disbelief when we announced the results: “But it’s impossible we are not No.1!”

Yet, each year in an amusing cat-and-mouse, we set out to find the best the region has to offer – in a relative sense – and see which products and brands resonate with top end travellers. We learn a great deal about their lifestyle habits and preferences. And the annual exercise provides our team a North Star of sorts for editorial aspiration.

Our international frequent flyers take 12 annual air trips on average for business and leisure and while their interests are endlessly varied, their focus, as ours, is firmly on Asia. Given the knowledge, wealth and purchasing power of this audience we have steadily modified our poll and this year have introduced two new categories – Best Luxury Hotel, Asia; and Best Wedding Hotel, Asia. These replace the ‘Best Hotel Brands’ and ‘Best Leisure Hotel” categories. The total number of award categories therefore remains the same.

As before, the poll is open to everyone worldwide. There are no nomination fees or charges. We provide a drop-down spell check menu that is by no means exhaustive and should not be confused with a nomination list. This is simply to make it easier to collate results. As always we track the emerging results for anomalies and block repeat voters and attempts to game the process. Hotels and airlines are all welcome to share the voting page link with their guests (or reach out through social media) to broaden the pool and even out the voter composition.

Something we shall greatly miss this year are the personal meetings to present awards from Manila to Mumbai, Shanghai to Singapore as we shall be sending out e-certificates to top winners who can then take advantage of the news immediately rather than wait for our sweaty cavalcade to wander by. It has been a pleasure meeting so many travel industry friends one on one and spending time with them to learn more about their excellent products and to share our reader feedback. But of course we shall link up with many in due course bearing the meatier bits once the data has been crunched.

The poll runs May and June and the results will be posted in our July issue. Now do visit the voting page and select all your favourites.

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