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It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world: now help us make sense of it all

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaAfter a three-year gap, our Best in Travel Poll returns to gauge reader preferences and offer us fresh story ideas. Here's your chance to select your favourites and share a little bit about your travel habits. Don't forget to vote.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Trying to define a perfect holiday

What makes a fine holiday destination? It's different strokes for different folks. Clearly one man's misery is another man's delight / illustration by the brilliant Brazilian artist, Tiago Hoisel

DURING the three-year travel shutdown, our annual BEST IN TRAVEL POLLs had to be shelved too. Our last award — Best of the Decade 2010-2019 — was announced in 2020. When travellers started gingerly returning and airlines took to the air, we still held off on this exercise. Travel has been fragile, nervous, and erratic. Airlines, hotels and airports remain grievously understaffed and readers complain service standards have slipped, even at top drawer hotels.

Now as 2023 rolls along — with Hong Kong and China open — and travel humming across Asia we felt the time right to check the pulse of our readers. And so we are delighted to launch our BEST IN TRAVEL Poll 2023 that coincides with our 20th anniversary year. This reader poll runs through the month of September and winners will be announced in a subsequent issue. We exercise editorial oversight to track anomalies. And, to prevent tunnel carpal syndrome, we penalise repetetive clickers.

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Votes by definition are a slippery business. Our readers — business travellers, families, conventioneers, adventurers, the wedding-bound and honeymooners — are essentially frequent flyers (or will be again very soon). They are high spenders but they will meticulously research options. They are keenly aware that knowledge is all that separates first class travellers from first class idiots. It is a sound audience to listen to.

Amidst the online click-storm we try to fill that trusted research space, where hotel and airline brands are rapidly fading as rates and booking are relentlessly thrust forward on websites and apps. While much has changed post pandemic, what hasn't changed is the fact that something needs to strike your fancy before you start checking on price. You date someone before marrying them. The cheapest date may not be the best. But it could be. And high price is not a guarantor of quality. This is why brand personality is so important. And this is our editorial remit.

{You date someone before marrying them. The cheapest date may not be the best. But it could be. And high price is not a guarantor of quality...

I have stayed at humble hotels where the service was so good and the room décor so appealing I would rank them up there with a luxury product. And I have stayed at expensive hotels where I wanted to jump out of the window after the first hour.

I have seen magnificent breakfast buffets shrink to meagre rations shortly after a grand opening and I have wrestled with lighting controls in posh rooms. This is not a unique recounting. Many travellers have experienced the quirky, if predictable, results of cost-cutting, owner whimsy, poor design, and staff disinterest. Now, in 2023, who are the last of the Mohicans and who might be the new standard bearers?  

We hope you will offer us some useful indications.

Our poll format remains largely unchanged with a drop-down menu (essentially a spelling prompt to avoid errant entries). If a particular choice is unavailable, voters may key in their preference in any field. This menu does not represent a finite voting universe or a nomination list. This magazine does not seek nominations. But we do believe that brand visibility is the key to sparking curiosity and interest.

When Smart Travel Asia first launched a reader award we visited most of our top winners and presented to them in person. It was an energising experience. We visited cities as far afield as Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Phuket, Macau, Seoul, Tokyo, Manila, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, and New Delhi — and remote islands too. We got drenched, we sweated, we hunted for clean toilets, and we dodged traffic. But it became clear that fickle airline timetables and typhoons were slowing our progress. It was unfair to keep winners waiting.

To speed things up, we started sending out the Award Certificates by email and encouraged winners to print and frame these before sending us a nice group photograph for our winners' album. Some shy sorts sent us only pictures of an exquisitely framed certificate. Other bolder recipients printed out the A4-size award in an extra-large format that dwarfed the posers.

Based all over the world, our readers are our best ambassadors and reporters. They offer a constant stream of touch points and feedback that has proved invaluable over the years. Our lively Letters page attests to this interaction. We write for our readers with honesty and humour. Our stories inform them if a picture-postcard beach reveals snaggle-tooth rocks at low tide or if — much as we might applaud — the kids' club is a just a backroom lock-up for noisy brats.

We are slowly updating our stories and many are creaking. But this remains an elusive task as the travel world is constantly changing.

Our awards rounds, more leisurely now, keep us on our toes and raise an occasional chuckle. One cheerful airline awardee accepted our certificate and then presented us an even bigger award as the "magazine of the year." I hear some happy clients (not ours) are in the habit of doling out not-quite-monopoly-money in large manila envelopes, unaware of the powerful refrain: "Go directly to Jail and miss GO!"

Another client asked to be given in advance the award picture we were planning to use. It featured a group of five beaming executives. She passed it on to her design department and returned it with so much airbrushing that four faces had been reduced to an eye-squinting blur with just one person standing out, radiantly. Thankfully, thus far we have not handed out awards to any padlocked property. This is where editorial oversight helps but there is always a lurking hole around the next corner to fall into. Happy voting people.

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