A Look Ahead at TravelAge West's 12th Annual WAVE Awards

A Look Ahead at TravelAge West's 12th Annual WAVE Awards

This year's WAVE Awards will include a sea of new faces among old favorites By: Laurie Baratti
Viking River Cruises took home three awards last year. // © 2017 Volker Corell<br />Feature image (above): This year will mark the 12th consecutive...
Viking River Cruises took home three awards last year. // © 2017 Volker Corell
Feature image (above): This year will mark the 12th consecutive year of the WAVE Awards.  // © 2017 Jessica Castro

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Want to see the rest of the editors picks? Check out this year's WAVE ballot.

The Details

TravelAge West WAVE Awards


Now in its 12th year, TravelAge West's Western Agents' Vote of Excellence (WAVE) Awards have attained an industry-wide reputation for reflecting the very highest standards of achievement among those in the travel trade community.

After months of careful deliberation — which included conducting research, investigating products, surveying readers, conducting firsthand visits and participating in in-depth discussions — the TravelAge West editors have narrowed down the list of candidates and announced their Editor's Picks. The range of categories include air, rail, cruising, hotels and resorts, tour operators, destinations, tourism boards, travel insurance and car rental companies.

This year's roster reflects a refreshing mix of returning favorites and first-time honorees; the list includes both global brands and smaller suppliers who are nonetheless making a big impact.

With such an eclectic mix of candidates — and with the addition of some brand-new categories for 2017 — we sat down with a few first-time nominees to gather their thoughts and impressions about the WAVE Awards and find out what a nomination means to them.

Venturing Into the Unknown
Geographic Expeditions has earned its first WAVE nod this year in the newly expanded category of Best Tour Operator for Adventure/Experiential Travel.

For 35 years, the high-end adventure travel company has specialized in creating custom itineraries and group departures to some of the most far-flung places on the planet.

"We believe deeply that adventure and experiential travel can be profoundly enriching and even life-changing," said Alice Howell, director of user experience and collaboration for the company.

In working specifically with travel advisors, "we strive to be a resource for our agents," Howell said. "Our staff goes out into the field all the time, and they go to some pretty remote places, so we can help agents with details when they may not have been to a particular off-the-beaten path destination," she added.

As for the tour operator's WAVE nomination, Howell believes that it "is both gratifying and inspiring; it fuels our drive to work even harder to create extraordinary journeys."

All About the Eats
WAVE Awards newcomer Journese, the luxury brand of Pleasant Holidays, is nominated in a category that is itself new: Best Tour Operator for Foodies.

"It is wonderful for us to be recognized as an expert in handcrafting vacations for various niches, including foodies," said Amy Comparato, brand manager for the operator. "Journese focuses on fully immersing in a destination, and food and wine are the best ways to do so."

The company offers a myriad of commissionable food and wine tours, and its destination specialists are adept at creating custom culinary-themed itineraries, offered in more than 20 destinations worldwide.

Additionally, Journese prides itself on selling exclusively to advisors. Comparato cites not only point-of-sale and bonus commission, but also Journese's reward incentive program — where agents can earn points for personal travel — as being boons for its travel partners.

"Journese sells only through travel advisors," she said. "Our goal is to make their jobs seamless and effortless. I always tell travel advisors, 'Let Journese do the heavy lifting so you don't have to.'"

Small Scale, Big Impact
Advisors also play a pivotal role at Paul Gauguin Cruises, a small-ship luxury line that sails a single vessel — the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin - year-round through the waters around Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji and the South Pacific.

The boutique cruise line is a second-time WAVE nominee this year in the category for Best Expedition Cruise Line (ocean-going).

Paul Gauguin Cruises benefits from its smaller scale, single-destination focus and niche-area expertise that brings guests "up close, to reveal not just the beauty of the region, but also its soul," according to Diane Moore, president of the line.

"Travel agents are key to our success," she said. "The recognition from TravelAge West and the travel agent community is extremely important to us."

Dedicated to Destination
Another outfitter with a single-destination concentration is Thomson Safaris, nominated for Best Tour Operator, Africa, for its Tanzania tours.

Liz Warren, a copywriter for the company, believes that specializing in one country is what solidifies the company as an expert in its field.

"We're leaders in high-quality safaris and responsible travel, and both are crucial elements to consider when selecting the best tour operator," she said. "It's a great honor to be recognized for excellence after putting our heart and soul into one destination."

Meanwhile, in Mexico
Also making its WAVE Awards debut under the category of Best New Resort or Major Renovation, Los Cabos, is a little luxury hotel that's generating big buzz.

In the running with some bigger brands, Hotel El Ganzo was conceived as an epicenter for cultural arts. Pablo Sanchez-Navarro, the founder of the hotel, constructed the sprawling, white building as a blank canvas for continuous, collaborative and creative artwork.

Theoretically, repeat guests will never visit the same hotel twice.

Ella Messerli, managing director for the hotel, refers to El Ganzo's particular brand of upscale comfort as "flip-flop luxury."

"You have all the creature comforts in the world, but none of the gilded trappings often associated with luxury hotels," she said.

She emphasizes that the hotel itself is not the star — rather, it is a space that encourages relaxation and creativity to flow freely. The view over the Sea of Cortez, the grandeur of the outdoors or the daily workings of Mexican communities and local fisherman just outside may all stand as inspiration.

"At the end of the day, I think what a hotel really needs to have is a soul," she said. "That's what people are looking for."

Agents, Listen Up
And now, it is once again time for you, Western-based advisors, to let your voices be heard on the larger stage. Tell us which travel partners and suppliers make it easier for you to hand your clients the perfect travel product and build your business. Take this opportunity to review our Editor's Picks on the ballot on the following pages, and cast your votes online at TravelAgeWest.com/WAVE/Vote. Voting is open until April 30.

Winners will be announced at the annual black-tie WAVE Awards Gala on June 15, 2017, at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey in Marina del Rey, Calif.

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