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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.