Kenneth Shapiro (right) will host the awards. // © 2018 Volker Corell
Feature image (above): The WAVE Awards will again take place in Marina del Rey, Calif. // © 2018 Jessica Castro
During its first-ever meeting in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, the newly formed TravelAge West (TAW) Travel Agent Advisory Board came together with the magazine’s editorial team to review the names of hundreds of industry suppliers considered for 2018 Western Agents Votes of Excellence (WAVE) Awards nominations.
In roundtable discussions, the board provided their thoughts on which travel companies and tourism entities represent the industry’s finest. Their feedback was incorporated into the “Editor’s Picks” nominees for this year’s WAVE Awards.
Voting is open online now through the end of April at www.travelagewest.com/WAVE/Vote. The black-tie WAVE Awards gala will be held June 14 at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey in Los Angeles.
A Fresh Approach
Tapping a panel of industry-leading travel advisors to take part in the nominations process is an innovative move, which further sets the WAVE Awards apart among its fellow travel awards competitors.
“The fact that TAW selected a wide range of respected travel agents who promote different segments of the industry for its advisory board is groundbreaking,” said board member Donna Alkarmi of Lone Star Travel.
The TAW team accurately anticipated that the board’s contributions would bring some varying perspectives to the table and help breathe new life into the proceedings.
“I hope we were able to give a fresh approach to why we choose certain suppliers or hotel chains, and why we feel they are worthy to be selected for top honors,” Alkarmi said.
Unlike other travel commendations, the WAVE Awards focuses on more than the consumer-facing aspects of vendors’ operations. Industry front-runners are being recognized not only for their overall excellence, but also specifically for their cooperation with, and contributions to, the travel agent community.
“The supplier nominees must meet a certain criteria: amazing service; product; high guest satisfaction; and travel agent tools, support and resources,” said board member Melissa Varela of Modern Romance Travel.
The board members’ active involvement in the retail travel sales marketplace makes them arguably the best-suited to identify those that represent top-shelf providers and products in the industry.
“An agent’s perspective can be the most insightful, as we work with so many of the suppliers daily,” said board member Leslie Wahlgren of Kahala Travel.
Over the course of the Editor’s Picks deliberations, certain categories and candidates sparked special enthusiasm from the participants, most notably those that spoke to their respective areas of expertise.
“I was thrilled to help select nominees in the Hotel/Resort, Tour Operator and Tourist Board categories because they fall into the romance travel niche I specialize in,” Varela said.
Alkarmi says she is rooting for the underdogs of the industry.
“We are the heartbeat of the industry, and it is ever-changing, so getting lesser-known suppliers or hoteliers that deserve to be brought to the front line is quite exciting,” she said.
Wahlgren echoes this sentiment, too.
“I am really excited to see vendors such as G Adventures, VIP Journeys and Swain Destinations in the running this year for several of the categories,” she said. “These companies excel in what they do and have often been overlooked because of their size. This just proves that a company can be small but mighty."
For board member Steve Orens of Plaza Travel, it’s the Trendsetter Awards, a standalone element of the WAVE event, that really sparks his interest. These peer recognitions “shed the most light on those reinventing and exploring the vast opportunities available to us in this world of ever-changing global economy and exponential growth in technology,” he said.
These accolades, awarded to agents by agents, might even be said to epitomize the cooperative and congenial spirit with which the WAVE Awards are conducted each year. Trendsetter winners will also be honored during the WAVE Awards.