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When it comes to doing business, there may be no friendlier group than those in the travel trade. Bound together by a generous spirit and a passion for sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Western-based travel agents and suppliers have many qualities worth celebrating.
And that’s exactly why TravelAge West is once again hosting its annual Western Agents’ Vote of Excellence (WAVE) Awards. Now in its 11th year, the WAVE Awards put both agents and their top-notch supplier partners in the spotlight to acknowledge the outstanding services they provide.
“We saw that there were other industry award programs, but none were specific to the Western travel agent,” said Kenneth Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief of TravelAge West. “We wanted to make sure that this group of agents were not overlooked.”
This year’s awards gala will be held June 16 and will once again take place at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey in Marina del Rey, Calif.
The event will follow a similar format as past years, focusing on the Editor’s Pick nominations chosen by the TravelAge West editorial staff after months of discussion and research involving product analysis, on-site visits, online research and travel agent surveys.
The Trendsetter Awards will also be revealed during the gala, honoring agents who have excelled in the following supplier-sponsored categories: Best Use of Social Media; Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40; Best Group Booking Sales Effort; and Best Targeted Marketing Idea.
Agents currently have the opportunity to review the Editor’s Picks and vote for their favorite suppliers online. Voting is open to readers of both the print and online versions of the magazine during the month of April at TravelAgeWest.com/WAVE/vote.
This year’s awards — including four write-in categories — reflect the highest standards in air and rail travel and cruising and river cruising, as well as the top tour operators, hotels and resorts, destinations, tourism boards and insurance, car rental and GDS companies.
“We proudly display our WAVE Award recognition on our travel agent website because of its credibility with the agent community,” said Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, which was nominated for seven awards this year. “It’s a respected stamp of approval. Agents see it and know that they can trust us with their business.”
A number of new categories were added to 2016’s lineup, such as Best Destination for Adventure, Europe; Best World Cruise; Best Expedition Cruise Line (ocean-going); and Hotel Brand with the Best Innovative Technology, among others.
“In general, we’ve been adding more adventure categories,” Shapiro said. “We feel strongly that experiential travel is one of the most important developments in our industry, which is why we launched our Explorer publication. It’s exciting to be able to acknowledge the companies that excel at this type of travel.”
More Than a TrophyAlthough June’s gala has a competitive edge, Shapiro says that the night has remained friendly and upbeat throughout the years.
“The WAVE gala has gotten bigger in terms of more categories and attendees,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the spirit of the event, which has always been a bit raucous and unconventional — and just plain fun.”
Michele Saegesser, vice president of sales for the Americas for Viking River Cruises, says that although she gets nervous before the event, winning a WAVE Award “helps us gauge how we are doing.” Viking is nominated for seven awards this year.
“The Western U.S. is my home,” she said. “It’s where I got my start on this amazing journey; where my first sales calls were made; and where the confidence comes from to be more, and to be the best.”
Nominees also acknowledge that the night is about much more than a trophy — it’s a time to come together in support of one another.
“I have such fond memories of spending time with the tight-knit family of our industry peers,” said Kristin Karst, co-owner of AmaWaterways, which is nominated for five awards this year. “Everybody is committed and competitive by nature, but it’s great to see the mutual respect and admiration that we all share for one another and the winners.”
Chris Austin, vice president of global leisure and luxury sales for Starwood Hotels & Resorts — nominated for four awards — agrees.
“We all work so hard every day,” he said.
“Having the chance to gather with our peers and our travel professional partners and celebrate success together is so motivating.”
Additionally, many suppliers say that of all the nominations, an award for “providing best travel agent support” is often the most exciting to win.
“We want to win in every category, but we ultimately win when we are good partners,” Austin said. “We know that TravelAge West and its readers are respected in the industry, and we want to share this recognition with other travel professionals as a sign of our quality product and service.”