Travel Awards: Good or Bad?

A story that keeps cropping up in the travel media, year after year, is about not a destination but an award. In fact, it’s about many awards. More and more travel awards are being bestowed each year, ballyhooed as much by the organization giving them as by the properties receiving them. Maybe it’s time to ask whether the awards are any good and, more importantly, are they fair? The answer in both cases is a qualified maybe.

The more obvious awards are given by glossy travel magazines, such as Conde Nast Traveler (which has a World Saver Awards category), Travel and Leisure (which includes a Global Vision Award), and Outside, among others. Then there are those given by newspapers like the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Observer. These awards are, by and large, given to places that have been nominated not by the travelers themselves but by the publications, which then ask their readers to vote.

NOT BY A LONG SHOT

Other less obvious awards – and chosen by the travel trade (versus by paying travelers) – include the World Travel Awards, the World Luxury Hotel Awards, the Responsible Tourism Awards, the Outstanding Value Hotel Awards, the Ashden Award for Sustainable Travel, and British Tourism for Tomorrow. These awards are given to properties and travel businesses that have applied to be considered by the organizers. That  means not all the potential candidates in the world are considered – not by a long shot – but only the ones who enter.

So, when a lodge in Thailand advertises itself as the best lodge in Asia because it won such-and-such an award, it doesn’t mean all the lodges in Asia were in the competition.  Many properties might not even have known about the competitions or, if they did, were simply too busy to go through the entry procedure. Not surprisingly, in many cases they just don’t care for awards because they know how skewed they can be.

Making the flurry of awards even murkier is the makeup of the juries. In some cases, the judges come from the staff of a publication or are appointed by the editors for their name value, such as a movie actor. Sometimes their professions are so far from the travel industry, one can’t help wonder if they have the credentials to judge a property fairly and objectively. For that matter, does anyone?

In other competitions, the juries are made up of members of the travel industry who either get paid for their services or are looking for publicity for their hotel group or travel agency. Amongst their number are quite probably judges with great intentions to be unbiased and hoping to do the right thing, but the odds are stacked against them.

AND THE WINNER IS…

As for the winners of the prizes, some are less happy with the results than others, and not always for the reasons one might expect. One African lodge owner was horrified when he learned he had been listed as the top lodge on the continent by a glossy travel magazine. For him it didn’t mean more attention; it meant more scrutiny. He didn’t want his lodge compared to other places that hadn’t won because he knew travelers would inevitably make comparisons and would expect the same experience or better. That was something he could never promise.

So back to our original question: Are these competitions fair, do they serve a purpose, or are they just a marketing ploy by magazines and the travel industry to drum up interest and advertising? Some lodges and resorts play into the award game, apply for competitions, and publicize themselves as ‘award winning.’ Whether they actually believe in them is a question only they can answer truthfully.  Most travelers won’t be bothered to ask who exactly gave an award and who was behind the decision. Other travelers, meanwhile, don’t pay any attention to the awards but rely on word of mouth and research to choose their destination. They know that an award might mean nothing more than a shiny trophy, and they want more out of their holiday than just that.

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