This is the 21st year of the CondÃ© Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, one of the year’s biggest events for the magazine (full results will be listed in the November print issue.) Readers gave collective feedback on 9,168 hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise lines, airlines and car rental agencies.
Thanks to Consumer Travel Editor Wendy Perrin, I was flown to New York City (on JetBlue – hurray for seatback TV and satellite radio plus legroom!) to live-tweet the event on my Twitter stream (here are the awards-related tweets on Twitter’s search engine, using “#rca08” which is a “hashtag” used to track a single topic.)
Not all winners were announced at the ceremony (only those who were able to send representatives to the event) but here is the complete list of awardees by poll ranking and here they are on a Google Map. I’m confining this post to those announced the night of October 15, as I typed like a maniac and grappled with a few WiFi and power issues.Â My blogging compadres from Jaunted were also there somewhere, but I missed them in the crush.
Since I’m interested in how tourism organizations use social media, I’ve also included URLs to any official blogs that I could find.
- Best City in the Americas: Buenos Aires and here is Argentina’s promotion portal blog (other city finalists were Quebec City, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.)
- Best City in the United States: San Francisco (16 years in a row! I mean, I love that city too, but not sure it’s 16 years worth of awesome.Â I did find a foodie blog and a green travel blog tied to the city’s tourism efforts. Other finalists were New York City and Charleston.)
- Best City in Asia: Bangkok, with official blogs by photographer Eugene Tang and a Traveller’s Blog (other finalists were Chiang Mai and Hong Kong.)
- Best City in Europe: Florence (other finalists were Rome, Salzburg and Venice.)
- Best Caribbean/Atlantic island: Bermuda (other finalists were St. Barts and St. John.)
- Best Pacific Island: Maui (other finalists were Kauai and Bora Bora.)
- Best US hotel: The Peninsula Chicago (other finalists were the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, Amelia Island FL and the Stephanie Inn, Cannon Beach OR.)
- Best Asian hotel: The Oberoi Udaivilas, Rajasthan India (other finalists were the Peninsula Hong Kong and another Oberoi property, the Amarvilas in Agra, India.)
- Best Resort in Asia: Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai, Thailand (er, no, this is not really a camp for kids, and when I did a currency conversion of their rates from Thai baht into US dollars, I saw a figure of $2,152.89 per night, not including tax or tips. Wow.) Other finalists were the Four Seasons Bali at Sayan and the Oberoi Vanyavilas, Rajasthan.
- Best Resort, Atlantic Ocean: The One&Only Ocean Club, Bahamas (with an annoying all-Flash Web site that drove me nuts auto-playing music and not providing distinct URLs for each property.) Other finalists include Pink Sands, Bermuda and The Reefs, Bermuda.
- Best Resort, Mexico: A tie between the One&Only Palmilla and The Tides, Riviera Maya
(the other finalist was the JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Cancun.)
- Best Resort, Caribbean: The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman (other finalists were Curtain Bluff, Antigua and Petit St. Vincent Resort, Grenadines.)
- Best Resort, Hawaii: The Four Seasons Maui at Wailea (other finalists were, um, two other Four Seasons properties….at this point I’m wondering, are there NO awesome places that aren’t chains? OK, it was the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island and the Four Seasons Lana’i The Lodge at Koele.)
Airlines, Cars and Cruise Lines
- Best Airline for US routes: Virgin America, a first-time winner although it only serves 7 US cities (other finalists were JetBlue and Midwest Airlines; the only big-name airline was Continental.)
- Best Airline without any US routes: SilkAir, to 28 Asian destinations (other finalists were Air Iceland and India-based Jet Airways.)
- Best Airline for international routes: Singapore Airlines (which has won every year except for Swissair in 1994. Other finalists were Emirates – get a load of their in-flight showers in First Class – and Virgin Atlantic.)
- Best car rental agency: Hertz (based on rates, reliability of fleet, rental locations, service, staff efficiency and vehicle selection – other finalists were Avis and Enterprise.)
- Best large ship cruise line: Crystal Cruises (other finalists were Disney and Regent Seven Seas.)
- Best small ship cruise line: Seabourn (Yay, I actually found a blog for the Seabourn Odyssey launching in June 2009. Other finalists were SeaDream Yacht Club and Regent Seven Seas.)
As most of my readers know, I’m a budget-minded person who prefers independent travel, staying in locally-owned lodging and eating local food. I am so NOT a Four Seasons Whatever traveler, mostly because I cannot afford it, but also partly because luxury properties all seem to be the same on many levels.
They all have expensive spas, they all have “gourmet” restaurants, they all have a fancy pool, they all have valet parking, they all have a concierge, they all have elaborate lobbies with mood lighting and some sort of atmospheric music, their sheets are all high-thread-count, there’s always some sort of yoga class, they usually charge for WiFi and those silly bottles of water waiting in the room, blah blah.Â
If I want to be all cocooned in the same predictable way like that (and I somehow have big money available) I’ll just drive downtown to the Four Seasons Austin rather than fly to a Thai jungle to stay in a $2,000/day tent.
If I do decide to get Ritz-y, apparently I’m about to experience a Golden Age. Because of our current economic problems, many luxury properties and destinations are pinched by a lack of customers and they’re ready to cut some deals. Now, we’re talking.
Wendy Perrin herself, ever on the hawk-like lookout for value, reports that, for example, Ritz-Carlton resorts are slashing prices for stays over the holidays, normally a time of year when prices go WAY up and everything fills up early.
Over the next few months, I look forward to reporting on possible ways for the El Cheapo Family Traveler to be able to experience places and properties from the Readers’ Choice Awards list, because we will be seeing some relative bargains from the best places in the world. Stay tuned.