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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Why hotels and pigs can’t fly

Our 2012 BEST IN TRAVEL Poll reveals some interesting trends. Plus some guff about talking broccoli and the new Nikon D800.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Usain Bolt victory pose - hotels go all-out in 2012 Best In Travel Poll
Winners all - hotels too get their shot at GOLD

AWARDS are tricky things. One man’s meat is another man’s poisson. There’s always something fishy about anything described as the “best”. Whose best? After all, preferences are hugely subjective. So here we are, eight years into our BEST IN TRAVEL Poll at Smart Travel Asia and we’re still fine tuning stuff to get our finger on the pulse. Which travel brands work and which don’t?

Fact is, people like benchmarks, whether it’s the hit-and-miss Trip Adviser bus stop quiz (ask 50 random people a question and you’ll get 50 random replies), or a professional evaluation. Before I buy anything remotely expensive like a laptop, an SLR camera, or a perfect Japanese melon to elope with, I want proper advice. In the old days I had an excellent device – something called a WIFE – and the answer was always a firm “NO”. It shredded my ego but ensured the wallet remained in rude health with enough spare change for frightfully important things like vegetables and vacuum cleaner dust bags.

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I no longer have that device and, as a result, roam the world a free man, secure in the knowledge I have some incredibly useful things in my collection including a STRIDA folding cycle I rarely use as much of Hong Kong is a no-pedalling zone, and a new 36 megapixel Nikon D800 that has me flummoxed with its 446-page user manual. I have managed to affix a lens and turn the camera on, which is a handy start. There are no vegetables in my fridge save for an ancient broccoli that is mutating into some kind of semi-articulate life form.

People like stuff. And they know what they want. Thirty years ago young women screamed and ran up when I got on stage to strum the guitar. Okay, they just wanted me to shut up. Now at 56 I am proud to say that women still scream when they see me though they run in the opposite direction.

Over the years our readers have resoundingly and regularly voted for classic over chichi, functional over fussy, and human over hi-tech. People make a difference...

What makes travellers scream with joy, or frustration? And what separates the high life from high dudgeon? This is what our BEST IN TRAVEL Poll attempts to fathom with a straightforward poll of frequent travellers who take an average 16 air trips a year. While some results are mixed, what is unequivocal is the desire for good old-fashioned hospitality. You know, the kind of feel-good welcome with warm smiles, comfy beds, hearty breakfasts and a simple master light switch that can actually turn off all the gizmos in the room with one satisfying click.

Over the years our readers have resoundingly voted for classic over chichi, functional over fussy, and human over hi-tech. People make a difference. The more the separation between a hotel or airline and its guests – despite the neat herringbone seats and jaw-dropping cool iPad controls – the keener the sense of abandonment. People travel to meet with and interact with people, not devices. Kids are born with smartphones in their hands and everyone has one. Yet, many people choose to disconnect from these devices and lead a normal connected life. They chat with friends using something called a MOUTH, and they occasionally write thank-you or birthday notes on printed cards using a PEN.

Each year we invite our readers to vote for their favourite travel brands from May to July. For three months Mighty Mouse is out and clicking. We check for obvious errors and weed out fraudulent votes. When we started tallying the results a couple of years back, we spotted something deeply disturbing. The best airline in the world was in fact a Thailand hotel.

The very same brand had somehow also finagled its way to best airport, best budget airline, and best city for business. There was another troubling fact. Japanese melons had not registered a single vote. The invalid votes from the Thai IP address sequence were eliminated and, later, senior staff from the very same hotel remonstrated: “It’s impossible we haven’t won an award this year. Impossible!”

The poll results offer us an indication of where we might place our editorial focus and what brands readers wish to learn more about. In the online space where a no-star hotel and a five-star hotel appear equally alluring, it is particularly germane to separate class from crass. As with any poll, this is but one indicator, albeit a very useful one, as it is a genuine vote by quality travellers, the results not based on nomination fees and cash handouts that guarantee a handsome win. Congratulations to the winners. Some Award Photos.

Our inaugural 2005 Airline Poll included a worst airline category that made fun reading. In those years my favourite website was the white-knuckle AmIGoingDown.com. Based on statistics, the site analysed a passenger’s chances of survival after keying in the route and the airline. Airline spoilsports bought and buried the site. In 2006 we added hotels and destinations.

It is a great pity hotels – and pigs – can’t fly. It would make the world a far more fun place.

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