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Sofa so good but when this couch surfing is done I want only the best

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaThe top Asian travel brands over the last decade as highlighted on our past reader polls combined with focus group and editorial feedback – from the couch.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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'Scream' by Edvard Munch best personifies traveller angst

'Scream' by Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch best personifies traveller angst in Covid times. When The Troubles are passed, here are some of the Best of the Decade that may delight you again.

ANOTHER year has rolled around and travel has become something vaguely familiar, like an old analogue spin-dial phone. It’s a distant memory of something we all used to do before The Troubles.

Now – masked up and utterly anonymous – when we should be out robbing banks and stuffing cash in bacteria resistant gunnysacks, we’re sprawled on the couch watching some dreary mush on Netflix. As Shakespeare wrote, but not on account of grounded flights, “O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!”

We canned our annual May-June reader vote for the Best in Travel Awards. With no one travelling, and only grudgingly or fearfully when given the chance, clearly a reader ‘vote’ would be nothing more than a pleasant fiction.

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Yet, as the industry reels, attempting to restore a slow heartbeat, we decided to look back over the past 10 years to identify brands that have offered consistent lessons in excellence, be it for service, design, innovation or comfort.

{The result is a delicious assembly of winners, old and new, and fresh categories to better reflect the changing nature of travellers and their needs...

We tallied reader votes (and product rankings) 2010-2019 and trawled our trove of reader letters (the regular bumf as well as commendations and comments during the annual votes). To this we added insights from our editors and writers on the ground along with feedback from frequent traveller focus groups representative of our worldwide audience with a high level of travel into and within Asia.

The net result is a delicious assembly of winners, old and new, and the creation of fresh categories to better reflect the changing nature of travel, travellers and their needs (including the two bookends of the millennials and the elderly), service, and the product.

Featured in our BEST OF THE DECADE are the few that have earned their ranks.

As before, there were no nomination lists or nomination fees, no gala dinners, no hype, no pay-to-play – just a lot of thought and tabulation. Some new categories that reflect the changing travel landscape include, best design, romance, new hotels, hotel makeovers and rebranding, and even the view from your room. A lighter touch for the endless Covid gloom, as travellers start stirring for domestic hops or, as in the case of Qantas, a whimsical seven-hour flight to nowhere on 10 October on a B-787 Dreamliner.

The tickets for the sightseeing flight QF787 sold out in 10 minutes cheering the airline and causing outrage among environmental purists and green campaigners who railed against wanton carbon emissions. The world is returning to normal.

We do warn entertainment junkies that we have no categories for ‘Most Anticipated’ hotel (measured through facial expressions on TikTok perhaps?), or ‘Most Influential Hotel’ (whatever this may mean – “One look at the room and I bought a chainsaw”), or best ‘Getaway Hotel’ (after robbing a bank?).

Sorry folks, our Best of the Decade is not a flimflam cabaret with distracting china, silver cutlery and celebrity faces but a straightforward look at some excellent candidates that should be examined anew as travel slowly returns to that rather blank diary. But we did spin off a small separate section for Best China hotels and one for Special Commendations – products to watch for buzz, adrenalin, service, style, innovation, design and/or location.

Our readers write, “Yes GMs please shake hands with guests and get to know us better. Make us feel at home and we might return. Too many posh addresses are getting it wrong by throwing marble at us to claim a luxury experience’ – Carmen Lam, Hong Kong.

“Airlines are in the process of reducing legroom and seat width. This, by jamming in extra rows of seats… Even Cathay Pacific, which has been the benchmark for passenger comfort, is involved in this trend’ – P McDonagh, Australia.

“I’d definitely return to Amorita and highly recommend it to anyone travelling to the Philippines!” – Adit Mehta, Singapore.

“I thoroughly enjoyed your commentary on changing times at hotels (The Case of the Disappearing GM). I don't believe I need to chat with the general manager incessantly but it is nice to attach a face to the hospitality. There is a sense of watchful care at good properties that is hard to define. Thoughtful service. Someone remembering your name…” – Paige Crompton, New York.

“When next in Bangkok, visit the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit where the GM is on duty 7am to 7pm six days a week and is seen everywhere at most tables during dinner and the lounge in the evening. The old school!” – Bill Glasson, Thailand.

“I have just returned from Shanghai and had a chance to explore some of the [new 45km] extension for joggers and walkers [along The Bund]. The city has done a fantastic job in visualising development along this extended walkway with museums and art. Needless to say, Shanghai is one of my favourite cities“ – Evelyn Yap, Singapore.

“My husband and I have lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years and have been frequent visitors to the Portuguese enclave [of Macau]. I agree things seem to have settled down and the heritage areas remain in fine fettle if sometimes overrun by flag-waving tourists.” – Victoria Espolita.

“Would it be possible to include [on the Poll] cruises and value hotels that offer a bit of everything at a good price? This may be asking for too much I suppose. I see many friends looking for value but not cheap stuff mind you.” – Ashley Grayson, UK/ Hong Kong

Yes we do have a category for Best Value Hotels. See our consensus readers-plus-editors’ pick. And that’s about the size of it. Do continue to send in your comments on our Best of the Decade awardees or other insights on travel. The Troubles will come to an end. Stay safe, mask up, seatbelts on… hurrah! It’s Netflix time.

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