Wanderlust Travel Awards

Wanderlust Travel Awards 2011 - WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Where are this year’s up-and-coming destinations? Which airlines still make flying a pleasure? And what has Ryanair got in common with Syrian taxi drivers?

In many categories you were asked to list up to four entries (eg countries visited) and score each one on its merits. The final positions were based on an average score for the entry (converted to a percentage) – so the results are based on satisfaction rather than the number of votes. In categories where no percentage is shown (eg travel gear; TV shows) the results were simply based on number of votes cast. Thanks to... Nikon for offering prizes to the questionnaire entrants. Thanks also to everyone who took the time to share their travel highs and lows with us, to give a true picture of what travellers really think.

Top Country: Namibia

Namibia has come of age – 21 March marks 21 years as an independent nation. With the vivid-red hues of the world’s largest sand dunes and the desolate beauty of the Skeleton Coast, your top country – for the second year running – is certainly a looker. But that’s not all – it also hosts abundant wildlife, traditional tribes and high-octane activities, making it a magnetic must-see. And that mix of drama and accessibility surely accounts, too, for runners-up Costa Rica and New Zealand – destinations where the natural world pulls out all the stops, but creature comforts are never far away.

Ranking %

1. Namibia 96.94

2. Costa Rica 96.92

3. New Zealand 96.13

4. Nepal 95.08

5. Japan 94.77

6. Iceland 93.91

7. Laos 93.85

8. Canada 93.53

9. Syria 92.75

10. Chile 92.73

Top Emerging Destination: Burma/Myanmar

This award recognises countries that were visited by relatively small numbers of Wanderlust readers last year, but which gained very high marks from those who did go. And top of the pile is Burma – a country that, in the past six months, has gone from being the world’s most controversial travel destination to, potentially, its most exciting.

It was 15 years ago that Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, first called for a tourism boycott as a way of denying foreign currency and moral legitimacy to the country’s military dictatorship. That 1996 declaration – vigorously upheld by pressure groups worldwide, including British organisations Tourism Concern and Burma Campaign UK – meant that any visit to the country was fraught with ethical complexity. Indeed, when Wanderlust covered Burma in our second issue (in 1994, before the boycott), Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother-in-law, Josette Vaillancourt, personally contacted the office to ask us not to promote Burma further.

Despite hugely positive reports from the many readers and tour operators who have visited Burma in the intervening years, we have followed her wishes. But last year everything changed. Following the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in November 2010, the NLD announced that they were no longer opposed to all tourism, but only to large-scale package tourism.

Senior NLD leader U Win Tin said: “We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral – everything. But to have a very big cruise ship with hundreds of tourists coming in – that’s a lot of money for the regime, and so we don’t like such big business.”

In short, Burma is a fragile destination that needs to be visited with care. But those who do visit carefully – as many Wanderlust readers have done – inevitably return with exceptional memories. There are the sights, natural and man-made – the stupa-studded plains of Bagan; Yangon’s giant golden pagoda (pictured); the floating gardens of Inle Lake – but it’s the resilient and welcoming Burmese people who create the lasting impression. “The Burmese are hugely pro-British,” recalls reader John Playfair. “Those we spoke to would like normal relations with the English-speaking countries restored – tourism would increase, and the influence of China, India and Russia reduce. Like many countries they want to sort out their own politics without outside interference. Overall their lot is getting better not worse – we should visit them , trade with them and be supportive of everything they wish to do. Burma is an intelligent traveller’s heaven.”

We agree wholeheartedly – and will be publishing our own first-hand assessment in the magazine later this year.

Ranking %

1. Burma/Myanmar 97.14

2. Iran 95.38

3. Bhutan 95.29

4. Mongolia 93.75

5. Rwanda 93.68

6. Ghana 93.33

7. Bosnia & Herzegovina 92.00

8. Malawi 89.33 9. Belize 88.57

9. Libya 88.57

Top Tour Operator: Bamboo Travel

Whether you want an atmospheric float through the Mekong Delta, a scenic trek up the Philippines’ Chocolate Hills (strictly for walking, not nibbling) or a temple tour in Laos, Far East specialist Bamboo Travel has got it covered. In the overcrowded world of tour operators (a whopping 700 companies were put forward this year), this new kid on the block has elbowed its competitors down the chart. Its secret? A flexible, can-do attitude. Bamboo’s tempting tours are one thing – but its bespoke itineraries swung it for you. “They went to a great deal of trouble to create a tailormade itinerary for me, with hotels that were ideally suited to my tastes and budget,” said reader Sonia Anderson.

Another reader told us that Bamboo organised a complicated trip involving flights, jeeps and riverboats “coolly and confidently”, with everything “arranged to perfection”. You also lauded its friendly staff, guides and local knowledge. For a second year running Audley Travel came in at number two, proving that your appetite for tailormade trips continues.

Ranking %

1. Bamboo Travel 99.13

2. Audley Travel 98.13

3. Discover the World 97.97

4. HF Holidays 95.42

5. Travelbag 92.82

6. Wild Frontiers 92.73

7. Expert Africa 89.63

8. The Adventure Company 88.57

9. Trailfinders 88.54

10. Explore 87.08

Top Guidebook Series: Bradt

In a fiercely contested category, it’s a David & Goliath-style victory for Bradt, the small publisher whose engaging, well-written and highly detailed guides to exotic places continue to set a benchmark for quality. From Sierra Leone to Eastern Turkey (first edition due this month), Bradt has a well-deserved reputation for getting to emerging destinations first. But there’s also a growing list of themed titles: in 2011, look out for titles on alien invaders (species, not little green men), Britain’s sacred sites and the indispensable Tips on Tipping.

Ranking %

1. Bradt 81.76

2. Lonely Planet 78.20

3. DK 77.52

4. Rough Guides 75.02

5. Footprint 73.15

6. Time Out 69.72

7. Insight 67.86

8. AA 65.21

9. Blue Guides 62.81

10. Cadogan 58.76

Top TV / Radio Programme: Tropic of Cancer / Excess Baggage

It was third time (around the world) lucky for Simon Reeve, whose brilliant trio of globetrotting series started with Equator and followed up with Tropic of Capricorn. His first win in this category is a reward for footslog and journalism in an often celebrity-led field.

Hats off too, to Excess Baggage, Radio 4’s lively Saturday morning travel show – your favourite listen.


1. Tropic of Cancer  (Top TV Programme)

2. Excess Baggage (Top Radio Programme)

3. Lost Land of the Tiger

4. Coast

5. An Idiot Abroad

5. Last Chance To See

7. Joanna Lumley’s Nile

8. Globetrekker

9. My Family’s Crazy Gap Year

9. Simon Calder’s Travel Clinic (LBC)

Top Airline: Singapore Airlines

Thanks to its gracious staff, tasty food, great inflight entertainment and comfy seats, Singapore Airlines has swept to victory once again. In fact, the Middle Eastern and Far Eastern airlines continue to hang on tight, dominating this year’s chart. That’s not due to a lack of choice though – last year you flew with no less than 265 different companies.

Those you preferred to steer clear of included Iberia, Yemen Air, Spice Jet and, the lowest-ranking major airline, and the one we all love to hate: Ryanair.

Ranking %

1. Singapore Airlines 96.30

2. Japan Airlines 95.38

3. Air New Zealand 88.99

4. Oman Air 88.00

5. Emirates 87.96

6. Korean Air 86.67

7. Qatar Airways 86.40

8. Cathay Pacific 86.00

9. Etihad 84.62

10. Eva Air 84.44

Top UK Airport: Southampton

With snowstorms, ash clouds and long delays, 2010 was a dismal year for the aviation world. That hasn’t stopped you from heaping praise on Southampton, though. Close to the capital but minus the niggles of certain London airports, it’s a smaller and altogether cosier option, with fewer people and more reliable flights. That’s not to mention new routes to France and Menorca, and the launch of an instant customer feedback service – simply text your concern to the Duty Manager and, hey presto, a member of staff will call you back.

Ranking %

1. Southampton 84.40

2. London City 83.28

3. Inverness 80.00

4. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne 78.71

5. Exeter 78.26

6. Norwich 78.18

7. Birmingham Int 78.04

8. Edinburgh 77.93

9. Bournemouth 77.34

10. Belfast City 75.79

Top Worldwide Airport: Singapore Changi

Yep, you guessed it – old favourite Changi has nabbed the crown again. And it’s hardly surprising. With everything from gardens to reflexology and a new four-storey slide, it takes some beating. But could Seoul Incheon be the next Changi? It’s leapfrogged into second, thanks to a squeaky-clean airport, great eateries and endless amenities (anyone for golf ?). After a two-year hiatus, Iceland’s Keflavík Airport has returned. Maybe that volcanic eruption gave you time to appreciate its delights...

Ranking %

1. Singapore Changi 94.40

2. Seoul Incheon 89.60

3. Zurich 89.14

4. Keflavík (Leifur Erikkson) 88.00

5. Hong Kong Int 87.68

6. Vancouver 86.03

7. Tokyo Narita 84.80

8. Amsterdam Schipol 84.27

9. Kuala Lumpur 84.24

10. Copenhagen 84.14

Top Rail Journey: West Highland line

The opulent Orient Express, the handy Eurostar, the dramatic Rocky Mountaineer. They’re good, but they’re not the best. According to you, the crème de la crème of rail journeys is far closer to home. For the third year in a row, the West Highland Line comes out on top. Trundling through some of Scotland’s finest scenery, it passes mighty mountains and rugged moorland specked with deer. A new entry – the Settle-Carlisle journey – confirms that Blighty-based train travel is where it’s at.


1. West Highland Line, Scotland

2. Cusco to Puno, Peru

2. Eurostar

4. Trans-Siberian, Russia

5. Settle-Carlisle, England

5. Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

7. Tranzalpine, New Zealand

8. Glacier Express, Switzerland

9. Darjeeling Toy Train, India

10. Orient Express, Europe

Top Equipment Brand: The North Face

Here at Wanderlust we’re all too familiar with the winners: the team has donned toasty The North Face togs in many inhospitable corners of the globe. But, perhaps due to the increasingly chilly UK, The North Face kit is fast becoming ubiquitous on British streets too. Rohan follows in second place, showing that you’re yet to tire of its practical and attractive travel gear.


1. The North Face

2. Rohan

3. Craghoppers

4. Berghaus

5. Kathmandu

6. Columbia

7. Páramo

8. Karrimor

9. Regatta

10. Mountain Equipment

Top City: Luang Prabang, Laos

Your perennial fave gets the gong again. We love the fact that your top city isn’t about bright lights and fast living. No, laid-back Laos town Luang Prabang likes to take things slow. Really slow. You can’t get enough of its serene temples and jungle ecolodges. And it seems that they can’t get enough of us either. Last year the good citizens of Luang Prabang decorated the centre of town with a Wanderlust banner to mark their achievement (see below), and contributor Mark Stratton was warmly welcomed by dignitaries when he dropped in to deliver the 2010 award. This year they came to us, travelling all the way to the UK to accept the award.

Ranking %

1. Luang Prabang, Laos 96.89

2. Hoi An, Vietnam 96.00

3. Kyoto, Japan 95.63

4. Stockholm, Sweden 93.33

5. Perth, Australia 92.73

6. Tokyo, Japan 92.40

7. San Francisco, USA 92.00

8. Vienna, Austria 91.85

9. Cusco, Peru 91.56

10. Aleppo, Syria 91.54

Top Website: audleytravel.com

It couldn’t get much better for this year’s winning site – you judged Audleytravel.com just 4.2% shy of perfection. And the tailormade tour operator’s site is indeed impressive. Far more than an online brochure, it houses a wealth of destination info, a smart inspiration tool, good photos, expert hints, a lively blog, a well-stocked magazine, recent news and comment within a fast, clean and friendly design. In fact, with tour operators taking all three top website spots, travel specialists are increasingly becoming travel publishers too…

Ranking %

1. Audleytravel.com 95.82

2. Wildfrontiers.co.uk 95.00

3. Discover-the-world.co.uk 94.88

4. HFHolidays.co.uk 91.32

5. Bradt-travelguides.com 87.72

6. Seat61.com 90.71

6. Travelbag.co.uk 90.64

8. Wanderlust.co.uk 89.27

9. Bookings.com 86.34

10. Kayak.co.uk 86.15

Disservice To Travel: ryanair

In this new category, we invited you to nominate the companies, individuals or institutions that induce not a whoop of triumph, but a sigh of despair. Your response was overwhelmingly dominated by airlines and airports, and perhaps it was no surprise that the ‘winner’, by an air mile, was Ryanair and/or its CEO, Michael O’Leary. Hundreds of you bemoaned poor customer service and extra charges, an experience summed up creatively by one reader as ‘like flying inside a spam email’. Behind the unapologetic Ryanair, in second place was the ongoing BA cabin crew strikes – regardless of whose side you’re on, the industrial disputehas caused well over a year of aggravation for travellers.

Then there was a flurry of less widespread hang-ups: Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow airport, Air Passenger Duty, TripAdvisor, US Customs, French strikers and that pesky Icelandic ash cloud.

And finally there were the personal demons, the travel gripes that really got your goat. Would Indian bacteria, Djibouti’s khat dealers, Syrian taxi drivers, whoever’s responsible for cleaning Birmingham airport and ‘my ex’ please try a bit harder?

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