WTM Virtual nominates this year’s World Travel Leaders

 Wednesday, November 4, 2020 


WTM Virtual has named this year’s World Travel Leaders, the annual recognition of companies and individuals from around the globe which have had a positive impact on a specific region or sector.

The virtual event took place on Monday 2 November where businesses were nominated by WTM Official Media Partners, a group of the world’s leading travel trade media organisations, with a panel of industry experts and WTM executives deciding the winners.

The entry criteria were geared towards businesses which have embraced the key themes of this year’s WTM Virtual – recover, rebuild, innovate.

A number of inbound operators and destination management companies were chosen by the media partners, with hotel chains, airlines, tour operators and entrepreneurs also making the grade.

Carrani Tours, nominated by Italy’s L’Agenzia di Viaggi, is an inbound operator, with guided group tours and hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses in Rome featured as part of its Italy-wide inventory. Its main source markets – the US and western Europe – dried up as a result of the pandemic.

The business realised that it needed to innovate, so it has started to market its inventory to a domestic audience.

During the pandemic, it launched a series of Rome and Italy-themed virtual tours and visits. These videos were designed so that when the inbound market returns, Carrani will be front-of-mind with its existing partners.

“We have seen a lot of interest from Italians looking to explore their own country, and a stronger domestic footprint is an essential part of our recovery plan,” said Martin Tartara, Head of Marketing and Communication of Carrani Tours.

Another B2B operator to triumph is GRNConnect, nominated by Trav Talk India. It is hotel booking portal, with access to some 400,000 hotels and 200,000 villas. More than 30,000 on- and -offline agents in 108 countries access its inventory.

At the peak of the pandemic, it was generating virtually no revenue from new bookings, while having to manage forward-looking refunds and cancellations.

In response, it has focused its sales and support efforts on the best-performing agents and suppliers, targeting quality over quantity. It has launched a franchise model for people looking to enter the industry and has devised a new version of its portal for bricks-and-mortar agents wanting to move online.

“Our business ground to a halt at the peak of the pandemic, and we quickly started to rebuild our business for the future by identifying areas where we could make a difference to our suppliers and partners,” said Mr. Deepak Narula, Managing Director at GRNConnect.

The UK’s Jet2.com, a tour operator with direct and third-party distribution, was nominated by TTG Media. The paper noted that ‘of all the companies we know in the UK we think it and its partner airline Jet2 have responded most nimbly to the crisis.”

It added that the brand has been consistently praised by agents contributing to its weekly Travel Agent Tracker.

‘Travel agent distribution is important for our recovery, and this accolade from the travel agents’ publication of choice gives us confidence that we are doing the right thing,” said Alan Cross, Head of Trade Sales Jet2holidays.

Leisure travel saw a slight recovery over the peak summer season just gone, but the damage to corporate travel is likely to be more intense and longer-lasting. Demlink is one of Russia’s leading travel management companies and was the nomination of Tourbus.

With more than 1300 corporate clients and very little, if any business travel to manage, Demlink has introduced four new initiatives to start its rebuilding process. It has identified automation, training, expense management and internal cooperation as the areas to focus in on in the short-term.

“Business travel will take longer to recover than leisure, but we’re optimistic that our innovation initiatives will help see us through the immediate crisis and prepare us for the future,” said Oleg Beglyarov, Co-owner DEMLINK.

Elsewhere, some major brands with a global footprint have been recognised by publications in their home markets. Emirates, one of the world’s leading airlines, was nominated by TTN Middle East.

It has devised a specific COVID-19 insurance policy for all passengers, free of charge, placing this at the heart of its immediate recovery plans. Passengers, even in economy, will be covered to the tune of €150,000 ($174,377) in medical expenses and €100 per day quarantine costs for 14 days, should they be diagnosed with Covid-19 during their travel.

The insurance applies for 31 days after the first leg on any journey, giving customers added reassurance that the policy is valid even if they travel onwards to another city after arriving at their Emirates destination.

“We have always tried to be an innovative, forward-thinking airline and our dedicated Covid-19 insurance for passengers is an example of how we are finding ways to persuade passengers to take to the skies,” said Sir Tim Clark, President Emirates Airline.

Another global brand which impressed its local media is Spanish hotel chain H10, nominated for this year’s award by Hosteltur. The magazine was full of praise for the staff at H10’s Costa Adeje Palace in Tenerife, Canary Islands, where staff and management dealt with the first coronavirus case in a Spanish hotel.

‘At the time, there were no protocols in place for such a situation, and we as a company are proud of how professional and courageous our staff were. In a way, this award recognises the good work we have put in over the years to ensure that all our people at every hotel are well-trained and able to respond to situations in an effective and human way,” said Miguel Estarellas, CCO at H10 Hotels.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada, a private sector advocacy organisation, was nominated by the Canadian Travel Press in recognition of the speed of its response and the efficacy of its lobbying campaign.

It also moved its successful series of real-world workshops, seminars and educational events – including its flagship TIAC Tourism Congress event – to the virtual sphere, increasing engagement by opening up these events to anyone with an internet connection.

“There is no point in sugar-coating what has been a devastating year for Canada’s tourism industry, but we’ve taken the opportunity to innovate not only how we reach out to the industry but also how the industry can collaborate for the greater good,” said Charlotte Bell, President and CEO at Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

Finally, the awards also allow titles to recognise individuals who have made a positive and significant impact on the travel and tourism industry. Travel Weekly USA nominated Jack Ezon, founding and managing partner of Embark Beyond, a New York-based luxury travel and lifestyle agent and advisor.

In order to keep in contact with Embark Beyond’s high-net-worth clientele, he devised a series of virtual tours of some of its most popular destinations. He also embraced and innovated using the Zoom platform, developing a series of targetted online conferences and workshops.

“The pandemic has also hit the luxury travel, and we have worked hard to make sure that travel is still on our clients’ radar when things start to recover. Until then, we will continue to find innovative ways to engage with clients and prospects,” said Jack Ezon, Founder & Managing Partner at Embark Beyond.

In Brazil, Mercados & Eventos suggested that Vinicius Lummertz, Secretary of Tourism of Sao Paulo State was worthy of the Travel Leader accolade. His leadership during the crisis saw the public and private sectors working more closely together to help tourism recover, and identified domestic tourism as the most effective way to start to rebuild tourism.

He also worked with other Sao Paulo State bosses to ensure the tourism industry’s voice was heard, while also providing that leading epidemiologists and virologists had their say in any decisions relating to the travel and hospitality industry.

“Tourism was hit hard by the pandemic, but we soon realised that collaboration between the public and private sector the most effective way to rebuild the industry and drive a sustainable, long-term recovery,” said Vinicius Lummertz, State Secretary of Tourism of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

WTM London’s Senior Director, Simon Press, said:

“Our global media partners are WTM’s eyes on the ground when it comes to the day-to-day concerns of the global travel and tourism industry and their local expertise guarantees that the winners of World Travel Leaders are truly representative of what is good in our industry.

“Necessity drove us to move the awards online and like so many of the Travel Leaders, WTM is also excited that some of the innovations coming out of the crisis will be fundamental to rebuilding the industry and preparing the ground for recovery.”

The awards ceremony will take place digitally this year. Each global media partner will interview their respective winner and present their award via Zoom. The presentations and interviews will be posted on the WTM Global Hub and shared on all social channels during London Travel Week.

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