The National Travel Industry Awards are always a big occasion for celebrating excellence, but it was particularly heartening to see the collegial atmosphere of attendees at last month’s 2019 event. At any awards ceremony, alongside the winners there must necessarily be those who don’t come out on top, so some hurt feelings would be completely natural.
However taking photos at the award wall during the night I was repeatedly pleasantly surprised to see fierce rivals who had managed to reach the finals heartily congratulating the overall winners, with genuine respect and goodwill.
I think sometimes we all get very focused on the issues within our own businesses, and forget that in the end competition is what drives excellence for everyone. The encouragement seen on the night was another indication of the friendliness of the industry, and once again highlighted how lucky we all are to work in travel.
There was somewhat of a changing of the guard at the 2019 NTIAs, with several winners quite surprised to come out on top. The shift, I believe, can be partly attributed to the introduction this year of an even more robust, transparent judging process and the transition of several categories from being simply a popularity contest where winners were determined by agent and supplier voting.
It was lovely to see Bunnik Tours founder Marion Bunnik on the spot for the company’s first ever win in the Best Tour Operator — International category. Marion was joined by sons and joint CEOs Dennis and Sacha, highlighting the success of this Australian family business. Another well-deserved first time winner was Entire Travel Group which took out the Best Specialty Wholesaler category, capping several years of sustained effort and expansion amid significant disruption and evolution of the wholesale sector.
The 2019 NTIAs also saw some welcome innovations, including the introduction of separate categories for top supplier sales executives in Air, Cruise and Land. Always hotly contested, this expansion allowed more of the hard-working BDMs to be recognised for their efforts which are key to the success of the companies they represent. Similarly the newly launched CATO Awards allowed recognition of more top travel consultants, highlighting the fact that in this business it is people who make the difference.
FINALLY it was great to see the industry able to recognise former AFTA Chairman, Mike Thompson, by awarding him Life Membership. I particularly enjoyed Mike’s acceptance speech and its insights into the delicacies of his position where he was in charge of a group of directors who included his bosses in several incarnations — any of whom could remove him from the role at the stroke of a pen. Fascinating stuff.