Ranking the Rankings--The Best of the Best
By SHIRLEY BRADY
Photo illustration for TIME by Mitchell Confer
Tis the season for the travel industry to publish its "best" lists, an annual exercise in stocktaking and kudo-bestowing that can prove as rewarding for the public as it is for publicists. As usual, the global industry's most closely watched rosters of 1998 honors include many Asian airlines and hotels, a welcome boost in these expense-trimming, stay-at-home times.
For savvy travelers, these yearly industry polls can be great tipsheets. In many, results are based on the opinions of real travelers (not industry or media "experts") and thus tend to be especially credible. The polls that seem to generate the biggest buzz are the readers' surveys conducted by the American magazines Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure. In both, respondents named Singapore Airlines the world's best international carrier for 1998. SIA has now grabbed the top spot in the Conde Nast Traveler poll for nine of the past 10 years. It also took first prize for the seventh straight year in the 1998 readers' survey of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific. No wonder the Singapore Girl is always smiling.
Several Asian hotels and resorts also earned top honors. Among this year's faves: Conde Nast readers selected the Banyan Tree Phuket as the world's best spa resort. They also showed high regard for the Hong Kong-based Amanresorts group. In the category for hotels of 425 rooms or fewer, the Amandari and Amankila hotels in Bali and the Amanpuri in Phuket were ranked first, second and fifth, respectively. Asian properties cleaned up in the larger-hotel category as well. The Regent Hong Kong was rated No. 2, the city's Peninsula No. 3, the Oriental in Bangkok No. 4, Hong Kong's Island Shangri-La No. 6 and its sister property in Bangkok No. 8. (The No. 1 spot went to the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans). Travel & Leisure's list of the world's 10 best hotels includes Bangkok's Oriental (No. 5) and the Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay (No. 6).
The U.S.-based, luxury-leaning newsletter, Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, conducts a yearly high-end reader survey geared at the senior executives among its subscribers. This demanding group of busy travelers placed Singapore's Raffles, Tokyo's Park Hyatt, Bangkok's Oriental, the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore and Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental, Regent and Peninsula (at No. 1) among their choices for the world's top international and city hotels.
What about the less-democratic, more snooty surveys, where editors (not readers) select their favorites? The 10th annual "Best of the Best" list from the Robb Report, a luxury life-style monthly published in the U.S., designates the Peninsula as the world's best hotel for 1998. It also selects the upscale east-meets-west eatery Vong (at Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental hotel) as the best restaurant in the world, bar none.
The Pacific Asia Travel Association also bestows annual awards for outstanding efforts in the region's tourism industry. This year's double winners were the Singapore Tourism Board for its latest video and its website at www.newasia-singapore.com and Fiji's Turtle Island (for its eco-friendly practices and for preserving local culture).
Want to get in on the fun? Share your travel opinions in our weekly online Travel Watch poll at www.time.com/asia/travel. It takes only a few minutes, and it gives you an opportunity to sound off about the Asia travel experiences you deem best--and worst.
R E L A T E D L I N K S :
From Oct. 19 Travel Watch: Detour to Banyan Tree Phuket
December 21, 1998
BEST OF THE SHELF
Chasing Rickshaws: This gorgeous book is not only an ode to Asia's ancient form of human-powered land travel, it's a celebration of the spirit of journeying
BEST OF THE WEB
Consider Robb Satterwhite's Tokyo Meltdown website your best friend in Tokyo
For the finest in this year's travel writing, check out the shortlist selected for top prize in the Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph's annual competition
What's the wildest way to greet 1999 in Asia? Make waves at South Korea's Haeundae Beach and enjoy the annual Polar Bear Swim
Do you use the Internet to make travel arrangements?
Win a signed copy of "Chasing Rickshaws" from Lonely Planet