FOR THE NINTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, Global Traveler honors the best of the best in the industry, naming 2019’s Airline of the Year and Hotel of the Year.
What travelers once deemed impossibly vast distances between oceans now seem closer and more accessible than ever. We enjoy much more of the world thanks to ever-improving and developing travel capabilities, but with all this power comes great responsibility … and the responsibility to satisfy customers as well as our planet is just the beginning.
Every provider in the travel industry not only must keep up but also consistently impress, perform and even go above and beyond just to pull ahead of the pack — and that pack presents quite a lot of competition.
Air Canada and Hyatt each climbed a long ladder to success based primarily on high standards, dedication and customer service. The two titans of travel again took this year as an opportunity to carve their way well beyond industry standards and stand out among the rest. As a result, they’ve each earned top honors as GT’s 2019 Airline of the Year and Hotel of the Year, respectively.
Presenting the esteemed honor each year, a select group of Global Traveler staff and Advisory Board members choose the winners based on a series of considerations. They weigh a wide range of factors including each nominee’s financial information, performance records, loading and boarding time, safety procedures and current standing, onboard menus and overall brand identity. Earning this award represents a perfect storm of professional achievement.
When considering a favorite travel brand that stands the test of time, constantly strives for perfection, adapts to a changing landscape, gives more back to communities than it takes away and continues to shine with impressive initiatives and practices, does any one brand come to mind?
AIRLINE OF THE YEAR 2019
The year was 1937. Eccentric millionaire and aviator Howard Hughes broke his own transcontinental flight-speed record by flying a monoplane from Los Angeles to Newark in seven hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. Amelia Earhart disappeared during her nearly completed circumnavigation of the globe. And Trans-Canada Air Lines launched its first flight. Not a bad group among whom to make history.
Trans-Canada Air Lines’ inaugural commercial flight headed for Seattle from Vancouver via a Lockheed 10A Electra — the same aircraft flown by Earhart, the military and other airlines in the 1930s. The first round-trip flights transported mail as well as a couple of passengers for a whopping $14.20 each.
Founded as a Canadian National Railway subsidiary, TCA paved the way for Canada’s national airline Air Canada (officially renamed in 1965), to enjoy a strong start in the industry. With $5 million in seed money; a small fleet of aircraft purchased from Canadian Airways Limited, a regional air carrier based in Winnipeg, Manitoba; World War I fighter pilot Donald MacLaren’s development of TCA’s rigorous pilot program; and airline experts joining the team, TCA opened up the world for Canadian travelers, making Canada’s vast landscape seem a little smaller.
While TCA quickly grew a strong and successful business on the ground, natural elements taught valuable lessons in the air. In 1938 TCA became the first airline to equip its fleet with de-icing nozzles to remove ice accumulation on aircraft windshields and again led the way with Canada’s first electric de-icing devices in 1961.
In 1938 TCA developed oxygen systems and also hired its first flight attendant, Lucile Garner Grant. A trained nurse, Grant was responsible for much of the heavy lifting on board, including following weather reports, handling radio communications, creating food service and even designing uniforms for herself and an eventual crew.
With World War I-trained pilots in the cockpit, nurses on board, a growing crew of experts, eager passengers, Air Express Services commissioned for mail delivery, and innovative thinkers back at headquarters, TCA meant business. Transcontinental routes began transporting domestic travelers to destinations they never thought possible to visit.
When World War II broke out, many TCA crew members joined the fighting forces while others stayed home to continue developing the brand. Over the years TCA maintained the course and continued to impress. With a landmark route to New York City in 1941 and extended services throughout Canada, the airline saw a 60 percent passenger increase. With so many new travelers, flight attendant service stepped up its game with chewing gum, smelling salts, cigarettes, matches and other essentials travelers might need.
Over the next decades, TCA’s fleet continued to grow with expanded routes and services. Groundbreaking flights crossed the Atlantic, and early on the airline boasted 20 pilots flying more than 1 million miles. It debuted in-flight hot meals, redesigned uniforms many times and introduced incentives and perks to improve employee quality of life. TCA served 10 million passengers, including countless celebrities and notable names; and following milestone after milestone, Air Canada became the new official French name in 1954.
Many innovations followed. As the airline introduced low-cost fares to accommodate more travelers, airport building boomed all over Canada. It introduced the first computerized reservations system and helped develop the multichannel flight recorder, the world’s first black box — all before the airline officially became Air Canada in 1965.
Over the next decades Air Canada saw immense success, becoming faster and more reliable with newer, larger jets and an attention to service and safety standards. The airline hired its first female pilot in 1978, banned smoking and experienced a steady rise to the top of its industry. Catering to airline partners (a founding member of Star Alliance), crew and guests, Air Canada earned its reputation as a traveler favorite.
Merging with Canadian Airlines International Ltd., in 2001, Air Canada became a force in the industry. In the last 18 years Air Canada revolutionized in-flight seating and focused on providing impeccable in-flight service and entertainment, all while remaining dedicated to safety and comfort, sustainability and community — and the world took notice.
At the 2019 Skytrax World Airline Awards, Air Canada received Best Airline in North America (third consecutive win), World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining, Best Airline Staff in Canada, Best Business Class in North America and Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness in North America. It also won Best in North America at the World Airline Awards eight times in the last 10 years, as voted by more than 21 million global travelers. Air Canada is no novice in reaping what it sows through innovation, commitment and prioritizing goals with four main pillars: safety, environment, employees and communities.
Actions speak louder than words, and Air Canada demonstrates it many times over, easily earning another accolade to add to its growing list: Airline of the Year 2019.
Not a jack of all trades, definitely a master of one, Air Canada proves performance is everything.
HOTEL OF THE YEAR 2019
It may be a cliché, but it rings true: Timing and location are everything … and Jay Pritzker had both in spades when he purchased his first motel for $2.2 million from Hyatt Robert von Dehn and Jack Dyer Crouch more than 60 years ago.
The founder of Hyatt hotels may not have known he was building a vast hospitality empire and network of worldwide accommodations in 1957 when he purchased the Hyatt House, a motel next to Los Angeles International Airport, but that’s absolutely what he did.
At the time, LAX handled more than 200 weekly flights, five of which operated the only direct flights from California to Europe — meaning big business-travel business at the motel.
In the next 10 years Pritzker brought on his brother Donald, and the pair set off to grow the family business into something much larger: a North American management and hotel ownership company.
In 1967 Hyatt Regency Atlanta became the first Hyatt Regency property and dressed to impress. The 22-story atrium lobby featured a groundbreaking design, the first of its kind and a big statement for the global hospitality brand — a remember-the-name moment in the travel world.
The successful step into the big time set Hyatt up for big things — so big, in fact, it formed another public company. In 1968 Hyatt International stepped onto the scene, and eventually both Hyatt Corp. and Hyatt International Corp. went private (in 1979 and 1982, respectively).
In 1969 Hyatt Regency Hong Kong paved Hyatt’s way into the world of international hospitality, and in 1972, back at home, Hyatt opened a central reservations office in Omaha, Nebraska. The company established a dedicated toll-free number to connect Hyatt and customers almost directly, setting a new industry standard for customer service — something to which Hyatt has become accustomed.
A few years later, in 1980, Grand Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt Chicago opened for business and became two iconic landmarks for Hyatt, helping the brand’s portfolio achieve incredible results with its quality-over-quantity approach.
The slow-build, one-at-a-time hotel openings suited Hyatt’s brand and clientele nicely, and a following began to form. After seven years of steady business both at home and abroad, the brand launched Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program to reward and incentivize travelers.
Hyatt ventured into the vacation market in 1995 with the Hyatt Sunset Harbor in Key West, Florida. In the 2000s Hyatt really started to pick up the pace, gain momentum and take the hotel industry by storm.
In 2006 Hyatt made cleverly strategic moves for the growing brand, resulting in two firsts: The Hyatt Place brand opened in Lombard, Illinois, and Hyatt purchased Summerfield Suites to step into the extended-stay market, well before the trend. The following year, and in a stylish turn of events, the Andaz brand debuted on Liverpool Street, London, and two years later Hyatt went public again.
In 2011 in rapid-fire branding, Hyatt Thrive launched as the company’s global corporate responsibility platform, and 2012 welcomed a rebranding of Hyatt Summerfield Suites to Hyatt House (a nod to the original motel). The Hyatt Centric brand launched in 2015 in Chicago boasting chic, accessible accommodations in desirable locations around the city; and 2016 welcomed The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, the 12th brand in the portfolio and the most unique thus far. The Unbound Collection keeps the identity and originality of a boutique, small-business hotel while adding Hyatt’s well-established professionalism, service and network of loyalty travelers. This represented a significant step for Hyatt. By maintaining the original character of an existing business while building a mutual partnership, beneficial to all involved and attracting travelers seeking the security of a well-known name brand, Hyatt introduced guests to new immersive experiences — another trend Hyatt initiated early on.
The following year, the company launched World of Hyatt as a revamped loyalty program devised to further connect with and engage Hyatt’s loyal customers. This program resulted in Hyatt’s entrance into the health and wellness space, acquiring Miraval and Exhale.
The brand introduced the World of Hyatt Credit Card in 2018, to further reward and connect with customers based on their interests, and also finalized the purchase of Two Roads Hospitality, opening up Hyatt’s hospitality sector.
While the slow and steady pace may have changed a bit in the 2000s, it definitely assisted Hyatt in winning the race. By seeing an opportunity and taking it, building a foundation of success through tried-and-true techniques, connecting with customers and listening to and meeting their needs, and repeating the cycle, Hyatt built an empire from a single motel in the desert. Hyatt remains a brand of determination and innovation, to say the least.
Offering more than 700 hotels in 56 countries and another 960 accommodation options in the pipeline, it’s safe to say Hyatt has a handle on the global travel economy. The Hyatt name and brand have a reputation to uphold; and if history is any indication, Hyatt proves up to the task, which is why there’s a fitting ring to the honor of Hotel of the Year.
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