(9:45 a.m. GMT)-- Royal Caribbean International and sister company Celebrity Cruises swept the board at the glittering Travel Trade Gazette Travel Awards last night, walking off with the top two cruise prizes.
Royal Caribbean was voted by thousands of travel agents throughout the U.K. as Best Cruise Line in the category of companies carrying over 75,000 U.K. passengers, while Celebrity scooped the gong for Best Cruise Line in the under 75,000 U.K. passengers category.
These annual awards, hosted by the one of the travel trade's two weekly newspapers, are seen as highly prestigious as they're voted for by travel agents, on whom cruise lines depend heavily for bookings; Celebrity, for example, receives 90 percent of its U.K. business through the travel trade.
The evening, which packed out London's Grosvenor House, wasn't short on surprises. For a start, there was speculation all afternoon on social networking sites like Twitter as to who would present the U.K. travel industry's Oscars. There was a momentary flurry at the pre-dinner drinks when last year's teenage X Factor show star Eoghan Quigg was spotted in the hotel's lobby, but those who had attended the 2008 ceremony, when TV's James Nesbitt did the honours, knew that there was better to come.
And what other to launch an evening of witty repartee and macho glamour than a bit of Strictly Come Dancing, brilliantly timed by TTG to coincide with the show's 2009 return last weekend? Dancer Erin Boag bursting onto the stage alone was a clue, but the crowd erupted when she was joined by the BBC show's 2008 partner Austin Healey, former British rugby star and Strictly quarter finalist.
In the more serious part of the evening, Healey cited Norwegian Cruise Line as "highly commended" in the "under 75,000 U.K. passengers" category. But Celebrity took the big prize, because, a statement by TTG said, of its "deployment of one of its new class of ships [Celebrity Eclipse] to Southampton next year and the launch of a forerunner [Celebrity Equinox] in the U.K. this year".
Celebrity's associate vice president and general manager, U.K. and Ireland, Jo Rzymowska, told Cruise Critic: "To win this award, voted for by travel agents in the U.K. and Ireland, for the first time ever, shows that the travel industry is finally understanding what Celebrity has to offer."
Crystal Cruises won this prize last year and in 2009, the other contenders were Carnival Cruise Lines, NCL, Holland America Line, Hurtigruten and Yachts of Seabourn.
Winning the other big cruise prize, in which Royal Caribbean was up against Cunard, Princess Cruises and Thomson Cruises (market leader P&O Cruises not even getting a look-in), was the icing on the cake for Rzymowska. She declared to Cruise Critic ecstatically: "The consumer and the trade know that Royal Caribbean is truly unique. Royal Caribbean genuinely has the opportunity to be the number one cruise brand out of the U.K."
Fighting talk indeed. In fact, P&O cruises, Royal Caribbean's big rival on the ex-Southampton routes, didn't walk away empty-handed. Carnival U.K. brands Cunard, Princess, Ocean Village and P&O won the "Trade-facing Web site of the Year" award, meaning that the agents and panel who voted found the trade-only site both inspiring and practical.
As for Austin Healey ... Although a talented presenter -- and talking over the babble of several hundred Champagne-fuelled travel agents isn't easy -- the rugby star largely kept his views on the travel industry to himself, apart from one revealing outburst. "I really hate Ryanair, don't you?" he challenged the audience.
Luckily, the low-cost airline wasn't up for an award.
--by Sue Bryant, Contributing Editor
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Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Scoop Cruise Honours At Top U.K. Industry Awards
September 23, 2009