Travel + Leisure released its latest A-List of the top US and Canadian travel agents, which prompts us to ask: Why isn’t there a comparable list for travel affiliates?

This renowned travel magazine publishes several annual polls that identify the ‘Best of the Best’ in virtually every conceivable category within the global travel industry.  Among their annual polls, they publish the World’s Best awards, which are voted upon by its well-traveled and upscale readers.  The World’s Best readers’ poll (currently in its 14th year) single-out the ‘crème de la crème’ of the world’s hotels, cruises, airlines, tour operators, outfitters, cities, islands, and spas, just to name a few.  Winning a spot in Travel + Leisure’s (T+L) World’s Best annual survey brings significant value to the recipients (both from a PR and financial perspective), and as one can imagine, they’re highly coveted.

T+ L also publishes another annual poll, but unlike the World’s Best, this one isn’t reader- driven; rather, it’s a compilation and assessment conducted by the magazine’s editorial staff and it identifies the top 129 travel agents in the U.S. and Canada, based on either their specialized destination knowledge or product expertise.

Now in its eighth year, the 129 travel agents on the highly-selective A-List 2009 have been gleaned from , as T+L puts it “…an evaluation of…thousands of agents,” who have been determined as being “…the best in the business.”

The award categories include Super-Agents (well respected, deep subject matter experts universally acclaimed in the industry and highly sought-after by travelers); destination specialists with unparallel expertise in countries and geographic regions, such as United States and Canada; Europe; Latin America; the Caribbean; Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific; Asia; Africa and the Middle East; as well as travel product and experiential/lifestyle experts like Cruises; Family Travel, Business Travel, Hotels and Spas, and Special Interest (e.g., Adventure, Culture & Education, Food & Wine, Gay Travel, Honeymoons, etc). TravelDividends congratulates all of this year’s winners, and we wish them continued success in the years to come.

However, as we read T+L’s list, it struck us that the travel affiliate industry should similarly recognize its top professionals for their expertise, abilities and accomplishments.  The travel affiliate channel is an integral element of many travel suppliers’ distribution strategy, much as travel agents are, and there are a number of travel affiliate marketers who, like their travel agent counterparts, are also the ‘Best of the Best’ in our industry.   They too, are product or destination experts, and command the respect of both travel suppliers (for their ability to market and sell), as well as from their travel affiliate colleagues, who look to emulate their successes.

We know that in many cases, the affiliate industry prefers to keep itself shrouded in a cloak of mystery, and that super affiliates often times are reluctant to identify themselves in public.  We would argue that this is outdated thinking, and that the lack of transparency is one of the reasons that affiliate marketing has not achieved the level of success in the travel industry we think it should have at this stage of the industry’s development.  When thinking about what we can do to grow sales in the travel vertical, like PepperJam Network, we think achieving full transparency is critical to the affiliate marketing industry’s future success.

One way TravelDividends suggests we can break-down the affiliate industry’s legacy ‘wall of opaqueness’ is for the travel affiliate industry to institute a recognition program honoring its top travel affiliates.  We realize that to crafting a program like this will not be easy, and that there are many issues and challenges that need to be overcome, not the least of which is determining who or what should be the authoritative source for this program.

Perhaps it will emanate from efforts led by some affiliate marketing industry publication (e.g., InternetRetailer, MediaPost), or from the participants in an affiliate marketing forum (like ABestWeb), or from the cadre of affiliate networks (for example, a network – or networks – that have a sizeable travel affiliate program presence like Affiliate Future, Commission Junction, LinkShare), or better yet, a joint effort among several of these industry players.

Regardless of where it springs from, we think it’s an industry marker that is long-overdue.  What is your position on instituting such a program in our industry?  How would you see a travel affiliate ‘A List’ or ‘Best of the Best’ award structured?  Who do you think would make for the best source to lead this?

Kindly leave a comment, or drop us an email with your views; as always, we appreciate hearing from – and learning – from our readers.  Have a great weekend!