Looking Back at the 2023 Skift IDEA Awards Alumni

Skift Take

With just three weeks remaining to submit your 2024 Skift IDEA Awards application, we take a look back at the 2023 winners and hear how winning an award has impacted them.

As we enter the final stages of the submission window for the sixth edition of Skift IDEA Awards – which since its inception in 2019 has celebrated over 80 winners – our recognition of the most forward-thinking brands and businesses across the travel industry has never been more coveted. 

From 103 shortlisted submissions, 18 winners were selected by our independent judging panel thanks to their forward-thinking and purpose-driven projects, made up of a diverse range of initiatives promoting significant causes and innovative solutions aimed at making travel more seamless, sustainable and creative.

Ahead of the final deadline, which is set for June 13, we are taking a moment to reflect on the incredible stories of our 2023 honorees and hearing the impact winning a Skift IDEA Award can have.

As we look ahead to the 2024 winners, who will be celebrated on-stage at Skift Global Forum in September, let’s take a look at the individuals, brands and companies that took home a win in 2023.

INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Hotels

Banyan Tree: Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape Pioneering “No-Walls, No-Doors” Concept

Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, is set in an off-the-beaten-track, untouched part of northern Ubud. Developed thoughtfully over decades and developed through the pandemic, this brand extension symbolizes Banyan Tree brand’s vision and commitment to creating immersive experiences combining deep nature and sustainable design.

Pioneering a “no walls, no doors” concept throughout the property and in each of its 16 balés (villas), the experience concept is an invitation into a different way of being, aligned to the natural rhythms of the living world.

“With this hotel, we did something that is not the typical way of doing things…,” said Dharmali Kusumadi, SVP, Design & Business Development at Banyan Group.

“Hopefully with this award we can give inspiration to all designers and the hospitality industry that we can do something out of the box.”

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Short Term Rentals

Plum Guide: AI Model to Vet Homes

Over the last 3 years, Plum Guide has journeyed from Human Curation to Curation AI – developing a vetting model that has been taught to deliver quality and curation at speed – eliminating bad homes and identifying what remarkable looks like in seconds, ensuring only the very best short term rental homes make it onto the platform.

The Plum Guide standards had been set by in Home Experts – a 90 page bible. From the design aesthetic to the WIFI speed, the essential criteria for a home to be accepted onto the platform. The Plum Guide team has taught the AI ‘machine’ these standards over time and what makes a Plum home. Today, their Creative AI and Creative Director have a 91% match rate.

“Winning this award means a lot to us,” Said Doron Meyassed, Co-Founder and CEO at Plum Guide.

“I can definitely say for myself, I read Skift every day and I would be amazed if that wasn’t true for everyone in our management team. We use it as a source to see what’s new, come across interesting ideas and be inspired by people we want to meet to learn from what they are doing. So to be recognised by the people that create this content as innovators means a lot and we are proud of it.”

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Tourism

Exceptional ALIEN: Exceptional South Africa – A Collaboration Between Exceptional ALIEN and South African Tourism

‘Exceptional South Africa’ is an innovative multimedia campaign that enables audiences to experience South Africa through the unique and diverse perspectives of 10 exceptional talents. Each personality shares their ‘Travel Playbook’ – which contains personal stories, videos and recommendations that travelers can reference, save, share and book.

The series presents an innovative personal tour of each talent’s favorite destinations in South Africa that is also shared as a multimedia campaign of video, editorial, social media and audio.

Michael Canning, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer, Exceptional Alien said, “We couldn’t be more grateful to win the Industry Innovator Award for Tourism at Skift IDEA Awards. It means a lot to us, and we’d like to thank everyone at Skift IDEA Awards for the recognition.”

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Business Travel

Navan: Ava, Navan’s Automated Virtual Assistant

While AI has played an integral role across Navan’s platform since its inception in 2015, OpenAI’s launch of GPT changed the game. Navan immediately recognized the power and potential of this groundbreaking technology and began to integrate it after partnering quickly with OpenAI.

Navan’s generative AI-powered assistant and analyst – named Ava, short for automated travel assistant – enables more personalized options for travelers and provides CFOs and corporate travel admins with deeper insights into their company’s data than has ever been possible, in an instant. With a single prompt, Ava can unearth information that could transform a company by delivering time – and money – saving insights.

“Every once in a while, if you get an award from a leading voice in the travel community, it’s kind of amazing because you can stop for a second, smile, take a deep breath and say wow, it is really cool,” said Ilan Twig Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Navan.

“It actually fills all of us up with so much energy to go and do more and push the boundaries, and hopefully get recognised again.”

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Airlines (Presented by AIRLINE WEEKLY)

HRS Group: Delivering Exceptional Experiences to Those Who Matter Most, When it is Needed Most

HRS Group believes there’s a simpler way to look after those who matter most, when they need it most – for the crew who keep everyone moving and the passengers who keep business turning.

For passengers, the platform provides a self-service solution on their device when flights or trains are disrupted, offering personalized travel packages for immediate help. For crew, the travel companion app organizes their journey with real-time communication, digital allowances, and paperless processes, saving time and enhancing their experience. Operations teams benefit from an end-to-end solution, streamlining processes, driving cost savings, and simplifying budgeting and forecasting.

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Airports (Presented by AIRLINE WEEKLY)

Volario by Airsiders: Connecting Every Part of the Passenger Journey

Volario is an innovative travel platform that offers passengers more choices and flexibility for their flights. It combines traditional itineraries with self-connecting options, enabling travelers to book flights from multiple carriers without limitations.

The platform provides valuable information about layovers, including predicted connecting times and baggage handling details, simplifying the booking process and ensuring a smooth journey.

Volario Go, an integral part of the experience, goes beyond flight booking and assists passengers in planning their entire airport journey. It offers personalized itineraries, transportation options, accurate time predictions, and real-time flight updates, enhancing the overall travel experience. Additionally, Volario Go Explore allows passengers to explore airport services and add points of interest to their routes on an interactive map.

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Tour Operators

Culinary Backstreets: Uplifting Historically Silenced Food Narratives in Culinary Tours and Multi-Day Trips

As a culinary experiences provider designing and operating daily tours and weeklong trips in 16 urban destinations worldwide, Culinary Backstreets believe it has the power — and responsibility — to shape the way visitors encounter a city.

This project, a set of unique culinary experiences in multiple cities, uses that power to uplift historically silenced food narratives. Culinary Backstreets do this by celebrating the work of immigrant chefs in Queens, NY, female chefs in Oaxaca, Mexico, and chefs of the former Portuguese colonies in Lisbon, while also recognizing the adversity faced by these marginalized groups.

This project challenges xenophobia, sexism and discrimination by celebrating the great contribution made by these groups in the kitchens of the cities they live and work in.

Yigal Schleifer, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief at Culinary Backstreets said ”It’s a great honor to win this award, and it really encourages us to keep developing meaningful experiences, and deepen what we do.

“We really hope that it allows us to share a bit more widely the kind of work that we do, but also through this kind of recognition, meet others who are working in this field and learn from them.”

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INDUSTRY INNOVATORS
Category: Activities & Attractions

Pursuit – Banff Jasper Collection: Nightrise – An Immersive Storytelling Experience

The Banff Gondola by Pursuit is an attraction located in Beautiful Banff National Park. The Nightrise experience honors the sacred mountains- a place of gathering since time immemorial for many, including the Stoney People. In Nightrise’s conception, the team partnered with the Stoney Nakoda Nation to educate guests of the people of Treaty 7’s land which included using traditional words and explanations of the mountain’s evening and winter wonders. 

These wonders include Alpenglow, Diamond Dust, Frosted Waves and Cosmic Rays; all natural phenomena explained through the eyes and voices of Stoney language and context. 

Pursuit is a collection of inspiring and unforgettable experiences in iconic places including Alaska, Montanta, The Canadian Rockies, Vancouver, Reykjavik, Las Vegas and soon to be Toronto. The vision is to be the world’s leading provider of attraction and hospitality experiences, with a focus on connecting guests with the natural world, celebrating our past as well as striving to keep our history vibrant and meaningful.

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CHANGE MAKERS
Category: Sustainability

The Travel Corporation: The Travel Corporation’s Carbon Fund

In 2022, The Travel Corporation, a family-owned group of 40 award-winning brands including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki, Evan Evans, Red Carnation Hotels and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, became the first global tour operator with all three near-term, long-term, and net zero targets validated by the Science Based Targets initiative.

To achieve these targets, TTC became the first tour operator to introduce a Carbon Fund – an internal fund generated by revenue from TTC brands that will be used solely for initiatives that contribute to TTC’s net zero journey. This step follows more than a decade-long sustainability commitment spanning 70 countries.

“We’re really excited that the Travel Corporation has received an IDEA Award for our Carbon Fund. In terms of sustainability propositions in the marketplace, it’s somewhat a difficult place to operate in. There are a lot of cynics – rightfully so – and there are a lot of critics…,” said Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Travel Corporation.

“So receiving recognition for this from Skift, will help us to get that message out, it will help us to further give legs to this project, and I really hope it will help our trade partners and our guests to really start appreciating what it is.”

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CHANGE MAKERS
Category: People & Community

Banff & Lake Louise Tourism and Group Nao: Lead Tourism for Good – 10-Year Vision for Tourism to Banff and Lake Louise

In the summer of 2021, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, representing over 700 businesses in Banff National Park, in collaboration with the Town of Banff and Parks Canada, embarked on a mission to establish a shared vision and chart a path towards a more sustainable future for tourism.

With annual visitation exceeding 4 million, supported by the 8,756 residents within the boundaries of the majestic national park, evolving and increasing visitor pressures have made it evident that change is necessary.

The path forward was to create a shared vision for tourism to Canada’s first National Park. Developed through a process called “Tourism Together,” Banff & Lake Louise Tourism undertook an open consultation process involving over 2,000 residents, tourism employees, businesses and government.

This extensive collaboration and engagement with partners and the community allowed them to collectively create a shared vision, guidelines, and priorities from their feedback to ensure the natural splendor of Banff National Park is preserved, the local community thrives, and visitors and residents can experience the beauty and wonder of this place for generations to come.

The outcome was the creation of “Lead Tourism for Good- 10 Year Vision for Tourism in Banff and Lake Louise”, capturing the shared sense of privilege and responsibility to protect the area that emerged while surfacing the deep personal connection people have with the park.

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CHANGE MAKERS
Category: Leadership

Adrian Gardiner: Founder & Chairman, Mantis Collection (Accor)

In 1989, Adrian Gardiner purchased a 1000-hectare farm as a weekend retreat for his family. However, this farm soon became one of the most ambitious rewilding projects in the world. Within a matter of years, the land expanded to 25,000 hectares, and Adrian began reintroducing the wildlife that had been wiped out over the past 200 years. From elephants, rhinos, and buffalos to lions and leopards, he brought back every species that once roamed this part of South Africa.

Today, this piece of land is known as the Shamwari Game Reserve and attracts thousands of tourists from across the globe. The reserve, which comprises 20 farms, now employs over 400 people, whereas previously it employed only 20.

In 2000, he established an eco-tourism hospitality business called Mantis Collection, which today manages hotels and eco-lodges across Africa. The brand is now expanding into the Middle East, with ongoing eco-lodge projects in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Ras Al Khaimah. In 2018, Adrian sold half of his eco-hospitality group, Mantis, to the hotel group Accor. As part of the deal, both partners set up a not-for-profit foundation called the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA). Today, this foundation is responsible for initiating community and conservation projects within all Mantis hotels and lodges.

Now 80 years old, Adrian is on a new mission. He has identified a piece of land, called Nyosi, tucked between two cities in South Africa, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, and wants to create a sanctuary much like Central Park in New York, but much larger (3000 hectares) and home to free-roaming wildlife. For him, it is more about the community, as the reserve borders a very large impoverished community, and he is determined to involve them in his vision. He wishes to create jobs, bring education and learning facilities to the reserve, develop a museum highlighting the journey of the destruction of wildlife in the region, and pioneer something remarkable related to the plight of rhinos in South Africa, which may ultimately save them in the long run.

“I was absolutely surprised, because I realized I was up against some great nominees. In fact a couple of them have written to me to congratulate me, and I always answer it by saying whilst I might be the recipient, I could never have won this without the team that is behind me,” said Adrian Gardiner, Founder & Chairman at the Mantis Collection (Accor).

“…These awards are very important because they show that our work is being endorsed, and that to me is such an important factor. It’s not just something that is happening, we are making a difference to the environment, wildlife and communities.”

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CREATIVE THINKERS
Category: Marketing

Travelport: The 7 Wonders Challenge

To showcase the power of its travel retailing platform, Travelport+, Travelport put it to the ultimate test by seeing if it could get British adventurer, Jamie ‘Adventureman’ McDonald, to the New 7 Wonders of the World in less than 7 days using nothing but public transport. 

Six days, sixteen hours and fourteen minutes later, they had their answer: yes! And a new official Guinness World Record was set. 

The incredibly complicated trip involved traveling across 4 continents, flying on 13 planes, and riding in 16 taxis, 9 buses, 4 trains and 1 toboggan. That’s 43 individual pieces of transport that all needed to go smoothly or be managed live – all at a time when global travel was still recovering from the impact of a global pandemic. 

Once the trip had been pulled off, Travelport developed a fully integrated marcomms campaign around it.

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CREATIVE THINKERS
Category: Content

Kiwi.com: Kiwi.com “Hacks” YouTube

Kiwi.com rebranded, faced with trying to stand out amongst a ‘sea of sameness’ in the travel industry, the company looked like just another OTA playing catch-up to the bigger known brands and needed to show off its differences which are thanks to its technology (its algorithm) finding unique itineraries not found on other sites.

However, it was a point in time immediately post-covid which although was an optimum moment to reconnect with travelers desperate to make up for lost travel time, also a time when the business needed to be cautious with budget and investment.

The Kiwi.com creative team delivered a complete shift change in the brand that harnessed the tech element of the company and the uniqueness of the product by using light hearted and engaging videos highly targeted for people who don’t mind giving up on a few luxuries in order to find the cheapest flight tickets – bringing out of the shadows of the other industry players and into a unique space in travel.

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CREATIVE THINKERS
Category: Product Design

Faye Travel Insurance: A Travel Insurance App That’s Actually Useful? Imagine That, with Faye


When the team at Faye set out to build the next generation of travel protection, they knew it needed to be way more than just travel insurance.

Armed with a team of experts hailing from Allianz and Lemonade, alongside insurance industry veterans as advisors, Faye built a 100% digital, proactive travel insurance and assistance offering, packaged in a sleek, easy-to-use app where travelers can do it all, from anywhere in the world.

From getting trips covered, to receiving real-time itinerary alerts, to filing claims, to receiving reimbursements, to chatting with support 24/7, Faye has created an app that’s actually useful in a sea dominated by incumbent players who have failed to digitize.

“I’ve personally been a long time reader of Skift, way before we founded Faye, so it’s a great honor to earn this recognition and award. It’s definitely evidence that we are doing something right…, ” said Elad Schaffer, Co-Founder and CEO at Faye.

“Winning for us reinforces that we are here to give each traveler a piece of mind to enjoy their trip to the fullest, by bringing out the best in every journey, helping things go right rather than waiting for things to go wrong.”

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CREATIVE THINKERS
Category: Physical Experiences

Visit Seattle: “Kissing in the Rain” Booth


Visit Seattle set out to change travelers’ perspectives of the Emerald City, with the organization engaging its partner agencies – C+C and Copacino Fujikado – to create a campaign that could reignite excitement back into Seattle travel.

Marketers have historically shied away from promoting Seattle’s rain and travelers generally avoid it as well, but Visit Seattle, C+C, and Copacino Fujikado saw an opportunity to embrace Seattle’s rainy reputation for the first time by framing it as romantic, cozy, and refreshing.

Some of the most magical scenes in cinema involve rain —from kisses in the rain (à la “The Notebook” and “Spiderman”) to extravagant musical numbers (the classic “Singing in the Rain”).  The organizations collaborated to build a traveling rain booth to highlight the magic and romance of a rainy Seattle day and invite potential travelers to fall in love with Seattle’s cozy season.

“Awards are not why we do this, but it sure is nice to be recognised for hard work, for creativity, for innovation, and for thinking differently,” said Ali Daniels, Chief Marketing Officer at Visit Seattle. 

“I looked at past winners of this award, and what an honor to be listed in the same breath as some of these organizations, companies and initiatives.”

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PROBLEM SOLVERS
Category: Business Outcomes

TourRadar: TourRadar’s Adventure Booking Platform


In 2021, TourRadar further revolutionized the industry by introducing a B2B side of the business to the Adventure Booking Platform, connecting travelers, operators, and travel agents to organized adventures through one, easy-to-use platform.

The Adventure Booking Platform enables Travel Advisors, OTAs, GDSs, Airlines, Influencers, and Content Providers access to its entire inventory of 50,000 organized adventures and multi-day tours from around the world, all via one solution and one portal. Sign-up is free and partners earn an average of $300 commission per booking.

TourRadar’s vision is to enrich the world through organized adventures, democratizing the adventure tourism industry, removing barriers, and providing a positive impact on people and the planet.

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PROBLEM SOLVERS
Category: Data Provider

Knowland: Meeting Recovery Forecast: Meetings and Events Data for Accelerated Recovery

In late 2021, Knowland launched the Meeting Recovery Forecast, the hospitality industry’s first meetings activity forecast, and has continued the forecast into 2023 as an indicator of industry rebound, measured by the recapture of 2019 event volumes.

The Meetings Recovery Forecast (MRF) and the Top 25 U.S. Meetings Recovery Forecast (MRF25) projects industry recovery patterns for the U.S. and the top markets in the U.S from 2022 to 2024. The forecast leverages 15+ years of meetings and events data in Knowland’s extensive database to analyze key trends and predict changes in demand growth in the industry.

By comparing past data to evolving data trends, hoteliers can better understand relevant changes – and their implications.

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PROBLEM SOLVERS
Category: Travel Technology

Navan: Navan Connect

After years of conversations with thousands of customers at every level of leadership, one universal truth was revealed: Companies want to give their employees Navan’s magical ‘No expense reports’ experience. But at the same time, many customers enjoy the benefits they get from their existing institutional corporate card and banking relationships.

That was the premise behind Navan Connect (patent-pending), an innovative card link technology that enables finance leaders to directly access the benefits of Navan Expense automated expense management with the corporate card they already use.

Modern systems remove the need for employees to submit manual expense reports by immediately capturing and categorizing transaction details, then sending them straight to the finance team. These systems also feature policy controls at a granular level, eliminating out-of-policy spend before a purchase even occurs.

Previously, taking advantage of these back-end benefits required companies to switch the corporate cards they used on the front end. To thread the needle between a modern experience and the power and reach of institutional global banks, Navan developed Navan Connect. The offering launched in partnership with Visa and Mastercard, with other providers queued to join the network.

Now, companies can keep the existing corporate card they have—complete with its rebates and rewards—and link it directly to Navan’s award-winning expense management system. 

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So, are you ready to share your ideas with the world? Don’t miss your chance to be a part of the 2024 Skift IDEA Awards.

Tags: idea awards 2024, skift idea awards

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