Telegraph Travel Awards 2015-16: Britain’s best tour operators –

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More than 75,000 readers voted in the 2015-16 Telegraph Travel Awards, announced this week. Here are the tour operators you rated most highly.

Best tour operator

  1. Audley
  2. Trailfinders
  3. Scott Dunn

Consistently highly-rated by readers for many years, Audley specialises in long-haul holidays, offering tailor-made itineraries to many of the top destinations in our list of your favourite countries. Its original speciality when it was founded 15 years ago were trips to Asia, then South America, but now its programme spans most corners of the globe. These are often complicated trips which require excellent planning, good contacts on the ground and close attention to detail, and Audley has proven itself to your evident satisfaction. 

No doubt Mike Gooley, the charismatic owner and founder of Trailfinders, who has run the company for more than 40 years, will be disappointed with second place. He has always set extremely high standards of customer service and his staff have consistently delivered. But he shouldn’t be, this is yet another impressive performance by one of the most famous companies in travel. If you are looing to book long haul – either a detailed itinerary or a fairly straightforward resort holiday – you won’t do better than to get quotes from both Audley and Trailfinders.

From the best ski hotels to luxury villas,  private safaris to exclusive beach resorts, Scott Dunn is the top-end fixer – par excellence. It also offers a strong line in family holidays.

Nick Trend

Best escorted tour operator

  1. Trafalgar
  2. APT
  3. Wendy Wu

The popularity of escorted tours is on the rise. In response, operators are delivering increasingly sophisticated itineraries which cater for every type of traveller. While coach tours to Europe remain perennial favourites, we are also seeing a growth in long-haul programmes, particularly to the US, Canada, Australia and Japan as well as destinations such as Burma and Iran, which have long been difficult to visit but are now opening up to tourism.

Leading the pack is Trafalgar, a US company best known for leading tours to Europe from the US and Australia. The family-owned operator has set its sights on the UK market and is keen to bolster its presence in the country. In addition to offering exceptional itineraries and a high standard of accommodation, it is also one of the first tour operators to roll out “insider experiences,” such as dining with locals in their homes.

Escorted tours to destinations like Burma and Iran have grown in popularity

Escorted tours to destinations like Burma and Iran have grown in popularity

Following closely behind is APT, an Australian river cruise operator which runs an escorted tours programme. Its portfolio is wide-ranging: from botanical excursions and culinary trips to four-wheel drive adventures. Finally, in third place is Wendy Wu, the UK’s Asia specialist. It has a strong programme focused on China, Japan and Southeast Asia but it is slowly expanding its offerings to South America and South Africa. The company’s regional knowledge is unrivalled and its products offer excellent value for money.

Trisha Andres

Best specialist tour operator

  1. Wellbeing Escapes
  2. Vintage Travel
  3. Inspired Luxury

For all the opportunities to make dazzling discoveries in furthest-flung outposts proffered by many specialist tour operators, this year’s winner in this intriguing category places its emphasis on sitting still and pausing for thought. Wellbeing Escapes deals in a range of getaways – yoga holidays, Ayurveda retreats, spa sessions and detox breaks – where the grass is very much supposed to grow under your feet. Of course, such adventures can always involve a sizeable dose of travel – and destinations covered by the company include India, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Indonesia and St Lucia. But if you would prefer to focus on relaxation a little closer to home, you can also book a soothing serenade in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy – or the UK. As our winner’s website phrases it: “Why travel halfway across the world for a luxury spa holiday?” Why indeed.

Wellbeing Escapes deals in yoga holidays, Ayurveda retreats, spa sessions and detox breaks

Wellbeing Escapes deals in yoga holidays, Ayurveda retreats, spa sessions and detox breaks


There is nothing sepia about the holidays offered by second-placed Vintage Travel, which dispenses villa escapes in prime European locations – Croatia, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Turkey. Similarly, third-placed Inspired Luxury Escapes devotes itself to luxury hotels and villa breaks in the Canary Islands, Greece, Turkey, Dubai and Morocco.

Chris Leadbeater

Best rail operator

  1. Rocky Mountaineer
  2. Great Rail Journeys
  3. Railbookers

In the 26 years since its inaugural trip, the Rocky Mountaineer train company has travelled a long way, and not just from its headquarters in Vancouver. To its three staple Canadian routes – First Passage to the West, Journey through the Clouds and Rainforest to Gold Rush – it has added a coastal one that takes in the American city of Seattle. It has joined forces with Holland American Line to offer holidays combining rail travel in the Rockies with an Alaska cruise. And it has garnered a host of awards, capped by its triumph in this year’s Telegraph Travel Awards.

What makes it such a popular train travel operator? In part the destination – the spectacular Rocky Mountains; in part the luxurious service; in part, the fact that hotels are used for overnight stops ensuring that no part of the scenery is missed (and bathrooms are expansive).

The spectacular Rocky Mountains

The spectacular Rocky Mountains

Credit: Zhukova

Writing for Telegraph Travel, Laurence Marks declares: “The Rocky Mountaineer is quite unlike any train I have ever seen, let alone travelled on; on board the seats are even more luxurious than first-class air travel and downstairs is a restaurant car that serves five-star quality food and wine. Our guide keeps us laughing for hundreds of miles as well as pointing out the exceptional photo opportunities: rivers, mountains, creeks and suspension bridges, even glossy seals fishing for salmon.”

Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer can be booked through the two runners up in the category, the specialist rail companies Great Rail Journeys, which offers guided tours by rail worldwide, and Railbookers, which devises top-notch itineraries for those who wanting to travel independently.  

Adrian Bridge

Best ski operator

  1. Scott Dunn
  2. VIP Ski
  3. Le Ski

Scott Dunn, founded in 1986 by Andrew Dunn with just two chalets in Switzerland, has established itself as the first port of call for people looking for a luxury ski holiday.  The company changed the face of British chalet holidays by ramping up the quality of accommodation offered to meet the needs of more discerning guests. It now offers 27 chalets with features such as indoor swimming pools, hammams and indoor climbing walls. The chalets are located in some of the Alps most exclusive resorts – St Anton, Courchevel 1850, Courchevel 1550 and Val d’Isère  – and run by a team of well trained staff including a host, private chef who tailors the menu to your liking, and fully qualified nannies for families.  The company also offers a selection of handpicked luxury ski hotels and prides itself on its travel specialists who’ve visited every resort and property they feature.

Skiers in Courchevel

Skiers in Courchevel

Courchevel Tourisme/David André/DAVID ANDRE

Runner up VIP Ski is renowned for offering guests good quality chalet or apartment accommodation, great food and friendly, efficient service in 10 of Europe’s most snowsure destinations. Fellow runner up Le Ski offers a similar level of service but focuses exclusively on chalet holidays in three resorts; Val d’Isère, Courchevel and La Tania.

Henry Druce

Telegraph Travel Awards 2015-16: Britain’s best tour operators –