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Our top travel stars saluted at dazzling awards ceremony

IT DIDN'T have Ant or Dec or Simon and Cheryl, but the travel industry's new Oscars night were every bit as dazzling as this week's TV awards.

Craig Doyle hosted the first of the new Irish Travel Industry Awards -- and it was a mixed night for Aer Lingus as prizes were awarded for the brightest performers in the industry.

"All the big names in travel are here," said Craig, adding: "Even Aer Lingus made it -- even though it had to hire in some Ryanair people."

But the airline's suits had the last laugh, as it won the Best Short Haul Airline and Best Medium Haul Airline prizes.

Hundreds of the top names in the industry thronged the Mansion House for the ceremony organised by the Irish Travel Agents Association, with Independent News and Media its media partner.

They included new Royal Caribbean UK & Ireland boss Dominic Paul, who flew in from Britain for the night, as well as tourist board bosses from the Canary Islands, Malta and Austria.

And it was a fruitful journey for the cruise chief, who picked up two prizes on the podium, for Royal Caribbean (Best Cruise Company) and Celebrity Cruises (Best Luxury Cruise Company).

Meanwhile, Etihad won Best Long Haul Airline, while Sunworld was voted Best Short Haul Tour Operator.

Sunway won in the Long Haul category, while Topflight won out in the Ski Tour Operator category.

In the car hire sector, Hertz Holiday Autos came tops, while the Spanish Tourist Board was honoured for its work promoting the country. Irish Ferries won the Best Ferry Company category, while Discover Travel was the top Specialist Tour Operator.

But the judges couldn't decide on the best European city destination for this year, dividing the prize between Barcelona and Paris, while other favourite spots included New York (best worldwide city); the Algarve (best sun destination); Lanzarote (winter sun); and Canada (winter ski).

In a glitzy show, followed by a late night in Pink nightclub, Irish Travel Agents Association president Pat Dawson declared the night a "politician-free zone", and saluted agents who have come through one of their toughest years.