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Vania De Paoli with her tour group in Italy

Leader of the Year Awards 2019

At the heart of our unforgettable adventures lies our Expert Tour Leaders. With their unrivalled local knowledge and keen expertise, they have been leading the way across the globe since 1974. Every year, we hold our coveted annual awards to honour their amazing work and dedication, as they continue to ensure that each and every one of our travellers have the best possible experiences on their adventures in over 100 countries worldwide.

Each year we enjoy reading the nominations that are filled with special anecdotes and stories about how our leaders made every moment of the trip count. Especially during these tough times, we’d like to take this opportunity to honour and shine a particular spotlight on our local heroes who selflessly deliver unforgettable experiences. Exodus Travels are continuing to work hard behind the scenes to give all the support we can to our local teams on the ground at this time.

Votes for last year have been counted and the judges’ deliberations are through, and we are pleased to announce the Exodus Travels Leader of the Year Awards 2019.

Overall Winner

Vania De Paoli

Born in Nervesa della Battaglia, a quaint commune with rolling vineyards and ancient abbeys nestled on top of Montello Hill in the Veneto region, Vania De Paoli spent her childhood at her grandfather’s vineyard, where they would harvest vegetables and spend hours in the sunshine. This love of the outdoors and passion to share the sheer beauty that lies just outside her hometown, drove Vania to become a tour leader, showing travellers around the Prosecco Hills, Amalfi Coast and the beautiful valleys in the Italian Dolomites.

Working for over two years with Exodus, Vania loves to give traveller’s the perfect taste of “la dolce vita”, whether that’s raising a cool glass of Peroni to toast to their efforts trekking in the Dolomites, making an authentic Neapolitan Pizza with families and local chefs after a day of exploring the Amalfi coast or taking groups around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pompeii to learn more about the history behind the area.

It’s not only these spectacular landscapes that leave a lasting impression on our travellers – it’s Vania’s sheer enthusiasm, unrelenting positivity and wide local knowledge of the region that leaves each person who books on her tours utterly enchanted.

 

Vania De Paoli

What the operator said:

“Vania reconfirmed herself as one of our strongest leaders during her second year of guiding for Exodus. I have recently met her in Amalfi for training and I think I have uncovered her secret: no matter where she is and who she is with, it always looks like Vania is having the time of her life. Her generosity combined with her strong work ethic and professionalism make her one of our key and most valued team members.”

What our travellers said:

“Vania was just amazing - she was thoroughly organised. She went to lots of trouble to ensure everyone was content and knew what they were doing. Every day Vania spent time with each person on the trip and made everyone feel included. When we were organising our free day, Vania organised our taxi to the boat, contacted the taxi firm on Capri - that made a huge difference to all of us who enjoyed our day. She was so knowledgeable about the area and the history. I could see that she was also very popular with the hotel staff and the guides she employed. She exudes happiness and has the best smile going! I have booked seven group holidays with other tour operators and Vania is definitely the best. What a great young woman and what a fantastic leader. I really hope she is in with a good chance for the award - she thoroughly deserves it.”

“Vania a was a caring, informative, funny and passionate leader. We always felt safe and relaxed on her walks. She took full account of the range of walking abilities in the group of 16 guests. Her knowledge of the area was excellent, and she established a great rapport with all the group. She adapted one day with terrible weather to ensure that we had a rewarding day and it was done with efficiency. Her English was excellent as was her sense of fun. In our experience of tour leaders over a significant number of years she was definitely the best one.”

You’ll find Vania leading our Walking the Prosecco Hills trip, Amalfi Coast Pompeii & Pizza Family Holiday and Walking the Amalfi Coast.

*With the developing situation of the Novel Coronavirus, our trips to Italy are currently suspended, pending renewal on 02 May following FCO recommendations. For more information on travelling to Italy, please click here.

 

Runners up: Ruwan Balasooriya & Bikash Tamang

Ruwan Balasooriya

We’d like to congratulate our popular leaders Ruwan Balasooriya and Bikash Tamang, who guide in Sri Lanka and Nepal respectively, for their high scoring customer evaluations that made them joint Runner’s up in the Exodus Leader of the Year award 2019. 

Ruwan, won the runners up award for last year’s Leader of the Year Award and has continued to impress the judges, with operators explaining that he is a fantastic role model for any junior tour leader in the industry. Known for his remarkable attitude and passion he brings to touring in Sri Lanka, with his customers commenting:

“Ruwan was very witty, he united a group of 18 total strangers so that we ended up being friends. He told us all about the history, the culture of Sri Lanka. He is very knowledgeable on wildlife including the names of birds. He made sure we were safe and guided us through all the destinations on our trip. I found it amazing how he was able to devote so much enthusiasm and time to us...he ate with us every night too! He considered the ethical and environmental aspects of the trip and we visited poor families off the beaten track who needed our customers the most. I can honestly say that Ruwan made this one of the most truly memorable trips of my life.”

 

Bikash Tamang

Bikash has gone from strength to strength, training under the leadership of one of our most loved Exodus veterans, Valerie Parkinson in Nepal. After completing leadership training course for disadvantaged youths, he trained to become a full leader in Kathmandu, passing on his local knowledge of climbing in the Himalaya to adults and children that are keen to learn the skills.

 “One of his customers was keen to comment on the young man’s achievements, “Bikash was an outstanding leader during our recent Everest Base Camp. From the moment he picked us up at the airport to seeing us off he took great care of us. The special moments included Christmas hats, calendar gifts, chocolate, a sing-song on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve in Lukla and an Everest mug for my birthday. Throughout he made sure the whole group were safe, had the right gear, were well fed and watered. He was a pleasure to spend time with. Thanks Bilash, you deserve this award.”Bikash has gone from strength to strength, training under the leadership of one of our most loved Exodus veterans, Valerie Parkinson in Nepal. After completing leadership training course for disadvantaged youths, he trained to become a full leader in Kathmandu, passing on his local knowledge of climbing in the Himalaya to adults and children that are keen to learn the skills.

Hall of Fame

Johnny Villalobos

Studying to become a naturalist guide back in 1995, we believe that Johnny’s 25 years’ experience exploring the lush rainforests in Costa Rica, that holds an astonishing 5% of all of the world’s flora and fauna, makes him the national treasure of tourist guides in the region – with few being able to match his expertise and knowledge of the region. Winner of our Leader of the Year Award 2017 and given a special mention in 2018, Johnny Villalobos’ outstanding knowledge of Costa Rican history, understanding of their culture and love of the great outdoors, sees him take the spot on our 2019 Exodus Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

Highly Commended: Severino Serbina & Lam Nguyen

Severio Serbina
Lam Nguyen

We wanted to give a special mention to our Italian tour guide, Serverino Serbina and our Vietnamese tour guide Lam Nguygen for their outstanding commitment, exceptional leadership and local knowledge that takes our travellers towards not only the major bucket list sites, but also the fantastic hidden gems off the beaten track, so they walk away with the most memorable experiences. Noted for their approachable nature, rapport with the group and hands on leadership, we’re more than happy to give these two excellent leaders the recognition they deserve that comes with this honourable mention.