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Leader of the Year Awards 2018

Leader of the Year Awards 2018

The votes are in and counted, the judges’ deliberations are through, and we are delighted to announce the Exodus Travels Leader of the Year Awards 2018!

Our coveted annual awards are all about honouring the work and dedication of all Exodus leaders, wherever they are across the globe. They have worked hard all year ensuring that each and every one of our travellers had the best possible experience on their adventures, and for their hard graft, dedication and passion, we are thrilled to recognise the best and brightest amongst our staff.

We love reading the nominations, each one filled with anecdotes and stories about how our leaders made every trip special.

We are proud to announce the winners of our Leader Awards 2018. Drumroll please…

Overall Winner

José Miguel García


José Miguel has been leading Exodus adventures for 20 years. His name is synonymous with the Sierra de Aitana; to travel to this beautiful region of southern Spain is to walk in his footsteps.

José Miguel has been living in these mountains all his life. For him, this is not job, it is his passion. He is an alpine enthusiast through and through – before Exodus he worked in a climbing bunk house. His knowledge of the area goes far beyond being a local. Not only does he know each hill and gully of these mountains inside out, he helped write the maps of the area that are still used to this day. He spends his spare time waymarking new mountain trails and supporting local producers that use traditional, sustainable methods of farming; in fact, most of the food served at his table was grown in his own garden. It is impossible to imagine a better ambassador for these mountains.


Leader of the Year Awards 2018

What our judges said:

“José Miguel was an absolute stand out in nominations this year. When it came to casting the final vote, every judge made a short list of three from all the shortlisted nominees and José’s name came up time and again – every one of our judges selected him. His exceptionally high customer review scores (an overall score of 4.95 out of 5 based on customer feedback) set him apart and it is a thoroughly deserved win for this very talented and affable leader.

What our travellers said:

Trip was so good and José an excellent leader, I went on the trip twice! Beautiful location… Nothing was too much trouble. Jose and his team make the best pack lunches ever (especially good for a fellow vegetarian) and all the nice little treats during the day. Amazing local knowledge, very kind caring person with fantastic sense of humour.

It was clear that he was very passionate about his role as a leader and this passion shone through in his guiding abilities. His role as a leader not only gave us the opportunity to be guided around the best walks in the region but he also guided us through the history, culture, and culinary delights of the Spanish region. The fact that Jose was very accommodating with every member of the trip and ensured that everyone fully enjoyed their experience despite an age range between 21 and 80 years of age gives testament to his ability as a leader.”

You’ll find José leading: Sierra de Aitana Trek

Best Newcomer

Vania de Paoli

Leader of the Year Awards 2018

One of the most exciting awards each year is this one, celebrating new talent amongst our leaders. Vania is born and raised in Italy, amongst the rolling vineyards of the Prosecco Hills. Her ready smile and absolute organisational efficiency are what invariably come up in customer feedback – what many guests don’t know is Vania has been leading for us for less than a year. She’s absolutely excelled, proving popular with both our long-serving leaders in Italy and our travellers. Her degree in Natural Sciences and love for the outdoors make her perfectly placed to be our walking leader.

What our judges say:

It became clear immediately when we were debating that Vania truly merited this award. The comments from customers sounded more like they were describing a leader with many more years’ experience under their belt – truly, she is a wonderful addition to our team in Italy, and our team in the office describe her as “an absolute pleasure to work with”. It’s a huge achievement.

What our travellers said:

Vania was ‘THE BEST’! She always had a smile on her face and took great care of us! Vania was caring, fun, prepared, knowledgeable and organized. Vania was exceptional! She is truly a warm, gracious, happy, accommodating leader that made this trip an amazing experience to a group that became friends.”

You’ll find Vania leading: Walking the Prosecco HillsWalking the Amalfi CoastAmalfi Coast: Pompeii & Pizza Family Holiday


Runners Up

Neelaka Iddamalgoda & Ruwan Balasooriya

Leader of the Year Awards 2018

Huge congratulations to Neelaka and Ruwan, both of whose names are familiar to the judges here at Exodus for repeatedly high scoring customer evaluations. These popular leaders, both of whom are from Sri Lanka, are frequently featured in the best of our scores and we’re thrilled to award them runners up places. This is Neelaka’s second year to be shortlisted. The judges especially noted the wide variety of styles of trip that both leaders lead, showing true skill to be able to move seamlessly from the different styles of cycling, wildlife, family and discovery trips.

Our travellers said:

Neelaka went above and beyond to give us the holiday of a lifetime. Our feet barely touched the ground, so packed were the days. We were treated like princes and nothing was too much trouble. Neelaka was always bright and cheerful, thoughtful and knowledgeable. He became a friend to many of us and we shall miss him.

What struck me [about Ruwan] is that he genuinely took care and attention towards every individual in the group and treated everyone as a friend rather than a client. It never felt like he was doing a ‘job’ by looking after us, but something that came naturally to him – it is clear that guiding is more than a job for him and his dedication to it shines through every moment on the tour. He truly made our first exodus experience unforgettable.

You’ll find Neelaka Iddamalgoda leading: Discover Sri LankaCycle the Backroads of Sri LankaWild Sri Lanka

You’ll find Ruwan Balasooriya leading: Sri Lankan HighlightsDiscover Sri LankaHighlands of Sri Lanka


Hall of Fame

Liz Proctor

Leader of the Year Awards 2018

Liz has been one of Exodus’ most popular and hardworking leaders since joining the company 15 years ago. Whether leading walking holidays in Chianti, cross-country skiing in the Dolomites or cycling trips in Morocco, Liz’s enthusiasm, kindness and dedication shine through, making her a regular nominee in our annual Leader Awards.  To acknowledge Liz’s popularity, commitment and consistently exceptional feedback, we’re thrilled to induct her into our Hall of Fame, celebrating Exodus’ most outstanding leaders.

In 2019 Liz will be leading: Chianti Walking and Wine, Classic Dolomites 





Special Mention

Johnny Villalobos

Leader of the Year Awards 2018

We wanted to give a special mention this year to Johnny Villalobos. He was our Overall Winner for 2017, but rather than rest on his laurels Johnny has excelled for a second year running, garnering praise for his leading from travellers from all around the world. Johnny’s leading is exceptional and he deserves recognition for the hard work he continues to put in.

You’ll find Johnny leading: Discover Costa Rica, Costa Rica Family Adventure





The Full Short List of Nominees

Congratulations to all our shortlisted leaders! Being shortlisted is a huge achievement and they all received multiple outstanding nominations.

Suresh Bandara who leads: Cycling the Backroads of Sri Lanka 

Sara Bull who leads: Snowshoeing in the DolomitesWalking in Tuscany

Bikash Tamang who leads: Annapurna Circuit

Dileepa Fernandez who leads: Discover Sri Lanka, Wild Sri LankaSri Lankan Highlights

Justin Thomas who leads: Kilimanjaro Rongai Route, Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route

Martina Cippola who leads: Walking the Amalfi Coast

Gajraj Bhatti who leads: Highlights of Northern India, Colours of Rajasthan

Manoj Dubey who leads: The Tropical SouthHighlights of Northern IndiaColours of Rajasthan


Our Leader Awards are open for voting all year round. Why not nominate your leader in this year’s Leader Awards?