The winners of the 2009 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards were announced earlier this month as part of World Responsible Tourism Day at the World Travel Market in London. Here’s a brief overview of the award winners to give you some inspiration for ensuring your next trip is as sustainable and responsible as possible! More information can be found at www.responsibletourismawards.com
The overall winner this year was Whale Watch Kaikoura, New Zealand, www.whalewatch.co.nz, who also won the ‘Best in a marine environment’ category. The company offers exciting up-close encounters with the Giant Sperm Whale, and judges agreed that it is rare to see a tourism initiative developed from the ground up by a local community on such a successful and grand scale. The founding of the enterprise by four Maori families has demonstrated that the local Maori community cannot only grow a considerable tourism business but, more significantly, use that business to buy back their ancestral land for the benefit of the indigenous people and their cultural identity. Chairman Wally Stone said that “sustainability and responsibility as a host, both to our guests and to the community that we share, have been driving themes for our organisation”.
Best operator for cultural engagement tour went to Village Ways, India, whose community-owned and managed projects in the Indian Himalayas have brought previously vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals from the Dalit community into focus as porters and committee members.
Best large hotel/accommodation was YHA Wellington City, New Zealand. Judges felt that YHA Wellington goes above and beyond regular hotel practice to engage and communicate with their guests around issues of sustainability in an inspiring way.
Meanwhile the award for best small hotel/accommodation was won by Rivertime Resort and Ecolodge near Viantiane in Laos, who have a rare “Agreement of Co-operation” between the Lodge and the three local villages; a contract that actually sets out the rights and responsibilities of the company to maximise benefits for the local community.
Best for conservation of wildlife & habitats was awarded to Great Plains Conservation, South Africa, for its impressive work in the Maasai Mara facilitating the creation of an 80,000-acre conservancy, and guaranteeing regular payment to the local communities for the use of their land thereby reducing its negative social and economic impacts.
Best for conservation of cultural heritage this year went to Selena Travel LLC in Mongolia who worked with the nomadic community in Tuv to found and establish a nomadic cultural festival in 2007, doubling the local attendance in 2008 and working with the nomads to develop itineraries around Gun-Galuut.
The award for poverty reduction was won by Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique, for the exhaustive work of its charitable foundation Nema. Here, school attendance has improved by 350 per cent, access to safe drinking water has been provided for 15,000 people, as well as training, hygiene and sanitation workshops in the local community.
Best in a mountain environment was awarded to Upland Escapes, UK who are deemed to be leading the way with their “No-Frills Escapes” – proof that it is possible to negotiate the effects of the economic downturn while still preserving the benefits of tourism to local communities.
The winner of Best low carbon transport & technology this year was Alcatraz Cruises LLC, US. While the Hornblower Hybrid provides a convincing flagship vessel for Alcatraz Cruises’ innovative approach to sustainable tourism practices, it is the company’s commitment to the reduction of carbon use across the rest of its product range that proves Alcatraz Cruises’ commitment to minimising its environmental impact.
Best Volunteering Organisation was awarded to People and Places, UK, a company that has demonstrated leadership in a sector bedevilled by poor practice. It ensures that its volunteers meet their full costs and carefully matches the skills of volunteers to the needs of that community without replacing local labour.