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Responsible tourism: Leaders of the pack

We reveal the well-deserved winners of the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016

Responsible tourism: Leaders of the pack
Image: Elevate Destinations

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Joint overall winners, sponsored by Belize: Lemon Tree Hotels and Tren Ecuador

Two very different organisations, yet both are recognised for the scale of the impact they’ve had — and for their potential to create powerful, positive change in the tourism industry.

Lemon Tree Hotels is recognised for effectively tackling a major social problem in many societies. As a large corporate business backed by international investors, successfully getting disabled and other opportunity-deprived people into the workforce in tourism, and making this a core part of its operations, is a powerful statement.

The judges hold Tren Ecuador up as an outstanding, holistic example of how all tours should be designed, and feel that if all tourism was planned in this way it would be very effective at making better places in which to live, as well as better places to visit.

Best Accommodation for Responsible Employment, sponsored by Belize
Gold winner: Lemon Tree Hotels 

The third-largest hotel chain in India, Lemon Tree’s company ethos is that people with disabilities must be given the same opportunities as others to realise their full potential. Currently, 25% of its staff are classed as ‘opportunity-deprived Indians’. This includes those with intellectual or physical disabilities and/or from impoverished families, widowed and/or abused women, and other marginalised groups. At the core of the hotel’s business is a plan to not only provide employment, but opportunities for these groups of people to succeed. And it’s an ethos that’s here to stay as Lemon Tree aims to increase the number of opportunity-deprived Indians in its workforce to around 50% in five years’ time.

How to do it: A two-night Winter Package stay at the Lemon Tree Premier, Jaipur costs £48 a night, B&B, including a full day of sightseeing (via a private car service to City Palace, Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar and Jal Mahal).

Best Contribution to Wildlife Conservation, sponsored by the Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council
Gold winner: Sam Veasna Center 

Named after an inspirational Cambodian conservationist, the Sam Veasna Center carries on its namesake’s legacy by using community ecotourism projects to protect some of the world’s rarest large birds, such as species of vulture, the white-shouldered ibis and Bengal floricans. Its unique approach means that in return for signing no-hunting agreements, local communities are trained in eco-tourism. Also, donations to village development funds are tied to species sightings — a great incentive for villages to protect, not hunt, their birds, which in turn brings in more birdwatchers, and more funds for the village development projects.

How to do it: A six-day tour of Cambodia’s wild and remote Northern Plains costs from US$1,600 (£1,290) per person. It includes eco-lodge accommodation, food, park entrance fees, transport and an expert wildlife guide. Excludes flights.

Best Innovation by a Tour Operator, sponsored by Belize
Gold winner: Elevate Destinations 

It may offer high-end luxury tours, but Elevate Destinations is a pioneer, helping to democratise the travel experience. Some of the proceeds from its travel business are used to arrange trips for disadvantaged children in developing countries, giving them a chance to experience the natural and cultural heritage of their country. This means, for example, that school children living next to a game reserve in Kenya have the chance to watch elephants in the wild, while children in Peru get to explore Machu Picchu. And as the future of this heritage, be it wild or cultural, is ultimately in their hands, this project has significant long-term implications for the future.

How to do it: A nine-night Private Elephant Adventure in Kenya costs from US$10,500 (£8,450) per person, including accommodation in luxury camps, visits to elephant conservation projects, game drives, all meals, private guides and internal charter and scheduled flights. Excludes international flights.

Best for Poverty Reduction & Inclusion, sponsored by the Tobago House of Assembly
Gold winner: Tren Ecuador 

Tren Ecuador is turning the traditional approach to luxury heritage rail travel on its head. Instead of keeping passengers cocooned on board, watching the world out of their window, it makes the culture and communities along the tracks an integral, and unforgettable, part of the experience. The result is an interconnected cultural smorgasbord of artisans and craft-sellers, local guesthouses and restaurants, community tourism initiatives and local guides — and 5,000 jobs for local people along Tren Ecuador’s tracks.

How to do it: Four days on the Tren Cucero from the Andes to the Pacific Coast costs from US$1,490 (£1,203) per person. Includes all meals, local guesthouse accommodation, transfers, cultural and community experiences and English and Spanish-speaking guides.

Best Responsible Tourism Campaign, sponsored by Exodus Travels
Gold winner: Friends International’s ChildSafe Movement

Currently operating in over 18 countries, the ChildSafe Movement helps to protect children and young people from all forms of abuse. It has so far provided support to over 9,000 children. Working with people at all levels of the tourism industry, from tourists to rickshaw drivers, the ChildSafe Movement helps to protect children from sexual abuse, trafficking, child labour, begging, unnecessary institutionalisation and orphanage tourism. In the words of the judges, “We hope this award will encourage still more individuals, destinations and businesses to engage with the ChildSafe Movement — it is needed everywhere.”

National Geographic Traveller (UK) is an official media partner of the World Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by Belize, which award the most inspiring and enduring responsible tourism experiences in the world.

Full details of all the Gold and Silver winners can be found here: responsibletravel.com/awards