Fifteen years ago, only a handful of businesses were taking sustainability seriously; today, there are few organisations that don’t at least acknowledge the importance of consumption, resource management and sustainability. In fact, 31% more CEOs name climate change as a top ten business concern this year than they did a year ago.
While progress across the Travel & Tourism industry has been remarkable, it can often be difficult across all sectors to distinguish between tangible impacts and greenwashing.
In deciphering what’s what in the world of sustainability, WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards provide a sturdy benchmark; a three-stage independent and expert judging process, including on-the-ground assessments, decides the winners.
Now in its 15th year, the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards has an incredibly diverse group of finalists, geographically spread and wide-ranging in their initiatives, split across five new categories: Climate Action, Social Impact, Investing in People, Changemakers and Destination Stewardship.
Alongside providing robust case studies for each of these categories, the finalists demonstrate shifting priorities and trends within the responsible travel movement. Grassroots activism is gaining momentum, while big business proves that you don’t need to put purpose before profit to have a positive impact (it can simply sit alongside it). Collaborative models see non-profits, private business and destinations work together in a more structured way, while lodges are opting for a deliberately slow and considered approach. Elsewhere, tourism is not only helping to improve livelihoods; it’s helping to lift some of society’s most marginalised people. Let’s see how this year’s finalists are leading the change.
This year’s finalists demonstrate that grassroots efforts can be as influential as big business. US-based non-profit, SEE Turtles, has made enough of a dent in the illegal trade of turtleshell to save 1.7 million turtle hatchlings across 20 significant nesting sites.
On a small archipelago off the east coast of Sumatra, a community group, Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung (KPLB), has reversed the environmental damage caused by illegal logging and mining by creating ecotourism conservation programs — a model that is now being replicated at a national level.
Conversely, in Brazil, Reserva do Ibitipoca’s owner Renato Machado has handed the reserve’s lodge, Fazenda do Engenho, to employees making it a “project for the people, administrated by the people”.
Purpose alongside Profit
Big business plays its part too, but only when sustainability is championed from the top. Intrepid, Tourism Holdings Limited and Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort are exemplary when it comes to having an embedded responsible ethos.
Intrepid, the travel industry’s largest certified B-Corp, has not only invested over AUD$2 million in renewable energy projects, but it’s also established some ambitious socially-minded targets, working alongside non-profits like ActionAid to secure income for isolated, rural communities.
Despite serving more than 800,000 customers per year and operating a 5,731-strong RV fleet, multinational Tourism Holdings Limited has set itself some of the travel industry’s most ambitious carbon reduction targets, including a 20 per cent absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
On the Caribbean Island of Aruba, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort’s owner, Ewald Biemans, has advocated that tourism can only thrive if nature is protected, operating the region’s only carbon-neutral resort.
Empowering Marginalised People
The Travel & Tourism industry is not only waking up to its ability to protect the environment, it is also recognising its power to transform lives. Lemon Tree Hotels has pioneered a solution to support some of the 97 per cent of people with disabilities in India that are unemployed, while overcoming the hospitality sector’s staff shortage.
In Tanzania, where people with disabilities suffer equal marginalisation, Shanga by Elewana Collection is a social enterprise craft workshop based at Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge providing secure employment to 34 people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, high in the Peruvian Andes, non-profit Awamaki is financially empowering rural women via craft and sustainable tourism training programs.
Partnerships for the Greater Good
Collaboration is an increasingly important part of the responsible travel agenda. Cardamom Tented Camp in Cambodia’s Botum Sakor National Park is the result of a unique partnership between two non-profits and an operator with a shared vision to use tourism to end wildlife poaching.
A similar union has given way to one of The Philippines’ most successful eco-tourism experiences, Masungi Georeserve, which 100 per cent funds the conservation of over 400 wildlife species and the planting of over 40,000 native trees.
Back in the Caribbean, the St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Tourism has pursued a “Pro Planet, Pro People” tourism plan. Key to its success has been the St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council; thanks to its socio-cultural, economic and environmental sustainability 80 per cent of residents believe tourism is more positive than negative.
Sustainable development requires a slow and cautious approach, and this is often what sets Tourism for Tomorrow finalists aside. Designed long before eco-luxury became a buzzword, Nikoi Island is exemplary; built using local materials, innovative approaches to energy and water saving, and giving virgin rainforest room to thrive. Through a steady level of commitment to the local population, Nikoi has gained immense trust and has a positive impact on approximately 10,000 people.
In Brazil’s mid-west, Grupo Rio da Prata’s owners took 10-years to grow one small eco-tourism experience into two nature reserves welcoming over 67,000 tourists a year, ensuring that the impact on land and communities was carefully considered.
On a remote island in French Polynesia, it took 53-years for Marlin Brando’s vision of an eco-retreat to materialise. Today, The Brando provides world-class luxury while pioneering sustainability solutions like a sea-water air-conditioning unit that reduces energy needs by 80 per cent.
The Winners of the 2019 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards will be announced during the awards ceremony at the WTTC Global Summit in Seville, Spain from 2–4 April 2019. For more information visit WTTC’s website.