2009 winners

Overall winner: Whale Watch Kaikoura, New Zealand

The judges declared Whale Watch Kaikoura, New Zealand the overall winner of the Responsible Tourism Awards 2009 with the following statement.

"Rarely do we see a tourism initiative developed from the ground up by a local community to such a successful and grand scale, growing from modest beginnings.

Whale Watch Kaikoura provides consistently responsible whale watching tours with minimal impacts. The founding of the enterprise by four Maori families has demonstrated that the local Maori community can not 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."

Best tour operator for cultural engagement

sponsored by Tourism Western Australia

Winner: Village Ways, India
These community-owned and managed projects in the Indian Himalayas offer unique and authentic cultural experiences by facilitating mutual cultural engagement at every level. Their work has brought previously vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals from the Dalit community into focus as porters and committee members, while enabling tourists to experience and become part of rural landscapes in non-intrusive and rewarding ways and make a significant contribution to local economic development in the villages they walk through.

Highly commended:
  • Estrela, Brazil
  • Tropic Journeys in Nature, Ecuador

Best large hotel / accommodation (more than 50 rooms)

sponsored by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Winner: YHA Wellington City, New Zealand
With a host of innovative initiatives in place YHA Wellington goes above and beyond regular hotel practice to engage and communicate with their guests around issues of sustainability in an upbeat and inspiring way, putting the onus back on the guest to exercise, and even enjoy, responsible practices. Their Green Footprint Project includes a ‘Tree Planting Day’ for guests, they invite school groups to take part in a sustainable living quiz, and host the annual National Youth Environment Forum.

Best small hotel / accommodation (fewer than 50 rooms)

sponsored by Discover Dominica Tourism Authority

Winner: Rivertime Resort and Ecolodge, Laos
Rivertime Resort and Ecolodge established themselves in what was, once again, an incredibly competitive category this year. The ‘Agreement of Cooperation’ between the Lodge and the three local villages is a real rarity in this sector – a contract that sets out the rights and responsibilities of the company to maximising benefits for the local community, making contractual obligations of key responsible tourism principles.

Highly commended:
  • Beechenhill Farm, England
  • Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

Best low carbon transport & technology

sponsored by The Quito Visitors Bureau, Ecuador

Winner: Alcatraz Cruises, US
While the Hornblower Hybrid provides a convincing flagship vessel for Alcatraz Cruises’ innovative approach to sustainable tourism practices (an energy efficient vessel, constructed from a reused diving vessel, and with fuel savings of over 29,000 gallons per year) it is their commitment to the reduction of carbon use across the rest of their product range, decreasing particulate and NOx emissions by 95 per cent with the installation of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) units, that proves their commitment to minimising their environmental impacts.

Highly commended:
  • Swiss Travel System, Switzerland
  • Seat61.com, UK

Best in a mountain environment

sponsored by World Expeditions

Winner: Upland Escapes, UK
Upland Escapes is leading the way with their ‘No-Frills Escapes’ (30 per cent cheaper than regular trips) - proof that it is possible to negotiate the effects of the economic downturn while still preserving the benefits of tourism to local communities. They have also achieved an increase of guests arriving by train, from just two percent in 2006, to 19 per cent just three years later.

Highly commended:
  • Wilderness Journeys, Kenya
  • Ecocamp Patagonia, Chile

Best in a marine environment

sponsored by Tourism Fiji

Winner: Whale Watch Kaikoura, New Zealand
This 100 per cent Maori-owned whale watching operator has demonstrated the ability, at scale – they carry an impressive 90,000-100,000 passengers per year- to offer a very high quality whale watching experience from energy-efficient craft which have a very low impact on the marine environment, and provide ground breaking interpretation which enables passengers to understand what is happening below them. They are the largest financial contributor to the Department of Conservation’s research on the effects of marine mammal watching in Kaikoura, and demonstrate that marine tourism development can go hand in hand with the careful progress of marine conservancy.

Highly commended:
  • Blue Ventures, UK
  • Misool Eco Dive Resort and Conservation Centre, Indonesia
  • Camel Dive Club and Hotel, Egypt

Best cruise or ferry operator

sponsored by Tourism Malaysia

Winner: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, US
Last year was the first year for this category, and responsible tourism continues to be a new area of concern for the cruise sector. This year we are pleased to recognise an organisation demonstrating an exhaustive approach to environmental initiatives. Royal Caribbean have reduced emissions in their newest ships by 50 per cent over ships built around 10 years ago, providing a unique insight into what can be achieved by the rest of the cruise sector if it shared this level of commitment.

Highly commended:
  • SeaFrance Ltd , France

Best for poverty reduction

sponsored by PromPeru

Winner: Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique
The work of Guludo Beach Lodge, through their charitable foundation ‘Nema’ has had an unprecedented and undeniably positive impact on the immediate community, working towards major improvements in children’s health care and education conditions. Their portfolio of projects in the local area is exhaustive, having improved school attendance by 350 per cent, providing access to safe drinking water for 15,000 people, supplying over 10,000 women and children with mosquito-nets, and working closely with the local community for the sustainable continuation of their projects by providing water committee training, hygiene and sanitation workshops and much more.

Highly commended:
  • Tribal Voice Communications, Kenya,
  • Rekero , Kenya

Best for conservation of wildlife & habitats

sponsored by South Australian Tourism Commission

Winner: Great Plains Conservation, South Africa
For incorporating a range of innovative projects across five African countries. Their work in the Maasai Mara is particularly impressive, facilitating the creation of an 80,000 acre conservancy, and guaranteeing regular payment to the local communities for the use of their land for tourism purposes – regardless of the number of guests. On an unequivocal basis, they provide protected revenue for the indigenous peoples of the Mara, reducing the negative social and economic impacts of tourism.

Highly commended:
  • Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) , Uganda
  • Way Out Experiences, Malaysia, Indonesia & Borneo

Best for conservation of cultural heritage

sponsored by Jamaica Tourist Board

Winner: Selena Travel LLC, Mongolia
In 2004 Mongolian inbound operator Selena Travel worked with the nomadic community in Tuv to found and establish a nomadic cultural festival, recognised by the Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism in 2007. In 2008 the festival attracted 300 locals, nearly double the local attendance in 2007 and 65 international visitors. The festival, which would not exist without tourism, fosters the local culture. Selena Travel has worked with the nomads to develop itineraries around Gun-Galuut making a significant difference to local livelihoods.

Highly commended:
  • Rivers Fiji, Fiji

Best volunteering organisation

sponsored by Kenya Tourist Board

Winner: People and Places, UK
People and Places has exercised leadership in a sector bedevilled by poor practice and established a replicable business model. Committed to reporting transparently on the money that volunteers pay, they ensure that the volunteers meet their full costs and are not a burden on the community; and carefully match the skills of volunteers to the needs of that community without replacing local labour. They have taken the ground breaking step of having their work externally audited and publishing it online. These four principles set not only a practicable standard for operators to aspire to, but offer valuable guidelines for tourists seeking legitimate and socially beneficial volunteering experiences.

Highly commended:
  • Coral Cay Conservation, UK
  • Peru's Challenge, Peru

Best destination

sponsored by Conservation International

Winner: City of Cape Town, South Africa
The City of Cape Town has taken responsibility for identifying and prioritising local issues from a responsible tourism perspective. The City’s Tourism Department has worked in conjunction with its colleagues in the city administration and the industry to develop a Responsible Tourism Charter which commits both the industry and the city government to address the local priorities and to report on progress. Signatories have committed to define measurable goals and to monitor and report publicly on progress.

Highly commended:
  • Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, UK

Best personal contribution

sponsored by Tourism Ireland

Winner: Gavin Bate - Founder of Adventure Alternative and the Moving Mountains Trust
Gavin has proven with a number of projects that it is possible to share the benefits of responsibly run adventure travel with local communities in developing countries. His dedicated ethos lead him to found and hand over the reigns of adventure travel projects in Kenya, Nepal and Tanzania to local individuals, providing them with a minimum of ten years full employment, and the training, guidance, and inspiration necessary for a new vanguard in responsible tourism. As a serial entrepreneur, Gavin has worked hard to put local individuals at the heart of local initiatives.

Highly commended:
  • Chris Thompson, Travelife Sustainability Manager, ABTA Ltd, UK
  • Manda Brookman, Director CoaST, UK
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Whale watching Kaikora]