Poverty Reduction and Inclusion award


Best for poverty reduction and inclusion is awarded to a tourism organisation with a creative and long-term approach to reducing poverty in local communities and including local and marginalised people in their activities..

Explained: The Best for poverty reduction and inclusion category is one of the longest standing categories of the World Responsible Tourism Awards. In 2016 with this category we are looking for travel providers that are not only using memorable holiday experiences to achieve a measurable reduction in poverty among a local community, but those which also include local and marginalised people - creating inclusive forms of tourism provision and shared value with local communities.

What the Judges want: A tourism organisation that can prove significant reduction of poverty in a local community, inclusion of local and marginalised people, and a long-term sustainable vision for continuing their work, and providing a working example for others tourism providers around the world.

2016 winners

Gold award: Tren Ecuador, Ecuador

Gold award: Tren Ecuador, Ecuador
Ecuador is a country that just makes us happy in the world of responsible tourism. First, because it has a Ministry of Happiness and Wellbeing in its government, second because it has more protected, biodiverse magnificence tucked into one small country than anywhere else we can think of and third, it has a luxury train journey that is as much about drinking in the culture of the communities along the railway line as it is about the champagne on board. You can take that wonderful journey between Guayaquil to Quito, but if you are hungry or want to tuck up for the night you have to get off the train and tuck into local fare or sleep at a local hotel. This happiness thing is working in Ecuador, because they have just created the ultimate in Fair Train tourism.

Tren Ecuador has, in fact, turned luxury train travel on its head, the usual model being to cocoon the rail travellers in a well oiled, well fed comfort zone as they make their way across dramatic landscapes giving no more than a wave to local communities, or sticking their heads out of the window from time to time to take a photo. With Tren Ecuador, a state enterprise with an inspirational inclusive vision, you still have a beautiful cocoon, with elegant carriages and superb service but, in addition, you spend the night at high end haciendas, eat at superb local restaurants, snack at one of 23 locally run station cafes, visit one of 14 artisan squares and take part in myriad cultural and natural activities. Get off the train and go hiking in the rainforest with a local guide? You got it. Take a few hours to explore a local Quichua community, Tren Ecuador has just the ticket.

In fact, the decision to turn this cocoon inside out, and spill out the benefits to everyone means that Tren Ecuador's luxury trips now sustain 5,000 livelihoods for people living in remote rural communities along the tracks. As well as that, all the associated enterprises are fully licensed and receive technical support, training and contracts based on fair-trade principles as suppliers. Because there is no such thing as tunnel vision in Ecuador. They prefer to see the light at the end of the tunnel instead, a vision that is keeping all of us, visitors, train lovers and local people, very happy.
Silver award: Sapa O'Chau, Vietnam
As tourism grows rapidly in Vietnam, there is a section of society here that is being left out of this new economy, and that is the country's ethnic minorities. Few know that better than the founder of the tourism company Sapa O'Chau, Shu Tan, a former handicraft street vendor and tourist guide. She is from the Black Hmon ethnic minority and her company, providing guided treks in the Sapa region of Northern Vietnam, is owned and managed by people from ethnic minorities. This isn't typical of tourism in the area, where many local people aren't even able go to school. So, Shu's first step was to make that happen.

Shu Tan knows that education is the key to most things in life and especially in a region where tourism was being taken over by educated entrepreneurs from a more privileged Kinh ethnic majority. And because the school is too far away for many local people, who still depend on subsistence farming in remote areas, so her first big step was to build a boarding house near the school so that young people were able to attend. A school where the guides that her organisation trained to lead tourist treks could send their children. A school where children would be educated in key subjects that would lead to sustainable employment, be it tourism or something else. A school where gifted students are supported by Sapa O'Chau scholarships. A school where ethnic minority girls are allowed to attend per se.

With a sound educational foundation going on in the background, Sapa O'Chau also trains and employs local guides, handicraft artisans, local food producers and homestay providers. In the meantime, in communities still dependent on subsistence farming, the families can send their children to school enabling them more time and space to run agritourism businesses. And tourists who visit also have an opportunity to volunteer their time in the boarding house, where Shu runs extra enrichment lessons to supplement the school. The result is that local young people are now only becoming trekking guides, but also accountants, marketing and community development experts. Mighty and many oaks are growing from Sapa O'Chau's little acorns, with strong ethnic roots that will, no doubt, go very far.
Silver award: !Xaus Lodge, South Africa
An oasis in the Kalahari Desert, this small lodge is located inside Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa's Northern Cape. The original idea back in 2002 was for it to be shared, as part of a land claim settlement, between the Mier and áKhomani San communities giving them access to their ancestral lands. However, historical conflict between these two groups meant that managing a lodge together was never going to be an easy ride. The good news is, however, that time heals. And tourism does too.

!Xaus Lodge's raison d'Ítre was and still is to help reduce poverty in the area, with this region being so remote and also one of the least visited by tourists in South Africa. It has been managed sustainably by Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD), creating income for these two communities by paying rental for the land use, an equity share in the company, employing local people as well as traditional craftsmen and women, with fulltime employees earning nearly 50 percent more than the average household in the region. There are in fact three things that make!Xaus Lodge different to others in the region. First of all, it is fully catered, while others are self-catering facilities, which means that local community employees are fully trained in hospitality, catering and so on. Second, all expeditions into the desert are fully guided by members of the local community, who have been trained in guiding techniques and naturalist skills. Third, it is Fair Trade Tourism certified. This process has brought the two peoples together with conservation and community far outdoing past conflict.

Other places in the region offer only self-drive opportunities to see the Kalahari's wildlife and magnificent dune landscapes. This is where travellers' choice can have a dramatic impact, so if you want to really get out there in the desert, watch the incredible night skies with indigenous people, hear their stories and learn about their heritage, then seek out !Xaus Lodge - it's on the 91st dune, off the Auob River Road. It takes a long time to get there. But as we know, time is a great thing sometimes.

2015 winners

Gold award: Agri Tourism Development Company Pvt Ltd

Gold award: Agri Tourism Development Company Pvt Ltd
Pandurang Taware is a man who understands the fundamentals of agritourism. Emanating from a small farming community in the Indian state of Maharashtra, this business not only invites guests to their own farm and agritourism business, but also shares its knowledge and understanding of rural tourism with 750 farmers around the state. Because, in India, and responsible tourism, we believe that sharing is caring.

Given that this region is not on the traditional tourist trail, and people working in farming are not traditional tourism people, Agri Tourism Development has worked miracles to create such a strong enclave of agritourism in Maharashtra. India's agricultural sector is stagnating, with young people migrating to urban areas for employment, and Pandurang Taware is determined to turn around this trend. Consequently, they now boast 750 trained farmers and 218 agritourism locations across the state, with farmers experiencing a 33% increase in income. Products that they offer include family summer camps, blanket making from recycled clothes and other rural handicrafts that are sold at agritourism centres. The movement is now so big, it is becoming a bit like a Bollywood movie. Lots of players, huge enthusiasm and great stories to be told.
Silver award: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
A highly prestigious, 5 * nature reserve and eco resort in the Gansbaai region of South Africa right down on the southern tip. It may seem wonderfully remote to visitors, but it is tied in with the local communities in ways that guests often won't even know about. Because, as their stunning video tells you, "We are but a single thread in this complex web, bound together inextricably to conserve and protect diversity, to seek solutions that support humanity, to live in harmony with nature." Apart from a fundamental commitment to the fact that conservation can't happen without community support, Grootbos has the long term alleviation of poverty and the empowerment of the people living in the Walker Bay region at the core of everything they do. Which is why they set up the Grootbos Foundation in 2003, supported by funds raised through the business, but also through donations.

One of the projects funded by Grootbos is a Football Foundation, which isn't suprising, given that Grootbos gets the fact that breaking poverty cycles is all about skills. Teaching them, sharing them and rewarding them. Whether they are football coaching skills, animal husbandry, kitchen gardening, organic farming, hospitality, or training to be FGSA qualified nature guides, skills are empowering. Grootbos employees are actively encouraged to train in other areas within the company, to move up and manage their skills ambitiously. Grootbos strives to source as many products and services locally as possible, but when you are working in a region where unemployment levels are over 30%, this is not easy. So, they are training and teaching, mentoring and motivating, so that eventually the local businesses will grow, and poverty will shrink. And we think that's a great Grootbos goal.
Silver award: OneSeed Expeditions
In some ways, this innovative travel company should be called TenSeeds, given that it plants 10% of its revenue (not profits) into micro finance schemes locally. Which is pretty rare in the tourism industry, it has to be said. It's the first thing you read about when you visit their website, because it's what they believe in, first and foremost. That and giving you a superb holiday, whether you are hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro, trekking in Patagonia or ice hiking in Chile.

This pioneering business, founded in 2010 by a dynamic team of teachers, guides and researchers and based in Colorado USA, has invested $130,000 in micro finance schemes in the places where they lead holidays: Nepal, Chile, Argentina, Tanzania, Columbia and Peru. Since launching, they have helped create or expand over 300 new businesses, ranging from agriculture, retail, livestock and food services. Whether you are growing rice in Nepal or opening a hair salon in Chile, you need money. They also have a huge team of local guides, employing over 40 now in all these destinations. So, in other words, they have planted a lot of seeds. Particularly outstanding is the fact that 90% of these micro finance schemes are for women entrepreneurs, in countries where those two words are rarely said together in the same sentence. OneSeed says it all the time though. In fact, they shout it from some of the highest mountains in the world.

Silver award: Uakari Floating Lodge
A floating lodge in the flooded forests of the Amazon. The biggest protected flooded forest in the world in fact, under the care of the MamirauŠ Sustainable Development Reserve. It's hard to imagine many things cooler than that. Cool and eco-chic aren't usually two words associated with government departments either, but Uakari is actually a research centre set up by the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. A Ministry that also ministers to communities that live there. Which is rare in our books. So, all in all, Uakari is too cool for school.

You can choose to stay at Uakari during flood or drought stage, going wildlife watching, meeting researchers, taking canoe trips, fishing, dolphin watching, birdwatching, night hiking and visiting local communities. We shouldn't put local communities at the last of this list, however, as many tourism itineraries do, because Uakari doesn't just give a cursory nod to its local people. It is managed 100% by local communities and, since it was founded in 1998, has had 66 communities represented here at various times. Conservation can only come about through community inclusion, but at Uakari, this inclusion has also led to substantially increased incomes for many families.

Uakari exemplies a win win in tourism. The region is protected from over-exploitation by communities which depend on fishing, farming , hunting and wood extraction. These same communities are fully trained to management level in tourism that thrives on conservation and, when the drought season comes and the flood plains empty, but tourists start to flow, there is plenty of work for local people. Good community based tourism is not about replacing lifestyles, it is about complementing them in a responsible way. And it isn't science. It's common sense.
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tren Ecuador]