Conservation International and National Geographic Traveler magazine announced today the first winners of the World Legacy Awards, recognizing operators in southern Africa, Italy, and Thailand as the "best examples in the tourism industry of the ideal balance between nature conservation, the protection of heritage sites, social responsibility, and commerce."
The winners will be officially awarded at a ceremony hosted by Jordan's Queen Noor later tonight at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington. Each winner will receive a plaque and will be permitted to use the Conservation/Traveler World Legacy Awards logo in marketing materials.
The World Legacy Awards are the result of a new partnership between the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Conservation International and National Geographic Traveler. The awards are considered unique in the world for their focus on environmental responsibility and respecting cultural heritage in the tourism industry. They are the only global tourism award to perform on-site verification visits by a team of scientific, anthropological, and tourism professionals.
One winner was named in each category: Nature Travel, Heritage Tourism, and Destination Stewardship. Applicants from more than 40 countries on six continents were considered for the awards.
"Tourism is like fireout of control, it can burn down your house, but if you harness that energy, you can cook food with it," said Costas Christ, senior director of CI's ecotourism department. "Through the World Legacy Awards, we want to make tourism a more positive force in the world. These winners are outstanding examples of responsible tourism that both helps to protect nature and promotes the well-being of local peoples."
The winner of the Nature Travel Award, given to a group making significant contributions to the conservation of natural areas and biodiversity, is Wilderness Safaris, based in Rivonia, South Africa. Wilderness Safaris manages more than 2.5 million acres (10,000 square kilometers) of pristine natural habitat in southern Africa, where they have 36 lodges in six countries. The group provides tourists with extensive instruction about conservation and sustainable management, works with local communities to promote economic growth and provides a free, weeklong safari for 1,000 underprivileged African children each year.
The winner of the Heritage Tourism Award, awarded to a group making contributions to cultural heritage and diversity, is ATG Oxford. Based in Oxford, England, the group won for its work in Italy. ATG Oxford uses ancient pilgrimage and farming paths as a basis for independent or guided walking tours through the Italian hinterland, including Tuscany and Umbria. Traditional agrarian village populations have benefited greatly from increased business during the usual off-season. ATG Oxford is also instrumental in restoring centuries-old works of art and environments and helps local communities maintain their traditional lifestyles.
The winner of the Destination Stewardship Award, presented to a group protecting the overall natural and cultural heritage of a destination, is the REST Project for its work on one of Thailand's most beautiful tropical islands, Koh Yao Noi in the Phuket region. REST, or the Responsible Ecological Social Tours Project, works with local communities to reduce the negative impact of tourism while promoting conservation and increasing the amount of income for participating families. Many of the 5,500 inhabitants of the mostly Muslim island benefited from REST's help by learning how to form a village home-stay program, through which tourists lodge with locals, and by learning how to revive traditional fishing methods.
"Tourism today is one of the world's largest industries. When done well, it provides economic opportunity, and protects natural environments and cultural heritage," said Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler. "My hope is that our readersindeed all travelerswill support businesses and organizations which promote the ideals of sustainable tourism. Responsible tourism greatly influences the very future of tourism. We must protect the places we love for following generations."
About 700 million people travel internationally each year, and that figure is expected to double to 1.4 billion by 2020. Travel and tourism is one of the largest industries on Earth, accounting for 11 percent of global gross domestic product.
Because of its enormous size, the travel and tourism industry often wreaks havoc on natural environments and precious cultural sites. Threats include increased development and infrastructure, greater local demand for material, food, and water, and the growth of extractive industries.
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