Travel changes everything: it supports communities, restructures economies, protects environments, and preserves our cultural heritage. In 2008, this has never been more certain. As they do every year, T+L’s Global Vision Awards celebrate the people and organizations that are transforming the places we go—the traveler’s terrain. In the past 12 months, the landscape of responsible tourism has changed significantly, making this year’s winners—from a hotel mega-brand and three sisters in Nepal to forward-thinking conservationists in Mexico’s Riviera Maya—the most remarkable group of travel visionaries yet. We applaud them. They’re shaping the world, and our future.
The Western China Cultural Ecology Research Workshop: Dimen, China
As other parts of China rush headlong into the 21st century, indigenous ethnic minorities such as the Dong, Miao, Yao, and Shui in the remote western province of Guizhou maintain traditional lifestyles that stretch back more than 800 years. But the area is not immune to change, and a recent influx of commercialism—in particular, cheap satellite television and accessible cellular service—has begun to erode these long-standing cultures. The Western China Cultural Ecology Research Workshop, a nonprofit based in Hong Kong, aims to both preserve Guizhou’s rich heritage and foster development—a rare, forward-looking approach that’s as focused on the past as it is on the present. In 2002, the workshop instituted a pilot project that visited many small townships, including the Dong village of Dimen, known for its beautiful polyphonic choral songs (with no written language, the Dong use song to record history) and ornately decorated bridges. The goal: create a detailed record of the music, festivals, and rituals of various ethnic groups throughout Guizhou, starting with the Dong. To date, researchers—who stay and work in the town’s newly constructed eco-lodge and research center—have collected close to 140 hours of video footage, archived thousands of photos, and produced two CD collections of music. At the same time, the workshop is helping the village develop a multigenerational mentoring program (pairing local students with skilled artisans and song masters) and an organic-farming initiative—efforts designed to improve the local economy and reinvigorate, rather than fossilize, the region’s traditions.
Green Travel Company
Enterprise Rent-a-Car: St. Louis, Missouri
U.S. automakers may not have been ready for the seismic shift in consumer car preferences this year, but the nation’s largest car-rental company was more than prepared. In 2006, spurred by a growing concern about climate change, CEO Andrew Taylor decided to reshape the family-owned company to improve its environmental sustainability. Today, Enterprise’s 1.1 million cars include 440,000 vehicles that average at least 28 mpg, and among this fuel-efficient fleet are 73,000 flex-fuel vehicles, which run on both gas and an ethanol blend, and 5,000 hybrids. Enterprise is also improving the energy efficiency of its rental offices and spending $50 million over the next 50 years to plant trees. But it’s about more than the bottom line: To help develop alternative energy sources, the Taylor family donated $25 million last year to create the Institute of Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, in St. Louis.
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking: Nepal
Throughout the 100-plus years that the Himalayas have lured Westerners, the trekkers and guides who are the region’s major players have predominantly been male. Which is why 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, Nepal’s first all-female outfitter, has had such a profound impact on the country’s tourism industry. Founded by Dicky, Nicky, and Lucky Chhetri in 1994 after women staying in their guesthouse complained of poor treatment by male porters, the company trains local women to guide female travelers—a radical business model in a country where women have traditionally played a secondary role in the economy. As part of the program, 3 Sisters guides take classes in English conversation, leadership, health, and nutrition. Some graduates have used their seasonal wages to continue their education; others have started their own businesses. And as Nepal’s tourism numbers rise, 3 Sisters’ influence will only continue to grow.
U.S. Green Building Council: Washington, D.C.
Since its launch in 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), has pushed the hotel industry to think seriously about sustainability. The USGBC, a nonprofit, originally created LEED to help residential and commercial architects and developers meet eco-friendly standards for water efficiency, indoor air quality, construction materials, and energy use. But with the hospitality industry lacking any sort of third-party green-certification guidelines, LEED was quickly embraced by hoteliers eager for guidance as well. LEED has become the de facto industry standard: more than 400 hotels, from remote resorts to suburban conference centers and luxury city hotels, have adopted the USGBC’s building requirements and registered for certification. LEED’s influence has also spread internationally: Sri Lanka’s Kandalama Hotel applied for and received LEED Pilot Project certification in 2000, and the Indian government is now using LEED criteria to evaluate new properties. In 2004, the USGBC further expanded its reach by establishing a special set of standards for upgrading existing sites, opening the path to sustainability for tens of thousands of hotels. The nonprofit’s latest project: developing guidelines for chain-hotel prototypes, thereby greening dozens—even hundreds—of future properties. All told, the USGBC’s impact on hoteliers continues to grow: last year, applications to LEED by hotels were up by almost 400 percent from 2006.