You’ve heard it here before: Travel can change the world. And in a year filled with bad news, it’s great to have something to celebrate. The 17 winners of Travel + Leisure’s 2009 Global Vision Awards—from the globe-spanning Walt Disney Corporation to a one-man tour company in South Africa—are transforming, in ways large and small, not only how we travel, but also the way we think about the world. Read on for the latest and best efforts at cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and community-building through tourism.
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
With a 4,500-work collection that spans 13 centuries and three continents, this ambitious new museum is setting a precedent for cultural celebration and preservation in a region known more for its sometimes extravagant embrace of the future. Housed in an I. M. Pei–designed building, the museum’s diverse holdings reflect the history and vitality of the Islamic world: 10th-century gold-inked North African Korans, bejeweled vases from 14th-century Egypt, Ottoman swords, and Iraqi earthenware. Together they add up to one of the premier collections of Islamic art—and testify to Qatar’s status as one of the 21st century’s emerging culture capitals. mia.org.qa.
Koiyaki Guiding School, Masai Mara, Kenya
Despite being the inhabitants of one of the original international wildlife destinations, the Masai have traditionally remained on the fringe of the tourism industry. To engage locals in the travel sector and involve them in the stewardship of their land, the Koiyaki Guiding School opened in 2005, training community youths to become professional safari guides. Since then, 101 students have received diplomas, and more than 80 percent of those have found employment in Kenya. koiyaki.com.
This small nonprofit is on a mission to help the women of Peru’s Patacancha Valley preserve their rich textile tradtion through workshops and seminars focused on maintaining their techniques for weaving and creating these elaborate, ritualistic fabrics. It’s also raising the profile of the textiles, organizing tours and homestay programs for travelers, and selling the fabrics in a new store in Ollantaytambo, near the starting point of the Inca Trail. awamaki.org.
GAP Adventures, Toronto
As the world’s largest adventure-travel company, Canada-based GAP Adventures takes more than 90,000 people on over 1,000 different trips each year. Just as impressively, GAP has used this enormous reach to make its nonprofit arm, Planeterra, into an extraordinarily effective community-building entity. Since 2003, Planeterra has spent more than $500,000 on projects that include investing in rural cataract-surgery clinics in Tibet, establishing a women’s weaving collective in Peru, and purchasing a boat to bring Ecuadorean students on field trips to the Galápagos Islands. Meanwhile, hundreds of travelers have taken to the road on Planeterra-run voluntourism trips that embody the company’s mission to promote environmental responsibility and a connection to locals. planeterra.org.
Rainforest Alliance, New York City
Who sets the bar for green travel? The answer: The Rainforest Alliance. This month, under the auspices of the United Nations, the nonprofit’s Sustainable Tourism Program launches an umbrella certification initiative giving hotels, cruise lines, and operators a set of baseline criteria that define exactly what sustainability means—and giving travelers who book rooms or tours with accredited companies the assurance that their dollars are going to businesses that are truly green. rainforest-alliance.org.