The hotels, tour operators, airlines, and innovators that are transforming the way we see the world, now and in the future.
For Travel + Leisure’s 2014 Global Vision Awards, we tasked our jury with evaluating the efforts of airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and car-rental and tour companies around the world that are working to preserve and protect the places we travel through. Here, this year’s winners in five categories.
Editor’s Pick: The Visionary
Yin Myo Su, Inle Princess Resort, Burma
The daughter of hoteliers, Yin Myo Su (or Misuu, as she is known) grew up steeped in an industry that’s now poised to transform profoundly her once closed-off country—for better or worse. So Misuu is using her Lake Inle mini-empire, which includes the 46-chalet Inle Princess Resort ($$), the Inthar Heritage House and restaurant, and a new hospitality training school aimed at locals, to demonstrate and develop the values of sustainable travel. At the heart of all her enterprises is a deep sensitivity to the environment, the needs of surrounding communities, and the cultural traditions of this increasingly popular region.
The people we encounter when we travel are often what make our trips so memorable. And yet they remain on the sidelines of the industry. The winners below flip that script by involving locals at their very core, creating experiences for travelers that are all the more extraordinary.
Winner: Conservancy Safaris Namibia, Swakopmund, Namibia
What It Is: A locally owned mobile safari company offering an authentic experience of northwestern Namibia.
How It Works: Banding together five communal conservancies across some 5,000 square miles, CSN has enabled roughly 2,000 seminomadic pastoralists to become conservationists, safari guides, and community hosts—putting the lucrative tourism industry in the hands of those who know the terrain best. One result of a national campaign for locally led wildlife management, CSN’s efforts have helped the area’s elephants, black rhinos, and lions rebound from near-extinction levels—creating a template that has been replicated across almost 20 percent of the country’s total land area.
Take the Trip: T+L A-List agent Chris Liebenberg books trips through Namibia’s Damaraland and Kaokoveld that include a desert camp stay with CSN.
Runner-up: Shinta Mani Club & Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia
These Bill Bensley–designed sister properties (a boutique hotel and nearby resort) stand out for their Development Center, a free-of-charge hospitality academy for Khmer youth. Ten years and 215 graduates later, it has also launched a sustainable-farming course and a microfinance arm.
Take the Trip: Order the seven-course menu at Shinta Mani’s Kroya for a taste of Khmer fare.
Runner-up: Intrepid Travel, Melbourne, Australia
With itineraries in 100-plus countries, this small-group adventure-tour operator visits and supports local causes around the world. Its Intrepid Foundation has donated $3.5 million since 2002 to 69 global initiatives, including Tanzanian orphanages and family planning in Peru.
Take the Trip: Shop for embroidered goods in a Hmong village on a 10-day Thailand trip.
What are travelers seeking? A distinctive sense of place, that feeling of being surrounded by history and local traditions. As these winners demonstrate, we may find this at an archaeological site across the globe—or in a well-designed hotel just around the corner.
Winner: 21C Museum Hotels, Louisville, Kentucky
What It Is: An innovative hotel brand turning unexpected American cities into art-driven destinations.
How It Works: 21c has helped reinvigorate the declining urban centers of Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky, by creating hotels-as-cultural-institutions. Its recipe: breathe new life into a historic building by seeding it with stylish, contemporary guest rooms and a cutting-edge art museum that is free and open to the public and has ample local programming. With five more properties in the works (including two in Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Missouri), the 21c mission is expanding.
Take the Trip: In early 2015, the latest 21c will open with 125 guest rooms in a restored early-20th-century bank building in Durham, North Carolina. $$
Runner-up: Adventures in Preservation, Boulder, Colorado
This voluntourism organization pairs travelers with archaeologists, art historians, and preservationists to save notable structures, from a plantation in Virginia to an 18th-century tower in Albania.
Take the Trip: Help restore volcanic-stone buildings in Ecuador with architect Juan Diego Badillo this January.
Runner-up: Ciudad Perdida, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
For the first time in decades, the “lost city”—ruins of the ancient Tayrona civilization— is open to travelers, thanks to a careful management plan created by Colombia’s Institute of Anthropology and History and the Global Heritage Fund.
Take the Trip: Book a six-day hike with Magic Tour Colombia, one of five operators permitted on the site.
A protected landscape can both inspire travelers and preserve ecosystems for years to come. The winners in this category have taken responsibility for hundreds of thousands of threatened acres—from savanna to prairie to forest—bringing endemic flora and wildlife under their care.
Winner: Campi Ya Kanzi, Chyulu Hills, Kenya
What It Is: A Maasai-owned safari lodge in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
How It Works: The lodge’s smart profit-sharing strategy allots portions of each guest night to a community fund that covers the salaries of 100-plus antipoaching scouts. The trust doubles as an insurance agency for herders, compensating them when lions or cheetahs attack their livestock and deincentivizing the practice of retaliatory killings. It’s a double win: wildlife populations have grown significantly—and so has the local economy.
Take the Trip: Micato Safaris, a previous GVA winner, offers a 15-day itinerary through Kenya and Tanzania, including a stay at Campi Ya Kanzi.
Runner-up: American Prairie Reserve: Northeastern Montana
To create the largest conservancy in the Lower 48, this American West nonprofit is expanding its 305,000 acres of Montana grassland. Already, it has restored 450 bison to the prairies, 120 years after they’d disappeared. Now Kestrel Camp, a complex of luxury yurts, invites visitors to explore the reserve.
Take the Trip: Absolute Travel offers Montana itineraries that stop at Kestrel Camp.
Runner-up: Cuixmala, Jalisco, Mexico
While much of Mexico’s Pacific coast has succumbed to big development, this stylish 38-room estate takes a different approach, supporting a sprawling, 25,000-acre nature reserve—much of it semi-deciduous dry forest, one of the most threatened habitats in the region.
Take the Trip: Visit between August and February to assist biologists helping baby turtles reach the sea. $$$$
Whether it’s reducing energy use in the country’s most trafficked air hub or bringing tourism dollars to local communities in quiet pockets of the world, the winners in the Leadership category know how to leverage their size and strengths. Their accomplishments are pushing the envelope for the entire travel industry.
Winner: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
What It Is: The busiest airport in America—and also one of the greenest.
How It Works: Crowned by a new LEED Gold–certified international terminal, Hartsfield-Jackson has significantly reduced its per-passenger footprint—cutting 8 percent of its energy usage, 16 percent of its water consumption, and 29 percent of waste since 2008. To make it happen, everything from bathroom faucets (all 1,000 of them) to runway lights has received an energy-efficiency-minded overhaul.
Take the Trip: Don’t miss the only in-airport 40/40 Club, in Concourse D, one of three sports bars and lounges owned by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z.
Runner-up: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Amsterdam
A champion for renewable fuels, KLM helped to found a company that supplies biofuels to nearly two dozen airlines worldwide. Last year, the carrier joined forces with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to launch the industry’s first weekly biofuel flight, between JFK and Amsterdam’s Schiphol—an important step in making alternative fuels the new standard.
Take the Trip: The carrier’s new business-class cabins feature carpets made from recycled KLM uniforms.
Runner-up: G Adventures, Toronto
A small-group adventure-tour operator with a big impact, G Adventures takes more than 150,000 people around the world each year, connecting clients with local communities. Its area of expertise: identifying villages and regions with tourism potential and building them up sustainably, through homestay programs, microenterprises, and education initiatives.
Take the Trip: Explore Guatemala’s Mayan ruins of Tikal—followed by a homestay near Lake Atitlán—on a 16-day Central America expedition.
It’s one thing to lighten a hotel’s footprint behind the scenes. It’s quite another to incorporate these measures—and the broader values they represent—into the guest experience. That’s what these properties have accomplished in subtle, meaningful ways.
Winner: Naked Stables Private Reserve, Moganshan, China
What It Is: An eco-resort of thatched-roof bungalows and treetop villas in the pristine forests outside Shanghai.
How It Works: Built entirely with sustainable, recycled, and locally sourced materials, Naked Stables has put environmental concerns front and center from the very start, with green construction a core value. Three years later, it also maintains organic greenhouses, a composting program, and dozens of innovative energy-saving initiatives. They all add up to a LEED Platinum certification—the first in China.
Take the Trip: During the harvest season (April through October) guests can pick and roast downy leaves of white tea on Naked Stables’ private fields. $$$
Runner-up: Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town
This stately hotel overlooking Table Mountain proves that it’s possible to transform a historic property—that dates back to the 1800’s—into a beacon of energy-efficient hospitality.
Take the Trip: A serene escape from the city, the hotel’s seven-acre gardens include indigenous blooms such as tangerine-colored crane flowers. $$
Runner-up: Pikaia Lodge, Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador
A pioneering model of land-based tourism in the Galápagos Islands, this new 14-room luxury eco-lodge uses solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and locally sourced biofuels to minimize its impact on the islands’ fragile environment.
Take the Trip: Pikaia’s Land & Sea Safari includes four nights at the lodge and six on a private yacht.
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Bonnie Burnham President and CEO of the World Monuments Fund
K.C. Hardin Cofounder and president of Conservatorio SA, a company dedicated to historic preservation in Panama
Alyse Nelson President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an NGO supporting women’s empowerment
Joseph Stiglitz and Anya Schiffrin Nobel Prize–winning economist; director of Columbia University’s media and advocacy program
Jochen Zeitz Founder of the Zeitz Foundation and owner of Segera Retreat
Rachel Roy Fashion designer, activist, and philanthropist
Blake Mycoskie Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Toms Shoes