Travel is a powerful engine of change: It can protect environments, preserve cultures, and transform lives. Once again, Travel + Leisure honors the companies and organizations that are harnessing travel to positively impact our world. With the help of our panel of expert judges, we sifted through nearly 150 applications to find the 2010 Global Visionaries. Read on—and be inspired to see the world with this year’s winners.
Land Management: Great Plains Conservation, Africa
It’s hard to tell whether Great Plains is a conservation organization or a safari lodge company—a testament to how well it wears both identities. The six camps under the Great Plains banner all embody the highest standards of service and design, and together they are situated on some 955,000 acres of conserved land. At Kenya’s Ol Donyo Wuas, Great Plains has partnered with the local Masai community to protect the area’s wildlife while helping to support neighboring villages. The Mara Plains camp, also in Kenya, is leading efforts to preserve the ecologically and culturally sensitive Masai Mara Reserve. And Botswana’s Selinda Reserve has converted no less than 320,000 acres from hunting to conservation grounds.
Take the Trip: Ride alongside a herd of giraffes on a horseback safari through Kenya’s Chyulu Hills at the Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge (doubles from $650, all-inclusive). See greatplainsconservation.com for other lodges.
Wildlife Protection: &Beyond, Africa
The safari lodge company and tour operator &Beyond was founded in 1991 (as C.C. Africa) on these principles: care of the land, care of the wildlife, care of the people. The company’s first project was to restore degraded farmland in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, creating the Phinda Private Reserve. Today, it operates a collection of 46 well-regarded luxury lodges on 8.5 million acres of protected land in Africa and India, and devotes countless staff hours to the reintroduction, relocation, and study of animals. And it has done all of this while giving back to local communities. To date, the &Beyond Foundation has constructed more than 160 classrooms, awarded university scholarships to more than 200 students, and built four health clinics.
Environmental Upstart: RiverIndia, Arunachal Pradesh, India
After traversing the Tibetan Plateau, the Yarlung Tsangpo River becomes the mighty Siang of northern India. It is there, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, that RiverIndia, a small rafting-tour operator, is building a sustainable-tourism industry with the hopes of protecting the 1,800-mile-long river, recently targeted for hydropower plants. It’s a David versus Goliath story of a scrappy company fighting Indian big business. But it’s also the tale of how an organization can train locals to embrace their natural resources, introduce travelers to an endangered landscape, and perhaps keep one of Asia’s longest free-flowing waterways on course.
Take the Trip: Eleven-day Himalayan expeditions with RiverIndia begin and end in New Delhi and include six days of rafting along the Siang (11-day trips from $2,250 per person, all-inclusive).
Green Luxury: Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, Laikipia, Kenya
A three-year-old retreat in central Kenya, the Sanctuary at Ol Lentille has everything luxury travelers expect from a safari lodge: suites with plunge pools; gourmet meals and butler service; and guides who find some of the country’s best game viewing. It also has other, more surprising touches, including solar-generated power and harvested rainwater that supplies 80 percent of the lodge’s needs. What’s more, Ol Lentille has created a conservation model that makes partners and owners of the local Masai community.
Take the Trip: Between game drives, guests can brush up on their game tracking with the lodge’s private bush-skills course (doubles from $1,200, all-inclusive).
Environmental Leadership: Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, Central America
Costa Rica’s status as a forerunner in green travel is built on pioneering hotels such as Lapa Rios Ecolodge and Latitude 10 Beach Resort. What these properties have in common is Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, a small management company that works with them (plus three more in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua) to help combine luxury with sustainability. Rooms are carefully set within forests, infinity pools are maintained with salt and ionization, and refillable water bottles are provided at check-in.
Take the Trip: Lapa Rios (doubles from $380) offers naturalist-guided evening walks through the surrounding jungle, where guests can spend the night in a covered platform bed. For more, see cayugaonline.com.
Sustainable Design: Feynan Ecolodge, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Although the Middle East has become the epicenter of over-the-top development, the 26-room Feynan Ecolodge takes a radically different approach. The adobe-colored property, 2 1/2 hours from Amman, is both austere and alluring—and true to its bedouin roots. Solar panels generate power, and house-made candles light the rooms at night. In the winter, olive-pit charcoal is burned in fireplaces for heat. Guests hike through the wildlife reserve, dine on traditional dishes, and get a taste of the authentic Middle East.
Take the Trip: While at the lodge, book a full-day walking tour, which includes a picnic, introductions to local shepherds, and tea in bedouin tents. (doubles from $120).
Green Giant: CityCenter, Las Vegas
A behemoth development of hotels, residences, restaurants, stores, and casinos may seem an unlikely paragon of sustainability, but the year-old CityCenter is anything but conventional. Its LEED-certified hotels (the Mandarin Oriental, Vdara, and Aria Resort) were constructed with cutting-edge green-building techniques. Classic Vegas amenities have been given a new twist: limos run on natural gas; slot machines double as air conditioners. But it’s the sheer scale of CityCenter’s accomplishments that’s most notable. The development’s efficiency initiatives alone save an estimated 94 million kWh of energy and 50 million gallons of water each year.
Cultural Immersion: Cnoc Suain, Galway, Ireland
A beautifully restored hill village that literally sits on layers of Irish history, Cnoc Suain offers a thorough immersion in local culture. Bog walks and classes on Irish language, music, and storytelling combine with picturesque surroundings and centuries-old stone cottages to form a microcosm of traditional Ireland that’s devoid of pretension or Lucky Charms kitsch. Thanks in part to its ecology program for local students, Cnoc Suain has also made environmental stewardship a key element of its heritage preservation efforts. Its exemplary approach to cultural tourism operates on the assumption that you can’t have one without the other.
Take the Trip: Cnoc Suain’s two-night Spirit of Ireland Gaelic immersion includes language classes and music sessions (Aug. 26–28, Sept. 16–18, and Oct. 7–9; from $500 per person).
Artisan Revival: The Haciendas, Yucatán, Mexico
When development company Grupo Plan began a painstaking restoration of colonial estates that once anchored the Yucatán’s sisal industry, it had little idea that its five beautiful hotels (from the jungle-shaded Hacienda San José to the stately and manicured Hacienda Temozon) would end up revitalizing entire areas of rural Mexico. The properties inspired a wave of community-focused tourism. Today, folk art collectives sell handicrafts both to the hotels and directly to the wave of visitors they are now attracting. Meanwhile, a cultural center and hotel-sponsored initiatives promoting health and literacy are allowing these once-depressed communities to take a larger role in determining their own future.
Take the Trip: Each of the Haciendas has an on-site boutique selling local handmade goods such as carved horn necklaces and Mayan cotton hammocks.
Heritage Site: Linden Centre, Yunnan, China
The product of an unprecedented initiative by two American antiquities experts, this 14-room luxury hotel in Yunnan province serves as a museum, learning center, and meeting place for visitors and local artisans alike. Guests at the restored historic mansion can participate in 10-day to three-week-long painting, writing, and culinary-arts programs, attend a local wedding, or even help carry sedan chairs during a temple celebration. The Linden Centre has helped persuade skeptical officials of the importance of preserving the heritage of China’s rural areas, and the owners are now adapting their model for two more historic buildings in Yunnan.
Take the Trip: Traditional Chinese dance programs are held in the hotel’s restored central courtyard, set high in the Himalayan foothills (doubles from $125).
Cultural Restoration: Cambodian Living Arts, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
During its brief but devastating reign, the Khmer Rouge eliminated an estimated 90 percent of Cambodia’s performing artists. More than three decades later, the aftereffects of this horrific purge are still evident; thanks to Cambodian Living Arts, however, so, too, are signs of recovery. The organization provides space, equipment, and a living wage to master practitioners of Cambodian folk dance, smot chanting, and other endangered art forms and enlists them to teach younger generations—giving the country’s cultural traditions a chance to thrive.
Take the Trip: See the organization’s Children of Bassac dance troupe perform classic and folk dance styles during weekly shows at the National Museum in Phnom Penh’s newly renovated garden theater. For more, go to cambodianlivingarts.org.
Historic Preservation: Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, Nepal
In a country short on homegrown preservation efforts, KVPT has established itself as a steward of some of Nepal’s most fantastic monuments. Most of its efforts have revolved around the stunning Patan Darbar royal complex, which comprises mainly 17th-century Buddhist and Hindu structures and remains a key part of religious life in Kathmandu today. (As Nepal’s most popular tourist attraction, it is also an important source of revenue.) KVPT recently restored 18 of Patan’s temples, and the trust continues to perform restoration work in the hope of one day opening the entire complex to the public.
Take the Trip: The restoration of Patan Darbar’s Sundari Chowk courtyard—the organization’s most ambitious effort—will be completed next year and open to tours.
Human Rights: Accor, Worldwide
Hotel companies haven’t exactly been eager to address the uncomfortable issue of child sex tourism. But Accor—owner of Novotel and Sofitel, among other brands—has admirably worked with the NGO ECPAT International to build an awareness of this disquieting reality into its business practices, training 13,000 staff worldwide last year and helping to create a manual on the subject that it has distributed to its tourism partners. In particularly afflicted countries such as Morocco and Thailand, the France-based hospitality giant has seized the initiative on an issue that is too often swept under the carpet.
Take the Trip: More than two dozen Accor hotels in Bangkok have ECPAT-trained employees. Look for the summer 2011 opening of the luxurious 345-room Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit (800/445-8667; sofitel.com). For more, see accorhotels.com.
Corporate Greening: Hilton, Worldwide
Plenty of big hotel chains claim they’re going green, but can they prove it? Hilton became the first major multi-brand hospitality company to make sustainability measurement a brand standard when it launched its LightStay program last April. Hilton now measures water, waste, and carbon output at more than 1,500 of its properties; by the end of 2011, the company plans to have its entire global portfolio under the same microscope. It’s not just about monitoring, however: Hilton’s studies show that when a hotel pays attention to its numbers, management reduces the hotel’s carbon footprint—by an average of 6 percent. And that is the ultimate goal.
Take the Trip: The 1,980-room Hilton New York generates much of its electric power and hot water from a PureCell power system, the only one of its kind in a New York City hotel (doubles from $429).
Philanthropic Travel: Abercrombie & Kent, Worldwide
As one of the world’s most respected tour operators, Abercrombie & Kent has been a leading promoter of a simple but extremely important idea: sophisticated travelers giving back. For nearly three decades, the company’s charitable efforts (supporting everything from black rhino conservation in Kenya to building wells in Cambodia) have expanded alongside its commercial operations. A&K now contributes to 50 conservation, health, and education causes around the globe, and last year alone donations from its philanthropic arm and clients reached a combined total of $1 million. The message? Big-time generosity isn’t bad for business.
Philanthropic Travel: Overseas Adventure Travel, Worldwide
For nearly two decades, OAT owners Alan and Harriet Lewis have put philanthropy at the center of their business. Since 1992, their Grand Circle Foundation has given an impressive $50 million to educational, development, and cultural preservation projects around the world—doing everything from financing a farm in Costa Rica to building schools in Tanzania and Thailand through its World Classroom Program. OAT has raised emergency funds for such disaster-struck areas as Haiti and Peru, and its employees organize some 30 community-service programs a year, making it one of the finest examples of a tour operator that cares.
Grassroots Outreach: Guludo Beach Lodge, Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique
An eco-lodge of thatched-palm suites on a white-sand beach, Guludo Beach Lodge is a model of conscientious tourism. Founded on business principles that both engage locals and support conservation, health, and education initiatives, Guludo is responsible for providing employment opportunities, scholarships, clean water, and mosquito netting to the 15,000 Mozambicans in its radius. It has spurred an economic turnaround, fostered cultural traditions, and brought optimism to an impoverished part of northern Mozambique.
Take the Trip: A day at Guludo may involve scuba diving, a sunset sail, and visits to the local community (doubles from $510, including meals).
Youth Education: Micato Safaris, Nairobi, Kenya
For Micato Safaris, a luxury tour operator with a history of social responsibility, it started with a simple concept: Why not change the life of one child for every guest it takes on safari? And that’s precisely what the company did last winter, by making a commitment to pay for the education of a child from Nairobi’s Mukuru slum for every safari it sells. In a community where some 100,000 youths don’t attend school, Micato’s initiative has a deep impact. Already, the company has plans to send thousands of kids to school, a promise that could cost Micato up to $6,000 per child if he or she continues into college.
Literacy Initiative: Myths & Mountains, Worldwide
E-books may be on the rise in the United States, but for rural communities in developing countries, access to the real thing can still be a challenge. Enter adventure-travel company Myths & Mountains, which launched the nonprofit READ (Rural Education and Development) two decades ago to construct and supply nearly 50 libraries in Nepal, India, and Bhutan. Today READ operates successfully on its own, but Myths & Mountains is still very involved: the company monitors the libraries and recruits READ supporters, all while offering custom cultural-immersion trips, from textile shopping in Bhutan to cooking lessons in Peru.
President of the World Monuments Fund
“Cambodian Living Arts presents authentic and intellectually engaging traditions, while also making them accessible to the Cambodian public.”
Model, designer, goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization, and founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation
“The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille doesn’t just avoid harming the environment, it actually improves the ecosystem. It has a truly light footprint.”
Environmental director for Grupo Puntacana and director of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation
“Making local traditions an integral part of the hotel operations and guest experience is the Haciendas’ real triumph.”
Founder of Toms Shoes and the company’s One for One movement
“By preserving history, the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust allows the community to continue its daily rituals.”
Oscar-winning documentarian (The Cove), photographer, and executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society
“In the quest to restore the wildlife, &Beyond gave locals what Eden didn’t—a health clinic.”
Dr. Joseph Stiglitz
Nobel Prize–winning economist and chair of Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought
“Even in the age of the Internet, Myths & Mountains’ libraries are essential to bringing access to knowledge to those in the developing world.”
Senior vice president of resorts and projects at Emirates Hotels & Resorts
“Many communities have benefited from tourism, but others have suffered from exploitation. Accor has raised the profile of this issue.”
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