To determine this year’s standard-bearers for responsible tourism, we scoured the globe—from a private island in Cambodia to a Peruvian village on the verge of a travel boom. Here, all the winners, plus 20 trip ideas so you can experience their efforts firsthand, five of our favorite innovators, and the results of our Facebook poll on going green.
“People want to create spaces that tell their story,” Global Vision Awards jury member David Gensler says. “They want to be direct and inspiring in a complicated world.” These four winners embrace the idea that building and operating sustainably is not just about the latest green amenities but a commitment to a long-term mission.
The Standout: ITC Hotels, India/Global
What It Is: A South Asian hospitality brand with 10 properties in nine destinations that have been certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council.
How It Works: ITC has made sustainability a brand-wide priority for 15 years, but its luxury properties raise the bar: using almost 30 percent less energy than the U.S. EPA’s benchmark for comparable hotels of the same size (half of the energy they do use is generated by company-owned wind farms); reusing 85 percent of wastewater for cleaning and landscaping; and recycling 99 percent of solid waste, such as plastic and scrap metal.
Take the Trip: The new LEED Platinum ITC Grand Chola, in Chennai, spans eight acres, with three rooftop pools and 522 rooms. $$$$
Volcanoes Safaris, Uganda and Rwanda
What It Is: An African tour operator that is helping to save gorillas and chimpanzees while introducing a sustainable tourism model to post-conflict countries.
How It Works: Four solar-powered eco-lodges serve as a base for conservation and community programs: land around the camps is purchased to create a buffer zone between wildlife and nearby villages, while funding is provided for chimpanzee research, local school programs, and resource management training for farmers.
Take the Trip: Spot chimps and tree-climbing lions at Uganda’s Kyambura Gorge Lodge, near Queen Elizabeth National Park. $$$$
Alaska Airlines, Seattle
What It Is: America’s most fuel-efficient large airline.
How It Works: In the 1990’s, Alaska Airlines pioneered satellite navigation technology that maps the shortest possible flight path, reducing its carbon footprint by 30 percent since 2004. It’s also the first U.S. airline to commit multiple commercial flights to biofuel and, in 2011 alone, in-flight recycling diverted 500 tons of trash from landfills.
Take the Trip: Catch one of 25 daily flights to Hawaii, with new direct routes this fall.
Song Saa Private Island, Koh Rong, Cambodia
What It Is: An ultra-luxe resort that’s providing a template for responsible development in Cambodia.
How It Works: Constructed using regional bamboo, vines, and recycled materials and located inside a marine reserve, the resort is working with the national government to expand its protected area. It has even opened the first ocean-discovery center (for guests and locals) in the country.
Take the Trip: Tour nearby Prek Svay fishing village to receive a blessing from local monks and visit sustainable fruit orchards. $$$$$
T+L Editors’ Pick, Design: Cité de l’Ocean et du Surf
This site-sensitive oceanic museum in Biarritz, France—designed by Steven Holl Architects—unites high-end design with an earth-friendly mission: raising awareness about marine ecosystems.
You Said... 58% of T+L Facebook fans will spend an extra $25 a night to stay at a green hotel.
“Natural ecosystems will not survive unless humans are motivated to conserve them,” philanthropist, and T+L juror, Gregory Carr says. The winners in this category understand this concept, whether they’re securing a threatened forest or coastline, or offering hands-on opportunities for travelers and locals to help protect endangered species such as snow leopards and sea turtles.
The Standout: Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Alta Floresta, Brazil
What It Is: The company behind this privately owned eco-friendly lodge is protecting Brazil’s southern Amazon basin against extreme deforestation.
How It Works: Cristalino has purchased vast swaths of land and is working to convert almost 30,000 acres (twice the size of the island of Manhattan) to reserve status, safeguarding some 2,000 butterfly and 595 bird species. The lodge is expanding its efforts through partnerships that support research on the region’s many unstudied plants and animals—allowing Cristalino to lobby the Brazilian government for additional protected land.
Take the Trip: Stargaze from the lodge’s expansive floating river deck—warmed by an open fire pit. $$
Rosalie Bay Resort, Rosalie, Dominica
What It Is: A 28-room hotel that has restored endangered sea-turtle populations on the island of Dominica.
How It Works: The property engages community volunteers to patrol and clean up nesting beaches, educates local school groups, and collects data. In 2003, Rosalie Bay had seven leatherback nests. By 2010, there were 69—and, over the past four nesting seasons, the recorded survival rate for new hatchlings has been 100 percent.
Take the Trip: Visit between March and October to watch baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean. $$
Four Seasons Maldives, Male Atoll and Baa Atoll, Maldives
What It Is: Four Seasons properties at Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru are working to protect the archipelago’s marine life.
How It Works: In a reef-regeneration project, hundreds of artificial frames (sponsored, in part, by guest donations) provide support for more than 40 species of coral to grow, breathing new life into formerly bleached and empty areas. What’s more, the resorts’ Manta Trust research project brought international attention to local manta ray populations, resulting in Marine Protected Area status for two study sites.
Take the Trip: Snorkel the reefs at Landaa Giraavaru, guided by a staff marine biologist. $$$$$
Biosphere Expeditions, Norwich, England
What It Is: A nonprofit whose partnerships with top research institutions are bringing serious results for 11 conservation programs around the world.
How It Works: Volunteer travelers select their project and are trained on-site in telemetry studies, animal tracking, and more. (Biosphere channels two-thirds of trip costs to the effort.) Past successes include the creation of two protected areas for migratory birds and snow leopards in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Take the Trip: Tag and release threatened marsupials on a new excursion in Western Australia. Nine days from $2,030 per person.
T+L Editors’ Pick, Car: Model S Tesla
This new Model S sedan, released recently by electric-car pioneer Tesla, has sleek, aerodynamic lines and seats up to seven without compromising on speed or mileage.
You Said... 6% of T+L Facebook fans think that eco-friendly vacations are less luxurious.
By bringing health care, literacy, and funding to those in need, these winners prove that empowerment is the backbone of progress. Says juror Zainab Salbi, “Self-sufficiency is not only defined by income. It brings joy, peace of mind, and stability to whole communities.”
The Standout: Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia
What It Is: By raising more than $4 million in donations, this jungle resort has improved the lives of 20,000 Sumbanese on one of Indonesia’s most impoverished islands.
How It Works: Villagers were forced to walk a half-day’s distance to see a doctor until Nihiwatu built and staffed five health clinics in the area. Malaria has since been reduced by 85 percent—and the clinics supply clean water to 15,000 people via new wells. The property also provides jobs for island residents (95 percent of its employees live nearby), who take part in extensive training programs in such skills as cooking and traditional Javanese construction.
Take the Trip: Guests can participate in community projects, from helping out at a clinic to playing soccer with local kids. $$$$
Rockhouse Hotel, Negril, Jamaica
What It Is: On an island where resorts often feel detached from the people living around them, the Rockhouse has brought much-needed attention to education in Negril.
How It Works: Since 2004, the Rockhouse Foundation has invested more than $1.5 million to renovate the city’s schools, install water-filtration systems, build safe play spaces, and supply computer labs. It doesn’t stop there—Rockhouse quadrupled the size of Negril’s library and subsidizes the schools’ water and electricity bills, student meal programs, and teacher salaries.
Take the Trip: The Rockhouse Foundation offers weekly tours to the schools it supports; guests can also volunteer to read to the youngest students. $
Huna Totem Corporation, Juneau, Alaska
What It Is: Its privately owned seaport has reinvigorated the traditions of the Huna Tlingit Native Americans in Hoonah, in southeastern Alaska.
How It Works: Cruisers get a noncommercialized look at a little-known culture, with lessons in totem-pole carving and Huna dancing, plus visits to a historic salmon cannery. The community uses tourism dollars to repair the town’s economy—boosting conservation projects and creating jobs that have given the area a renewed sense of cultural pride.
Take the Trip: Sail to Hoonah on one of Royal Caribbean’s voyages. Eight-day cruises from $499 per person.
Tongabezi Lodge, Victoria Falls, Zambia
What It Is: The safari outpost’s Tujatane school has single-handedly developed a local academic system.
How It Works: Tujatane began in 1996 as a preschool for the staff’s children; it now enrolls 198 students ages three to 13. It has produced national champions in poetry and dance. Thanks to generous guest sponsorships, students can attend high school in nearby Livingstone; some go on to earn professional degrees in Zambia or the United States.
Take the Trip: Visit during the summer months for your best chance at seeing a lunar rainbow over Victoria Falls. Meals and activities included. $$$$
T+L Editors’ Pick, Fashion: Maiyet
This South African fashion collective, created by a human-rights activist, partners with artisans from emerging economies—think silk blouses embroidered in India and maxidresses made with Javanese batik—to create an exclusive line for Barneys New York.
What makes a good leader? For these companies, it’s about giving back—in dollars and in deeds—to the places where they operate while creating tools and infrastructure for self-improvement. “Philanthropy should be a two-way exercise,” says T+L jury member Ho Kwon Ping of Banyan Tree.
The Standout: Wilderness Safaris, Johannesburg, South Africa
What It Is: A safari operator with 70 camps in nine countries, Wilderness has been a champion of responsible travel in Africa for nearly 30 years.
How It Works: Overseeing a portfolio of more than 7.4 million acres of protected land, Wilderness supports 40 projects that benefit 1,250 endangered species, including Namibia’s black rhino population. In addition, many of the operator’s sustainable camps (which utilize solar panels and rainwater-harvesting techniques) are created as joint ventures with the local communities, who share profits while also receiving skills training and employment.
Take the Trip: Ride aboard a member of Abu Camp’s resident herd on an elephant-back safari in Botswana. All-inclusive. $$$$$
Shangri-La Hotel Group, Hong Kong/Global
What It Is: A five-star hotel company that’s aiding disadvantaged communities at each of its 72 properties.
How It Works: Individual hotels adopt a local health or education program for 10 to 15 years, spending at least $50,000 on it annually. These programs—which include a home for children of prisoners in Fuzhou, China, and a training program for the deaf in New Delhi—aided more than 2,000 adults and 9,500 children last year.
Take the Trip: Staff members at Shangri-La Wuhan, in China, volunteer at the hotel’s Love Kitchen project, which provides healthy meals for children at a local rehabilitation center. $$$
Taj Hotels, India/Global
What It Is: Leveraging its substantial size, this brand is tackling poverty and social inequality in India.
How It Works: Taj trains more than 2,000 underprivileged youths in hospitality sectors such as housekeeping and restaurant service. It has also spent $2.3 million on goods produced by local NGO’s, women’s collectives, and small-scale entrepreneurs. These efforts often benefit disenfranchised groups, including people with disabilities and victims of sexual exploitation.
Take the Trip: Scout for Indian bison at the Mahua Kothi safari lodge in Madhya Pradesh, India, where Taj reintroduced a herd in 2011. $$$$
Vail Resorts, Broomfield, Colorado
What It Is: A mountain-resort company that’s raising the bar for sustainability and philanthropic efforts in the Rockies and beyond.
How It Works: Attentive monitoring and green retrofits have reduced the brand’s energy usage by 10 percent since 2008, and water consumption efforts save 795,000 gallons a year. Vail Resorts also contributes $6 million annually to 150 Colorado nonprofits, aiding in disaster relief, conservation, and more.
Take the Trip: Game Creek Chalet, in Vail, is offering a 50 percent ski-season discount in honor of the brand’s 50th anniversary. $$$$$
T+L Editors’ Pick, Food: John Besh Foundation
Chef John Besh set a new benchmark for New Orleans restaurants. Now his Chefs Move initiative is doing the same for public service: providing scholarships to help enterprising residents rise from, say, dishwasher to executive chef, while offering micro-loans and marketing advice to local start-up farmers.
You Said... 88% of T+L Facebook fans consider themselves sustainable travelers.
“Heritage is both an economic asset and a source of pride,” juror Bonnie Burnham says. By preserving what makes each community special—from culinary traditions to sacred sites—these organizations are championing some of the world’s lesser-known cultural destinations.
The Standout: Belcampo Belize, Toledo, Belize
What It Is: This eco-lodge is devoted to saving Belize’s indigenous cuisine and the heirloom crops that define it.
How It Works: The property’s 3,000-acre organic farm is filled with native crops from chaya (similar to spinach) to culantro (coriander). Guests can learn to make local dishes with the ingredients on a traditional comal hearth. Partnerships with San Francisco–based Blue Bottle Coffee and Chicago’s Vosges Chocolate are helping the lodge build a global marketplace for Mayan products.
Take the Trip: Cocoa lovers can pick and taste fresh cacao fruit, learn about chocolate making, and even produce their own bars on site. $$$
What It Is: The trust is restoring the Sumda Chun Gonpa temple complex, a rare example of 12th-century Tibetan monastic architecture located 13,000 feet above sea level.
How It Works: After mapping the structural elements and intricate interior paintings, nirlac stabilized the building, cleaned the original artworks, and created guidelines for future work. The project has drawn visitors who support the resident monks, and doubles as a model for other religious sites in need of repair.
Take the Trip: Bespoke itineraries to Ladakh, Leh, and Pangaong are available each summer with Wild Frontiers. 13 days from $2,340 per person.
Pingyao Cultural Village, Pingyao, China
What It Is: China’s last remaining walled ancient city was a wealthy banking center for five centuries. With the rise of industrialization, it fell into disrepair—until now.
How It Works: UNESCO status has brought travelers back to the city. And thanks to the U.S.-based Global Heritage Fund Foundation, Pingyao has restored several of its historic courtyard buildings, which now house artisan complexes where local traditions can take shape once again.
Take the Trip: Walk along the top of Pingyao’s ancient city wall with its 3,000 crenels representing each of Confucius’s disciples.
Grupo Patrimonio Cultural, Andahuaylillas, Peru
What It Is: A youth group tasked with saving the historic Church of San Pedro and their town’s entire cultural fabric.
How It Works: The young men and women behind Grupo Patrimonio catalogued every building in this Andean town, archiving not just architectural features but also multigenerational accounts, documented with video clips, drawings, and photos. The result? Andahuaylillas now has the tools to sustainably manage impending growth.
Take the Trip: Plan a stop on a drive from Cuzco to Puno. The 240-mile route is filled with Incan ruins and jagged mountain vistas.
T+L Editors’ Pick, Digital Initiative: Pack for a Purpose
Carting five extra pounds of supplies—from blood-pressure cuffs to pencils and deflated soccer balls—can make a huge difference to a disadvantaged community. Pack for a Purpose posts supply lists online for travelers visiting affiliated properties in developing nations, then arranges for donated items to be picked up from the hotel.
You Said... 64% of T+L Facebook fans think making a donation is the best way to give back while traveling.
Hotel Pricing Key
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$$ $200 to $350
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Data collected from a Facebook poll conducted in July 2012.
T+L’s 2012 Global Vision Awards jury weighed in on dozens of projects—including hotel and school programs, voluntourism initiatives, eco-lodges, and an energy-efficient airline—to select 20 winners in five categories. Our panel of experts ranked their short lists of nominees, and all the scores were averaged to determine the top contenders.
Yves Béhar Industrial designer and founder of award-winning design firm fuseproject
Gregory Carr Conservationist and philanthropist
David Gensler LEED-accredited consultant and an executive director of global design firm Gensler
Bonnie Burnham President and CEO of the World Monuments Fund
Ho Kwon Ping Executive chairman of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, a past Global Vision Awards winner
A safari operator with 70 camps in nine countries, Wilderness has been a champion of responsible travel in Africa for nearly 30 years. Overseeing a portfolio of more than 7.4 million acres of protected land, Wilderness supports 40 projects that benefit 1,250 endangered species, including Namibia’s black rhino population. In addition, many of the operator’s sustainable camps (which utilize solar panels and rainwater-harvesting techniques) are created as joint ventures with the local communities, who share profits while also receiving skills training and employment.
Nihi Sumba Island (formerly Nihiwatu)
Playing multiple roles as hotel, preserve, and farm, this 12-room location is located on Belize's southern coast, near Punta Gorda. Against the backdrop of the Maya Mountains, the former Machaca Hill Lodge provides a center for guests to eat, gather area information, or just sit and watch the days unfold in the dense rainforest. The private suites aim to give the feel of “outdoor” living while sheltering comfortably (modern perks like Wi-Fi, AC, and mini-fridges are included.) The 3,000 acre farm continues to be active, producing goods like coffee and cacao, some of which culinary director Mara Jernigan utilizes to keep the pipeline flowing from “farm to table.”
This ultrahip hangout takes its name from its cluster of thatched-roof bungalows built atop rock cliffs that jut just above an aquamarine cove. Most of the 34 so-called rock houses are outfitted with private patios or sundecks; a few have private ladders leading right down into the sea. With four-poster beds made of local timber and covered in the softest linens, soaring ceilings, and giant windows facing the sea or gardens, the rooms encourage ordering breakfast in bed before venturing out for snorkeling in the sheltered waters of the reef or an “On the Rocks” massage (ask for Joy or Maureen) in the new open-air, cliff-top spa. Your dollars do double duty; your vacation helps build and repair local schools and expand libraries. Since 2004, the Rockhouse Foundation has donated over $500,000 to its community.
A fine base for seeing Victoria Falls, this quiet riverside camp is marvelously secluded, on a wide bend of the Zambezi about 30 minutes outside the busy tourist hub of Livingstone. Vervet monkeys frolic on grassy paths connecting the property’s five tents and six cottages, which offer front-row views of hippos, elephants, and birdlife in or along the river. Besides tours of Vic Falls (by foot, boat, helicopter, or microlight aircraft), the staff can organize boating safaris on the Zambezi, game drives in a nearby reserve, and a visit to the lodge’s own Tujatane Trust School (a T+L Global Vision Award winner in 2012). The same company also operates Sindabezi, a smaller (five-tent) and more elemental camp set on a private island, just 20 minutes up the Zambezi from Tongabezi. (Many guests stay at both.)