The Regenerative Travel Impact Awards 2021 — Regenerative Travel Initiative of the Year

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The Regenerative Travel Impact Awards celebrate people and projects that embody the spirit of regeneration—improving people’s lives, our communities, and the world around us. We are searching the globe for inspiring changemakers working to solve our biggest challenges and inspiring positive action, both inside and outside of travel.

View the finalists for the Regenerative Travel Initiative of the Year category featuring an initiative in the travel and tourism sector that has drawn attention to social and environmental issues, inspiring action.

1. Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency

Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency is the largest ever collaboration by the tourism industry, and is entirely volunteer-run with over 270 members. All have made the same commitments – to follow climate science, create a climate plan, collaborate, and work together. 

“We commit to acting now to align our plans with the need to cut global emissions in half over the next decade. We’re exploring what this means for each one of us, sharing ideas, challenges and solutions so that together we can create a new, regenerative tourism industry built on the principles of climate justice.”

This November, at COP26, Tourism Declares will publish three Climate Action Blueprints to support anyone working for a Tour Operator, Accommodation Provider, or Destination to deliver their own Climate Action Plan. The Blueprints are divided into five sections: Measurement; Reduction of Emissions; Adaptation, Resilience and Regeneration, Financing Climate Solutions; Collaboration and Engagement.

The organization is collaborating with the Future of Tourism Coalition on the Destination Climate Action Blueprint. One of its members, Greenview, is providing a Net Zero Methodology for Accommodation. Intrepid and Legacy Vacation Resorts are working on an Open Source Science-Based Target methodology.

Tourism Declares is also working with UNWTO, UNFCCC, the Adventure Travel Trade Association and San Francisco State University, and recently launched the Global Survey of Climate Action in Tourism, the first such initiative of its kind, aiming to create the most extensive snapshot of action across the tourism industry and promote frontrunner initiatives from around the world. Many of the case studies and tools sourced through this initiative will provide content to enrich its Blueprints.

Its sister site – turismodeclara.com – ensures connectivity beyond the English speaking world, co-created with community tourism organisations in Latin America to guarantee the voices of indigenous communities are part of leading in climate action.

The organization has also worked with the Leeds University Responsible Tourism Masters Programme to connect students with companies seeking support in creating their Climate Action Plans.

2. Amazonas Explorer: Staff Reinvention Project

When tourism – the main industry in Peru – ground to a halt, Amazonas Explorer (AE) set about fundraising to create entrepreneurship training that allows Peruvian guides to re-skill. Peru is resilient in times of crisis, and this has been no different. Amazonas Explorer banded together to ensure no man was left behind. Each of its guides devised a functional business plan and a budget. Then, the office team set about getting the word out.

To date AE has raised over $41,000 for its guides to reinvent themselves as something else. The way each guide was able to transform not just their own lives, but the lives of their families and their communities is not something to be shocked by, but it is certainly something to be proud of.

One guide, Jose Miguel, started a chicken farm with his wife and son, creating not just lifelong family memories together, but also a sustainable source of income for his family that will continue after he returns to guiding.

Efrain Valles, previously crowned the Best Guide in the World, successfully raised enough money to start his own composting company, and Ruben Apaza opened his own market stall, where he is thriving and making enough money to support his children and his grandchildren.

However, not all of the guides have reached their financial goal and not all of the guides were able to start the business that they had planned. Quick to take action, Amazonas Explorer looked to a large stretch of land by Lake Huaypo in the mountains of Peru previously used as a base for picnics, cooking demonstrations, and a base for kayaking and paddleboarding, now sitting idle. The land was completely dug up and is now home to an extensive and thriving potato farm, worked on by guides and office staff alike, providing for both the families and the communities, with nothing, not even land, left to waste.

3. Blue Apple Beach: Supply Chain Review Project

The Blue Apple Beach project began with the evaluation of current and potential suppliers against triple bottom line standards to ensure they share its socially, culturally, and environmentally conscious values. Suppliers are asked to answer questions about their business practices, from how far the product traveled to reach its doors to whether they employ people from vulnerable communities. A new process was established for the replacement of suppliers who do not meet these standards, including the search for new suppliers that are local, artisanal, and independent, with responsible business models.

Buying from local businesses, for example an artisanal dairy producer 200km from Cartagena, reduces transport time, cost, and emissions compared to buying from an international distributor. Small-scale production makes it possible to know the producer, their practices, and inputs, allowing for transparency in ensuring responsible labor practices. Building personal relationships with suppliers also makes it easier to request changes, such as reusable coolers for transporting fish instead of disposable Styrofoam ones.

Blue Apple Beach chose to train a local apprentice in sustainability knowledge and job skills throughout, ensuring that someone can continue the project indefinitely. This in turn has inspired action beyond the scope of this project by creating stronger bonds with community members through its apprentice, Lilia. After learning about what makes a sustainable supplier, Lilia suggested people she knows in the community who could provide goods and services to the hotels.

As a result of the initiative, many suppliers have either contributed financially to reduce the impact of their waste or changed their own business practice. Corona (the beer brand), upon failing the assessment and being told that their product would not be stocked at the hotels, has donated $10,000 to build a workshop for female artisans to make souvenirs from waste glass and has converted its ongoing brand sponsorship of these hotels to support local environmental and social causes. San Pellegrino has also teamed up with the hotels and a local designer to run a course on product and packaging design for the same artisans, as well as providing their uniforms and purchasing the water glasses they produce from discarded SP bottled for its flagship restaurants all over the country.

4. Planeterra: Global Community Tourism Network

Planeterra’s Global Community Tourism Network (GCTN) initiative is a growing online community, outfitted with the practical resources that community tourism enterprises are looking for, and need, in order to run a successful and responsible enterprise that gives back to the local community. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Planeterra reached out to the then-85 community tourism partners with a survey to see who was in need of emergency funding, and what Planeterra could do to support them in 2020. Training and mentorship became an overwhelming and clear need, becoming the reasoning behind the GCTN’s creation.

Driven by the needs of communities and administered by the Planeterra field team across seven countries, the GCTN focuses on peer-to-peer exchange between communities. A place where community leaders can learn and connect as they work towards making a positive impact in their communities through tourism, the Network allows partners to improve their tourism experiences, explore new areas of potential income, better market their organizations, and improve their financial and human resource management, all leading to their ability to scale their impact in the future. The entire online platform and resources are offered in both Spanish and English.

Since the launch of GCTN, Planeterra has more than doubled its number of community partners, from 100 in December 2020, to over 235 in June 2021. More than 400 communities in total are also gaining access to the learning and training resources the GCTN provides through Planeterra’s strategic partners, who are national leaders in community tourism themselves in over 67 countries. With many locally owned enterprises struggling to keep up with large hotels and tour companies, the GCTN helps communities be on a more even playing field.

Planeterra’s goal is to uplift communities through tourism by advocating for community tourism and for the travel industry to ensure money spent by travellers is reaching the hands of local people. Planeterra’s new direction, with the GCTN as the leading initiative, will see 50 million travellers experiencing community tourism, 3.5 million lives improved through travel, and $1 billion worth of income reaching communities over the next ten years.

5. Great Himalaya Trail: MyGHTI

The MyGHTI (pronounced Mi-gh-ty) project seeks to empower Himalayan communities to provide transformative experiences by promoting thriving female-owned, regenerative micro-enterprises. The MyGHTi project focuses on host communities by helping them develop tools to better manage tourism on their own terms. This includes managing impacts, and creating activities and tourism products by building resilient, regenerative micro-businesses.

Himalayan mountain tourism is a vital source of income and contact with the ‘outside world’ for some of Asia’s poorest and most remote communities. However, management of tourism to these regions is highly fragmented, driven by commercial interests and directed by a few influential players located in distant urban centres. Unsurprisingly, communities feel disempowered and vulnerable to decisions made by others.

In 2020, the MyGHTi project developed a socio-cultural, waste and environmental impact assessment survey system, running a pilot in the Everest region of Nepal, the largest community survey ever undertaken in the region. Designed to be emancipatory, communities not only identified positive and negative impacts but also developed their own action plan to better manage tourism. The results were surprising and the communities came away from the process with a clear local-interest agenda. Results showed that tourism has only a slightly overall net positive impact, but some of the negative impacts are extremely serious and need to be addressed urgently.

By identifying the impacts through community discussions, MyGHTi was able to facilitate local decision-making and assignment of responsible actors. Importantly, all residents want to create a more holistic tourism management system that benefits all members of the community and the environment. The local Sherpa population believe their region to be a sacred landscape, so the obvious negative impacts have had a deeply distressing impact on many.

The principles and goals of regenerative tourism are the ideal vehicle for the Everest region to go through a form of tourism-rebirth. At the moment, MyGHTi is developing a comprehensive tourism impact assessment system as well as tools that communities have said they need to create a regenerative tourism system. In the coming year, the organization plans to build on this work as the lessons MyGHTi has learned are very likely to be relevant far beyond the Himalaya.

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