- Conservation International (CI) and National Geographic Traveler magazine announced today the winners of the 2004 World Legacy Award, given to environmental and social leaders in tourism. The award will be presented to four winners at a ceremony hosted by Her Majesty Queen Noor tonight at the National Geographic Society world headquarters in Washington.
The winners operate in the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Barbados, and Indonesia, and are considered the best examples in the tourism industry of the ideal balance between nature conservation, the protection of heritage sites, social responsibility and commerce.
One winner was named in each of four categories: Nature Travel, Heritage Tourism, General Purpose Hotels and Resorts, and Destination Stewardship. Applicants from more than 40 countries on six continents were considered.
"Travel and tourism is the largest industry on the planet. In some countries, tourism has grown more than 1,000 percent over the past decade. If we are not careful, tourism will end up hurting the very places tourists want to experience," said Costas Christ, senior director of CI's Ecotourism Department. "These winners are outstanding examples of responsible tourism that helps to protect nature and promotes the well-being of local people."
The winner of the Nature Travel Award, given to a company making significant contributions to the conservation of natural areas and biodiversity, is the Al Maha Desert Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In a region where the desert environment has come under increasing pressure from modern highways and other development, the Resort successfully lobbied the government to create a reserve representing nearly five percent of Dubai's land area. Visitors to the Resort, designed as a Bedouin camp, can explore the desert on camels, observe some of the 33 indigenous mammal and reptile species (including the threatened Arabian oryx), and enjoy excellent desert bird watching.
The winner of the Heritage Tourism Award, given to a company for making outstanding contributions to cultural heritage, is Anangu Tours, owned by the Nvangatjatiara Aboriginal Corporation, representing three Aboiriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory. Aboriginal hosts take tourists on bushwalks to the foot of the breathtaking Uluru, popularly known as Ayers Rock (the world's largest monolith), teach them how to make the oldest glue in the world and track wild animals, share ancient folklore, and cook local bush foods.
The winner of the General Purpose Hotels and Resorts Award, given to tourist accommodations with a well-rounded program for protecting the natural environment and enhancing the local culture of the places they serve, is the Casuarina Beach Club in Barbados. An extraordinary refuge, the Club adheres to a strict set of environmental guidelines, including water recycling and composting. Visitors enjoy reef diving, local poetry readings, and the majestic backdrop of a nine-acre garden. The Club invests heavily in their employees through education and business training.
The winner of the Destination Stewardship Award, presented to a place doing superb work in protecting its overall natural and cultural heritage, is Gunung Rinjani, the volcanic heart of the island of Lombok, Indonesia, represented by the Rinjani Trek Management Board. Visitors to this tropical island enjoy long jungle treks to awe-inspiring waterfalls and crater valleys, and emerge from the forest canopy to enjoy an amazing panoramic ocean view. The Rinjani program is exemplary for its strong partnership among local community groups, local tourism office staff and the local national park, and has successfully withstood the recent deep dip in Indonesia's tourism.
"When tourism is done well, it provides economic opportunity, and protects natural environments and cultural heritage," said Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine. "My hope is that our readers - indeed all travelers - will support businesses and organizations which promote the ideals of sustainable tourism. Responsible tourism greatly influences the very future of tourism. We must protect the places we love for following generations."
Close to 700 million people travel internationally each year, and that figure is expected to double to 1.4 billion by the year 2020. Travel and tourism accounts for 11 percent of global gross domestic product.
Because of its enormous size, the travel and tourism industry often wreaks havoc on natural environments and precious cultural sites. Threats include increased development and infrastructure, greater local demand for materials, food and water, and the growth of extractive industries. But when planned well, local people can benefit from tourism; biodiversity and natural environments can be protected; and cultural and historic sites can remain intact.
The World Legacy Award, a partnership between CI and National Geographic Traveler magazine, is unique for its focus on environmental responsibility and respecting cultural heritage. It is the only global tourism award to perform on-site verification visits by scientific, anthropological and tourism professionals.
"These winners are perfect examples of the way the travel and tourism industry should operate," said Her Majesty Queen Noor, the 2004 World Legacy Award Honorary Awards Committee Chair. "I am heartened by their example and hope other extraordinary places are similarly inspired."
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