2012 winners

Overall winner: Reality Tours and Travel

At a ceremony hosted at World Travel Market (WTM), ExCel, London, as part of World Responsible Tourism Day, the Awards were handed out by Justin Francis, Managing Director of responsibletravel.com, (organisers and founders of the Awards), and Amanda Wills, Managing Director of Virgin Vacations (in their third year as headline sponsor of the Awards).

Overall winners Reality Tours and Travel demonstrate that it is possible for tourists to tour a slum in India in a responsible way. Established in 2005, they offer city and village tours in Mumbai and beyond. This Award is for their educational Dharavi Slum Tours.

The Awards Judges said:
"We were really impressed by this fully integrated approach to realising the social purpose of using tourism to raise awareness of the reality of slum life, good and bad, and to raise money from its business and its customers to assist the community in Dharavi to develop. It has developed a form of Responsible Tourism that deserves to be adapted and replicated elsewhere; for this reason, as well as its own substantial achievements, we have selected Reality Tours and Travel as the 2012 Overall Winner of the Virgin Vacations Responsible Tourism Awards."
Justin Francis, founder of The Responsible Tourism Awards and Managing Director, responsibletravel.com, organisers of the Awards said:
"Once again we reveal the responsible tourism agenda setters, the remarkable winners of the Responsible Tourism Awards. We've cast the net far and wide and received over 1,000 nominations for organisations of all sizes and types globally. It gives me great confidence that responsible tourism is flourishing, and provides further inspiration for our industry."

Amanda Wills, Managing Director, Virgin Vacations, headline sponsor of the Awards said:
"The Responsible Tourism Awards serve to remind us of what can be achieved with ingenuity, passion and commitment. They are also an opportunity for us to stop, be inspired, and remember why being 'responsible' in business should be - must be - second nature."

Launched in 2004, the Awards are run in association with partners World Travel Market, Metro Newspaper, Geographical Magazine and ICRETH at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Overall winner: Reality Tours and Travel, India

Established in 2005, Reality Tours had 10,000 guests last year. They offer city and village tours in Mumbai and beyond, this Award is for their educational Dharavi Slum Tours.
In recent years slum tourism has become increasingly popular, and increasingly controversial. Reality's tours aim to be an educational look at the strengths, opportunities, challenges and issues of life in the Dharavi community.
They donate 80% of post-tax profits to their sister NGO, Reality Gives. Reality Gives provides educational programmes for residents of Dharavi, and supports a number of micro-enterprise and community initiatives including sports, beekeeping, and youth empowerment programmes.

Among the success stories the company is able to lay claim to is that of Kaveri, who participated in their Youth Empowerment Program in 2011. A resident of Dharavi all her life, she had been a school drop-out. Although she had been unable to afford the course deposit of Rs500, which is charged to ensure attendance and reimbursed upon successful completion of the programme, Krishna, Reality's co-Founder paid Kaveri's deposit as he believed in her enthusiasm and willingness to succeed. In May of this year Kaveri joined Youth Career Initiative's Hotel Management Programme and is now training at the Four Seasons in Mumbai.

Best accommodation for local communities

sponsored by Caribbean Tourism Organisation

Winner: Soria Moria Boutique Hotel, Cambodia
Soria Moria Boutique Hotel is named after the Norwegian fairytale Soria Moria Castle, which is often interpreted as being about individual paths to perfect happiness. For its employees, fairytales can come true, as its exemplary employee training programme supports staff from entry level jobs right up to management positions.
General Manager Sam Sokha started out as a dishwasher at Norwegian owner Kristin Holdų Hansen's first guesthouse. The only English she knew was how to introduce herself. With the support of the Soria Moria Employee Elevator programme she is now studying for her Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
The judges were impressed both that all the hotel's employees are local, including management positions, and by their innovative Employee Ownership Scheme through which the local employees have become partners and majority owners in the business with 51% of the shares.

Highly commended:
  • La Villa Bethany, India.
  • Bulungula Lodge, South Africa

Best accommodation for the environment

sponsored by Visit California

Winner: Song Saa Private Island
Located in the Koh Rong archipelago in Cambodia, the luxurious Song Saa Private Island has 27 stunning villas that deliver on style, intimacy and picture perfect surroundings. Beauty isn't just skin deep at Song Saa though, as its thorough and holistic approach to conservation sets it apart.
Song Saa was instrumental in the foundation of Cambodia's first marine reserve, they have created artificial reef structures to support the rehabilitation of coral, and built nestboxes to encourage hornbill conservation. Their Sala Song Saa School provides environmental and agricultural education for local people and youth training on organic soil husbandry.

Highly commended:
  • Bohinj Park Eco Hotel, Slovenia
  • Maliba Mountain Lodge, Lesotho.

Best carbon reduction initiative

sponsored by Johannesburg Tourism

Winner: Sawadee Reizen
Dutch small group adventure tours company Sawadee Reizen have identified that changing to direct "point-to-point" flights is the most effective way of reducing the carbon footprint of trips, resulting in a reduction in carbon emissions by an average of 10%.
The judges were impressed by the clarity of Sawadee's understanding of the issue, their acceptance that tourism contributes to the problem, and their willingness to begin to address the issue.

Highly commended:
  • Beechenhill Farm, UK.
  • ITC Sonar, India

Best destination for conserving architectural heritage

sponsored by Gibraltar Tourist Board

Winner: St Kilda, Scotland
The St Kilda islands were abandoned in 1930 by the remaining 36 islanders when life on St Kilda became unsustainable and the buildings rapidly fell into disrepair. Between 2008 and 2010 the National Trust for Scotland carried out a sympathetic restoration.
The judges saw the National Trust for Scotland's work in St Kilda, the UK's only mixed-World Heritage site - important to both the cultural and natural heritage of the World - as a good example of the contribution which tourism can make to the maintenance of built cultural heritage in remote areas.

Highly commended:
  • Liverpool, UK.

Best engagement with people and cultures

sponsored by Oman Ministry of Tourism

Winner: South Nottingham College in Partnership with The Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia
The judges were impressed by the strength of the partnership between South Nottingham College and the Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITTOG).
The South Nottingham College of Travel and Tourism curriculum team worked in partnership with local people to set up and run a vocational tourism education institute within the Gambia. This was staffed by Gambian students who were sponsored to study at the college in Nottingham, who subsequently returned to Gambia with the skills to train others.

Highly commended:
  • Uptuyu Adentures.
  • Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People - The Siraj Center, Palestine.

Best for conservation of wildlife and habitats

sponsored by Rainbow Tours

Winner: Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, Chile
Since 2000 the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve has conserved over 100,000 hectares of Patagonian temperate rainforest. The owners have changed the way in which they, and the local community, secure a living form this large piece of Patagonian forest, moving from logging to conservation and sustainable tourism. The judges were impressed by the scale of the transformation at Huilo Huilo.

Best for poverty reduction

sponsored by Tourism KwaZulu Natal

Winner: Reality Tours and Travel
Reality Tours and Travel are our overall winners for 2012! Learn about them at the top of this press release.

Highly commended:
  • Khaplu Palace & Residence, Pakistan.
  • The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, Kenya

Best in a marine environment

sponsored by Tourism Fiji

Moonraker Dolphin Swims, Australia
Moonraker Dolphin Swims offer the opportunity to swim with wild Burranan Dolphins and Australian Fur Seals, whilst taking steps to ensure the dolphins do not become habituated and remain truly wild. Port Philip Bay in Victoria is one of Australia's last remaining homes for this genetically unique family of dolphins.
The judges were impressed by their contribution to monitoring the populations and their health, and their strict interaction rules.

Highly commended:
  • blue o two, UK

Best in a mountain environment

sponsored by Visit Norway

Winner: 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking
Owned and run by the Chheti sisters, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking train and employ women as high-altitude guides and porters, a break from tradition in the male-dominated Nepalese trekking industry. Employment means empowerment for women in the impoverished west of Nepal, their wages can lift whole families out of poverty and allow the women themselves to continue their education, a rare opportunity in a country where, according to UNESCO, just 2% of female school leavers go on to university.

Along with their sister organisation Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) a local grassroots non-profit organization, they are working to gain gender equality, the elimination of child labour, peace and responsible economic development. The judges were impressed by their work to empower women and by their success in combining business and social goals.

Highly commended:
  • EcoCamp Patagonia, Chile

Best in responsible tourism writing

sponsored by Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board

Winner: At home with the Himba by Emma Thomson
The judges particularly liked Emma Thomson's account of her homestay with the Himba and the makeover she had while dressed as a Himba woman. A colourful and engaging piece without being preachy, the article explains why this more responsible form of tourism makes such a better tourist experience. On the day before she leaves she is ogled by some tourists, and to quote from her article "for a brief moment, I catch a glimpse of life on the other side of the fence."

Highly commended:
  • In Search of an Alternative Palestine by Gail Simmons.
  • Salt of the Earth by Caroline Eden

Best in responsible transport

sponsored by Wightlink

Winner: Joint winners, Big Lemon Bus Company, UK and Green Tomato Cars, UK and Australia
This year the judges decided to award two winners in this category, partly because there were a number of strong nominations this year, but also to reflect the importance of taking responsibility for reducing carbon emissions in all kinds of transport.
All of the Big Lemon Bus Company's vehicles run on biodiesel from locally-sourced waste cooking oil, much of which they collect themselves in Brighton and Hove.
London and Sydney-based Green Tomato Cars use low emitting vehicles, so customers can be confident that they are getting from A to B in the greenest way possible short of using public transport, cycling or walking.

Highly commended:
  • Grand Canyon Railway
  • The New Forest Tour

Best innovation

sponsored by Jamaica Tourist Board

Winner: The Nature Observatorio Amazing Treehouse, Costa Rica
Designed, developed and self-financed by Peter Garcar, The Nature Observatorio Amazing Treehouse is suspended in the canopy of a Nispero tree, 25m above the forest floor. The Treehouse is a guest of the tree for 5 to 7 years, and great care is taken to ensure that when the tree house is removed there will be no trace of it ever having been there.
Income from paying guests is used to fund the purchase further forest, which is placed under protection. Peter hopes to take the concept worldwide to demonstrate that a living tree is more valuable than a dead one.
The judges were particularly interested in the innovative fractional ownership, whereby an additional 500 m2 of forest is set aside on behalf of every tourist booking a week over 5 years.

Best tour operator for promoting responsible tourism

sponsored by Slovenian Tourist Board

Winner: Explore
For Explore, Responsible Tourism is a commercial decision, not just an ethical one. By operating responsibly they believe their customers will have a better experience. The judges were impressed by how they engage travelers in their Responsible Tourism approach. Their Responsible Tourism pages give information to customers about how they can make their trips more responsible both before and during their trip, as well as when they return home.

Highly commended:
  • Biosphere Expeditions

Best volunteering organisation

sponsored by Tourism Authority of Thailand

Winner: Elephant Human Relations Aid
Elephant Human Relations Aid focus their activities on the conflict between the desert elephants of Namibia and local communities, caused by elephants damaging vital water points. Their short-term volunteer teams strengthen water points so they can be used by both humans and elephants without getting damaged.

Written by Justin Francis