Beach Tourism Award


Best for beach tourism is awarded to a tourism business, organisation or initiative providing or contributing to responsible vacations in beach settings.

Explained: The Best for beach tourism category seeks to demonstrate that all kinds of tourism can and should be run with communities and the environment in mind. Long associated with irresponsible package vacations, this category will shine a light on beach vacations that conserve beach environments and respect local communities.

What the Judges want: Leadership in responsible tourism policies and practices in a beach setting, positive integration and relationships with local communities, and proven achievements in maintaining/ conserving beach environments.

2015 Winners

Gold award: Loola Adventure Resort and Soneva Fushi, Maldives

Gold award: Loola Adventure Resort
This Indonesian island idyll is far from going 'loola'. It is more switched on to sustainability, ecotourism and social responsibility than many of the top brand businesses claiming to be green leaders. Leaders who are not only committed to employing local staff, but supporting them to become entrepreneurs in their own right. And yet it hides its achievements under a tropical bushel. Not for long though, as it is recognised internationally for its capacity to have responsible adventures by the beach, while educating the next generation at the same time.

Founded on Indonesian Bintan Island, close to Singapore, by Dr. Marc van Loo and Ms. Isabelle Lacoste (thus the Loo and La) in 2000, this eco resort specialises in adventure and activity vacations. Their dreamy cabins poised, picture perfect, on stilts, boast not only beauty but also exemplary sustainable building, energy and waste disposal practices. Their activities are low carbon and low impact, from coconut tree climbing to ziplining into their seawater pool, and very much aimed at families and schools. With education into the local ecology at the core of the education package.

The Bintan community is also at the core of what they do, with all fifty employees hailing from the island. Although the founders own 95% of the business, 5% of the shares are donated to employees. Loola's innovative business model is based on the Dutch Polder system, which allows staff to set up their own independent businesses within Loola, training and mentoring them to become entrepreneurs working in an empowered way, and in partnership. A system that is challenging in a local commercial culture that is, traditionally, based on the 'top down' approach. i.e. when the boss is boss, and everyone else has their place. Not at Loola where there are now thriving, locally run food, drink and other retail businesses, leading to a substantial increase in staff income, minimal staff turnover and ongoing strong customer service. And let's face it, any business that has a zipline that goes straight into the pool, or sends its clients up to the top of coconut trees is not only switched on, it's cool. But that's going Loola for you.
Gold award: Soneva Fushi, Maldives
When nearly seventy people from the tiny island communities around Soneva Fushi's Kunfunadhoo island resort are taught to swim, it has a perfect ripple effect. Because teaching local people to swim is just a tiny part of Soneva Fushi's, in the Maldives, vision. Helping people, be they hosts or guests, understand the value of their natural heritage, rather than fearing it, is a fundamental part of Soneva's raison d'etre.

Built in 1995 by Soneva founders Eva and Sonu Shivdasani, on the deserted island of Kunfunadhoo in the Maldives, Soneva Fushi was the first in a collection of environmentally friendly, luxury hotels, resorts and spas, all with the back to nature ethos. Connecting people with water while also preventing people's abuse of water, are always an issue for them, but something they embrace all the time. The environmental impacts of the BAARU organization, for example, a collaborative platform between the Baa Atoll resorts which was founded by Soneva, are far reaching. Such as lobbying to have the atoll protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2011 and also to ban shark fishing throughout the Maldives, with an ensuing law being passed in 2010.

Waste is always a pertinent issue on an island too, and Soneva Fushi recycles over 80% of waste through their state-of-the-art Eco Centro Waste-to-Wealth programme. In addition, 100% of food waste is composted and used on their vegetable gardens. Soneva Fushi also imposes a 2% environmental levy on each room, which goes directly to carbon reduction programmes managed by Soneva's own SLOW LIFE Foundation. And with 80% of staff coming from local islands, and all being educated in the 'slow' ethos, they are gaining a much deeper understanding of how they can sustain these island idylls. And keep them afloat forever.
Silver award: & Beyond
To infinity &Beyond would be a good strapline for this safari company which, as well as offering luxury safari vacations in many African countries, is now stretching across the globe to take guests to see the wildlife wonders of South Asia and South America. And with such a pioneering spirit when it comes to safaris and wildlife conservation, and in particular with regards to their work along the coast of Zanzibar, it's no wonder there's a 'buzz' about them.

&Beyond also goes into the stratosphere in terms of luxury on their safaris, owning or operating chic lodges in nineteen of the countries they visit. The Getty family was a founder investor, so enough said. It's classy. It has a class act when it comes to responsible tourism too and this award focuses, in particular on its work in the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA) that surrounds &Beyond's private Mnemba Island off the coast of Zanzibar. An area that is now protected thanks to perseverance of &Beyond to persuade the Zanzibar Department of Fisheries and also Zanzibari fishing communities to protect it.

The demarcation of this zone has also meant that specific areas have been set aside for snorkelling, diving and fishing. People who dip in and out, literally, of these waters for recreation purposes also pay daily a fee for doing so, and the income generated from this is used to create sustainable development projects for fishing communities. Which was a good selling point when it came to putting in place the restrictions, as fishing boats were obliged to reduce the use of net fishing off the coral reef, and, therefore, embrace more sustainable fishing practices in deeper waters outside the zone. MIMCA has been so successful that the whole north-eastern coast of Zanzibar has now also been declared a conservation area. And this is just one of &Beyond's wildlife projects. So, watch this space, because there will be sequels.

Silver award: Turtle Bay Beach Club
It is still rare to see the words 'all inclusive' and 'responsible' on the same page, because the two concepts are not usually happy bedfellows. Guests can lie in their beds at night at this North Kenyan resort with a clean conscience however, that they are supporting a business that practises what it preaches. To be responsible. The turtles that thrive on their Watamu coastline are pretty happy in their beds too.

As well as having an impressive responsible tourism policy since 2004, minimising energy and waste, and demonstrating an exemplary involvement in local communities, Turtle Bay Beach Club co-founded the Watamu Marine Association (WMA) in 2008. WMA brings together tourism businesses, conservationists and communities with one mission: to preserve the Watamu Marine National Park. Not one of Kenya's most famous national parks, but an aqua arcadia if ever there was one. Beach clean ups are high on the agenda, with Turtle Bay Beach Club sponsoring weekly ones led by women and young people from Watamu Community Groups, who are employed part-time to gather up waste, gain income from recycling it, either by passing it on to recycling companies, or using it to create handmade gifts, which are then sold.

Such clean ups work hand in hand with Turtle Bay Beach Club's involvement in the work of local organisations Local Ocean Trust and Watamu Turtle Watch, which protect the endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles that favour the sea grass meadows of the Watamu Marine National Park. The resort also works closely with activity providers in the Park, and they strive to ensure that all partners adhere to responsible dolphin watching, scuba diving, snorkelling and windsurfing practices, with the coral gardens of the Park being home to over 300 species of fish alone. So, although Kenya might be famous her Big Five, Turtle Bay Beach Club is all about watching communities thrive, and the waters alive.

2014 winners

Gold award: Chole Mjini Conservation & Development Co. Ltd

Gold award: Chole Mjini Conservation & Development Co. Ltd
Who can't love the fact that Chole Mjini Island is part of an archipelago called Mafia? And yet this is a place where the more well-known mafia couldn't possibly exist, with no roads, no cars, no electricity, no computers, no mobile phones. No buildings to hide in either, just seven tree houses that are open to the elements, where luxury is about having time and space to enjoy the sheer natural beauty of this island idyll, just south of Zanzibar.

Created and owned by visionaries Anne and Dr Jean P. de Villiers, Chole Mjini lies in the middle of the Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP), the largest marine park in East Africa. They were drawn to the island originally to have a boat built by local people, many of whom are skilled traditional dhow builders. You simply need to go there to find the rest of the story, and it is quite some story but, in short, the de Villiers' sealegs became landlegs, and they commissioned these skilled artisans to come on board their vision for an island retreat instead. So, built entirely by local people, these stunning tree houses were born, and launched not only as a place to escape to, but also as an agent of positive change for the island's community. When it was built in 1993, there was only one islander who had proceeded beyond primary school and only one person in salaried employment. The success of Chole Mjini has allowed classrooms, teachers' housing, a hospital, library, market, and a women's center to be built. Through their Chole Mjini scholarships there are now secondary school and university students and many people in permanent employment. So, as well as being a commercial success, they raise funds for sustainable projects through guest donations, a $10 bed night levy, day visitor tickets and an ongoing trust fund.

With all of this comes environmental responsibility too. Something Anne and Jean don't take lightly, with Chole Mjini serving on the MIMP Advisory Committee, founding the Mafia Island Whale Shark Conservation Society (WHASCOS), establishing a sanctuary for fruit bats and working to keep local people informed and inspired about protecting their natural heritage. Anne and Jean are definitely locals themselves now, however, having raised their children on Chole Mjini, so together they can watch this special place thrive for generations to come. A place where one can definitely say, in an award-winning way, life's a beach.
2014 Silver award: Casa de las Olas
The secret of Casa de las Olas is out. Which isn't easy, because these guys like to keep their Caribbean dream lodges as secret as possible, not listing them on Google Maps, or giving directions on their website. Privacy is key here, but so is responsible tourism, with a commitment to sustainable building and living that is exemplary. Oh by the way, it's near Tulum Beach in Mexico. But that's as much as you're getting.

With just five suites on the ocean front, Casa de las Olas is a 40-year-old beach villa which has been refurbished and retro-fitted in a way that is not only totally sustainable but also totally sumptuous. Fully powered by solar panels, they also capture all their own water via both underground springs and rain harvesting to irrigate the grounds. And it may put the AC addicted tourists off, but that is not an issue for the owners, who use a natural design which capitalises on the natural Caribbean breezes to keep the villa cool. Which just adds to its all-round coolness really. Why would you want to listen to AC when you could just be listening to the ocean?

The attention to detail when it comes to local sourcing is also impressive, such as having the linens handmade by local artisans and furnishings crafted by local designers too. The menus are also a work of art, using only local produce and a carefully crafted menu based on years of experience of what their guests love, meaning that no food goes to waste. Any that is, is composted of course. And one tiny step that takes them beyond many luxury accommodations are the toiletries that they provide in the rooms. These are organic and mostly biodegradable and, even better, made by local biologists in the community. So, for all those hotels who say that isn't possible, look and learn.

Casa de las Olas recommends tours to their guests, but only ones that are environmentally friendly, and supported by local guides, such as into the neighbouring garden, which happens to be the 1.3 million acre UNESCO World Heritage Site Sian Ka'an. This is a biosphere reserve containing tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. Which is good enough reason to have a totally sustainable property on the doorstep really. And the good news is that, even if it takes you twenty years to discover their secret location, it will still be there. Just as it is. Not five times bigger, with aircon and an airstrip. Because, as part of their vision, the owners have also committed to never selling on or extending it beyond its current secret, sustainable spot.
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Loola Adventure Resort & Soneva]