Destination for Responsible Tourism Award


The Best destination for responsible tourism category is awarded to a vacation destination setting an inspirational and influential example for responsible tourism.

Explained: The Best destination category is for those destinations who put their unique community and environment at the heart of exciting and memorable tourism experiences; places which use tourism to make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. Whether a village, town, city, region or country, the Best destination category is looking for places that inspire and promote responsible vacation experiences that celebrate and protect the best of their destination.

What the Judges want: A destination with a committed and broad integrated approach to responsible tourism, one that inspires and excites, and provides an example of best practice for other destinations around the world.

2015 winners

Gold award: Gansbaai

Gold award: Gansbaai

The Gansbaai is like an oyster that the local fishermen have opened only to discover a pearl inside - but that they then go on to share with all the world. Because Gansbaai, a town in the Overberg region, Western Cape, South Africa has transformed itself from fishing village to one of South Africa's most exciting, and community led adventure hubs, a process that has been led by the Gansbaai Tourism Association. The Gansbaai Tourism Association is one of South Africa's most proactive and passionate clusters of tourism businesses, from fishermen to fynbos conservationists. Because at Responsible Travel we know that responsible destinations don't just happen. People make them happen.

The wholly committed members of the Gansbaai Tourism Association have been putting this coastal community and biodiverse natural heritage on the map for the last twenty years. With a small fishing village at its core, the Gansbaai group keeps growing and growing. Many of the tourism business members are Fair Trade Tourism certified, and all are committed to protecting the natural environment, preserving heritage, improving the quality of life of local people, and strengthening the local economy. Shark cage diving, kayaking, responsible whale watching, horse riding, fynbos safaris, and hiking are just a few of the vacations experiences to be had in this area that used to be just a quiet fishing village.

Exemplary businesses include Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, one of the first members of the prestigious Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy. Or the Dyer Island Conservation Trust founded in 2006 by two Association members, Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises to fund conservation studies into, for example, the African penguin and great white sharks. The Trust has also opened the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary for rehabilitation of injured, oiled and diseased seabirds.

Gansbaai will always be about community, however, and the Gansbaai Tourism Association has been particularly active in social development through the Dibanisa Football Foundation and the Growing the Futures programme creating employment in horticulture. Tourism grows, crops grow, communities grow in Gansbaai. With many new pearls just waiting to be discovered.
Silver award: Aruba
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish one Caribbean island from another, especially when it comes to photos of palm fringed beaches, rum cocktails and turquoise waters. However, some stand out in terms of their work to create a responsible tourism ethos throughout their island, and Aruba, one of the Dutch Antilles off the coast of Venezuela, is starting to glisten in that respect.

Aruba has a 2020 Vision, literally, to be totally independent of fossil fuels by 2020. And, given that over 70% of the economy is dependent on tourism, swimming pools, hot showers, air con and so on, that is pretty visionary. So much so that six other neighbouring islands have followed suit. And when we say islands, we mean islanders, because changing a way of life on a small island can only happen when islanders come on board. Which they are doing, not only for the greater good, it has to be said, but because they see that since 2012, when the Prime Minister launched this drive, people in business and in their homes have had their fuel costs fall by 15% as they invest in solar and, in many cases also sell excess back to the grid.

Aruba also has the world's first municipal streetcar system using hydrogen fuel cell technology, operating around the Oranjestad downtown area. Batteries are re-charged through wind or solar energy. Perfect for an island that is only 180kms² and where 20% of it is already protected as the Arikok National Park. Although we think it has still got a way to go in terms of integrating a responsible tourism ethos throughout both its website and island, Aruba is definitely one small island thinking big, and seeing the future clearly and cleanly with its impressive 2020 vision.

Silver award: Cyprus
Cyprus, with 2.4 million visitors every year, is tourism central. So it is reassuring when an island so devoted to hosting that many people every year, commits to taking serious steps towards being sustainable. The main step being that all hotels at 3* level and above, A class hotel apartments and tourist villages not only have to attain quality ratings from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, but sustainability ratings too. And these are not just about changing lightbulbs either. Cyprus, as an ancient island with UNESCO world heritage sites with history dating back eons, knows that if you are going to do something, you are in it for the long term.

Cyprus has a worldwide reputation for excellent agritourism products, but determined to show that responsible tourism can apply to norm as well as niche, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) has insisted that hotels get their sustainable acts together. So, in other words, they won't get their star ratings just for having x number of swimming pools, or x number of thread counts in their bed linen. They will be assessed and obliged to report on all their energy and water usage, their employment conditions, how much local produce and services they buy, and the efforts they make to tell their guests how they too can be more responsible on their vacations. And that doesn't mean asking them to forgo having their towels washed. That means promoting hiking, cycling, archaeological trails, local markets and so. Supported by a working partnership between the CTO, the UK's Travel Foundation and the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI), the mainstream tourism sector is sharing all the stuff that many of the agritourism businesses have been doing for years. Because, for an island to create change to this degree, the only way is to go back to grassroots, take their wisdom and knowledge and share it among all businesses and visitors.

2014 winner

Gold award: V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Gold award: V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
It must be hard for Cape Town residents to imagine the V&A Waterfront not being there now, having put the city's run down harbour area back on the map. Big time. Since opening in 1990, it spreads over 326 acres of this historic area in Table Bay with leisure, entertainment and shopping outlets to play in. Yet all the time keeping a view back out on the water, reflecting the marine heritage attached to it.

A model for harbour regeneration, the V&A has reconnected a city with its waterfront, not only the visitors but also the 16,500 people employed there. It is still a maritime mecca, with a working harbour that caters for luxury yachts and day cruisers but also local fishing boats, which occupy 60% of the harbour and offer tourists the opportunity to share in fishing experiences. You can enjoy the historic maritime aspect too, by going on a walking tour of the historic sites of the V&A Waterfront, so called because, historically, it was opened by Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son in 1870. Although contemporary commercialism is in full swing here, you can still visit the 1900's breakwaters and basins, piers and power station, docks and clock house with an expert guide on this hugely popular walking tour.

As well as remembering back, the V&A Waterfront has its vision fixed on the future too. It committed to a sustainability programme in 2011 and, since then, has endeavoured to implement best practices throughout the entire property as well as encouraging its suppliers to follow suit. For example, its old grain silo complex has been overhauled into residential areas, as well as a planned modern art gallery, designed by leading UK designer Thomas Heatherwick no less. The former have been awarded 6 star Green Star SA rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) for environmentally-friendly construction. In 2012, the Heritage Environmental Company, an initiative that issues environmental ratings to the tourism and hospitality industries in Africa, also awarded the V&A Waterfront a Heritage Gold classification, the first property of its kind in Africa to have been awarded this prestigious award. And for contemporary culture, there is also a thriving craft market place, just opened in 2014, called The Watershed, which is home to 150 local artists, from textile designers to furniture makers to jewellers. V&A Waterfront certainly is regeneration to inspire this generation, next generation, and many more after that.

2013 winner

Winner: Bonito, Brazil

Winner: Bonito, Brazil
Judges' reasons for winning: "Bonito was launched as a tourism destination when its natural beauty was revealed on Brazilian television in 1990; in 2012 it received 190,000 tourists. Bonito is famous for its crystal clear waters, caves, mountain and forests with diverse wildlife to be found in a national park and ten private reserves. As tourists began to arrive several concerns emerged: there was fear that unregulated tourism could impact on the environment. The private sector businesses and the public authorities realised that tourism development in Bonito needed to be managed so they developed a voucher system to control visitor numbers. The judges were impressed by the voucher system and keen to recognise its contribution to ensuring the sustainability of the destination."

  • Bonito, Brazil
Highly Commended:
  • Nature Park & Glacier Region Kaunertal, Tyrolean Alps in Austria
  • Mara Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara in Kenya
  • Valleys Regional Park, Wales

2012 winner

Winner: St Kilda, Scotland

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

Previous winners


Winner: Destination Røros, Norway

"This former mining-town in Norway may have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, but it's been preserving traditions as a tourist destination for over 85 years. Attracting over one million visitors each year, the town of just 3700 inhabitants maintains its sense of place through a 'local knowledge' programme run for over 90 businesses, local food safaris and much more."

Highly commended:
  • Forest of Bowland, UK
Winner: City of Cape Town, South Africa

The City of Cape Town has taken responsibility for identifying and prioritising local issues from a responsible tourism perspective. The City’s Tourism Department has worked in conjunction with its colleagues in the city administration and the industry to develop a Responsible Tourism Charter which commits both the industry and the city government to address the local priorities and to report on progress. Signatories have committed to define measurable goals and to monitor and report publicly on progress.

Highly commended:
  • Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, UK
Winner: New Zealand

For developing an integrated approach to tourism development at the national level and managing it: identifying and then attracting those tourists who contribute most to the economy, focussing on yield rather than merely on numbers of arrivals, spreading the benefits of tourism and fully integrating environmental issues into its quality standard Qualmark Green.

Highly commended:
  • Town of Bouctouche, Canada
  • St Peter's, Broadstairs, Isle of Thanet, Kent, UK
Winner: The New Forest

For demonstrating how the economic, social and environmental objectives of Responsible Tourism can be achieved with the full participation of all the stakeholders at the destination level. The New Forest has set an example which others are seeking to emulate and surpass.

Highly commended:
  • Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
  • Costa Rica
Winner: Aspen, Colorado

This is a destination with a long list of ‘green firsts’. Thanks to the efforts of the Aspen Skiing Company, it is leading the field in environmentally friendly skiing as well as destination stewardship, pushing for affordable housing, investing in local farmland and subsidizing local buses. A widely replicable format that the judges felt should influence European destinations.

Highly commended:
  • The Greenbox, North West Ireland
  • Travel Foundation Tobago
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Gansbaai]