Innovation by a tour operator Award


The Best innovation by a tour operator category is for a tourism business with an innovative and successful approach to responsible tourism

Award explained: The Best innovation by a tour operator category is looking for an inspirational tour operator which is successfully addressing community, cultural or environmental issues in tourism in a new and innovative way.

What the Judges want: An inspiring example of innovation by a tour operator, with measurable success in providing responsible tourism experiences which can be replicated across the industry.

2016 winners

Gold award: Elevate Destinations, USA

Gold award: Elevate Destinations, USA
Is it a social enterprise? Is it philanthropy? Is it a luxury break? No, it's super tourism, although not with super powers. Just super common sense. In short, take a tailor made trip with Elevate Destinations, and one that is responsible at that, and for every trip bought, Elevate educates. In other words, every time you take a vacation with this company, Elevate gives money towards a fund that provides school trips to a group of local children who wouldn't normally get to see or appreciate their country's natural or cultural gems. The ones that we so often take for granted. It's simple, it's educational, it's fun and, like so many of the world's best ideas, this 'Buy a Trip, Give a Trip' idea is genius.

Buy a Trip, Give a Trip is social responsibility at its most sussed and sassy. It is a model that thinks outside the 'giving stuff' trend to 'giving experiences'. Experiences that have proved very successful with local young people. Young South Africans have been able to visit Robben Island, for example; Kenyans have been on a safari for the first time; Mexican children have been swimming with sea lions off Baja; and some Tanzanian teenagers took a first time excursion to Lake Victoria. Just as so many of us have gained and learned from being given the gift of travel, Elevate Destinations believes that 'everyone deserves the chance to travel' and this innovative scheme is their way of starting to find ways for young people who wouldn't normally have the chance. They hope that this will help start the process of opening up their minds to other worlds. And so to Dominique Callimanopulos, who founded this organisation in 2005, we and many schoolchildren and teachers who have benefitted, say thank you - Superwoman.
Silver award: Viaggi Solidali, Italy
Unlike most travel companies singing about their innovations, Viaggi Solidali's cool concept is all about the country of departure, rather than the glorious destinations that they represent. Because in their home country of Italy, they are offering a series of guided city tours led by local people. The difference being, these are local people who have arrived here as immigrants. With migration becoming more and more of a heated topic around the world, this company has turned a negative into a positive, tapped into their large network of responsible tourists and showed how they could travel responsibly at home too.

By training immigrants as city guides to show people their cultural corners and community life, Viaggi Solidali has opened up new worlds in Italy's major cities of Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa. Although the tours were primarily aimed at local people in order to foster an understanding of how migration has contributed to the enrichment of their communities, tourists visiting the cities can and should also tap into the tours. Schools are also signing up for them, enabling an exemplary form of social education. A model which could, ironically, spread across borders to other EU countries where migration is a sensitive issue. By seeing communities actively participating in the tourism industry, in a constructive and innovative way, can only be a positive thing. Pride of place is a fundamental pillar of responsible tourism and Viaggi Solidali has created tours that not only create a help create this for immigrants, but also for non immigrant residents who are open to seeking out the new life and cultures now emerging in their home cities.

2012 winner

Winner: Explore

Best tour operator for promoting responsible tourism

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.

Read more about our 2012 winners in the official Awards newspaper.

2011 winner

Winner: Sock Mob Events/Unseen Tours, UK

Best tour operator for local experiences

Winner: Sock Mob Events/Unseen Tours, UK
"The Judges were excited by the promise of this relatively young tour operator to provide a model for responsible tourism in cities. Organised by the Sock Mob volunteer network, 'Unseen Tours' take a unique view of London by organising tours run by trained homeless guides, offering an unexplored view of the big city. Incorporating history with personal perspective, the tours give voice to those usually silent in tourism; create job opportunities, and an unforgettable experience."

Highly commended:
  • Wild Rose Escapes, Scotland

2010 winner

Winner: Desafio Adventure Company, Costa Rica

Best tour operator for local economies

Awarded in 2010, this category was for a tour operator making the best contribution to the local economy, by employing local people, staying in local accommodations, sourcing local products, crafts and experience and encouraging their travelers to purchase locally.

2010 Winner: Desafio Adventure Company, Costa Rica
"This Costa Rican adventure tourism operator is awarded for an investment in local people that goes beyond the benefits to their tourism business. An income of £1.2 million annually from 15,000 passengers allows Desafio to support their staff in their own local entrepreneurial initiatives - helping their guides to buy photographic equipment, drivers to buy vehicles for their own business ventures, and even supporting the office manager in developing her own website. They demonstrate that the benefits of local tourism can have lasting effects on local livelihoods."

2009 winner

Winner: Village Ways, India

Best tour operator for cultural engagement

Awarded in 2009, this category was for a tour operator which creates positive engagement with the culture and traditions of the local community or indigenous people.

Winner: Village Ways, India
“These community-owned and managed projects in the Indian Himalayas offer unique and authentic cultural experiences by facilitating mutual cultural engagement at every level. Their work has brought previously vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals from the Dalit community into focus as porters and committee members, while enabling tourists to experience and become part of rural landscapes in non-intrusive and rewarding ways and make a significant contribution to local economic development in the villages they walk through.”

Highly commended:
  • Estrela, Brazil
  • Tropic Journeys in Nature

Previous winners

Best tour operator - 2004-2008

Best tour operator

Awarded between 2004 and 2008, this category was for a tour operator that acts responsibly towards the environment and local people.

2008 Winner: Explore, UK
“A leader in implementing responsible tourism principles for many years, Explore has been recognised for training and employing local tour leaders, pushing its suppliers to deliver, investing £300k into energy-efficient projects including cooking stoves in Cambodia and most recently for appointing a full-time responsible tourism manager.”

Highly commended:
  • First Choice, UK
  • Boogie Pilgrim, Madagascar
2007 Winner: Gecko's Adventures, Australia
“Chosen for maximising the positive economic and social impacts of their tours, through use of locally owned accommodation and employment of local tour leaders who share with travelers their passion for their country’s history, heritage, culture and natural beauty.”

Highly commended:
  • Imaginative Traveler, UK
  • KE Adventure Travel, UK
  • Tribes Travel, UK
2006 Winner: Intrepid Travel, UK
“Chosen for their efforts to devolve ownership of local operations to the local community and for the effectiveness of their foundation, The Intrepid Foundation.”

Highly commended:
  • Wilderness Scotland, UK
2005 Winner: Tribes Travel, UK
“Chosen for their all round commitment to responsible tourism and in particular for their work in community based tourism.”

Highly commended:
  • Explore Worldwide, UK
  • Traidcraft Meet The People Tours, UK
2004 Winner: Exodus Travel, UK
“This was an extremely competitive category, Exodus were chosen for their systematic approach to integrating responsible tourism throughout their entire business, including their supply chain, and thereby setting a model for other businesses to follow.”

Highly Commended:
  • Intrepid Travel, UK
  • The Adventure Company, UK
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Elevate Destinations]