National Geographic World Legacy Awards - Judging

The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize

"Chaa Creek has become a model for proving that sustainable tourism and business success can go hand in hand. We are committed to operating in a way that allows the people of Belize, this pristine rainforest environment, and our eco-resort visitors to benefit and thrive together"

- Lucy Fleming, Co-Founder and General Manager

What does it mean for you to be selected as a World Legacy Awards Finalist?

Being selected as a World Legacy Awards Finalist allows us to further extend our message that sustainable tourism can not only provide tangible benefits to surrounding land and people, but can also support a high-quality luxury travel experience and actually boost the bottom line of businesses. Since founding Chaa Creek, we have increasingly seen the potential of sustainable tourism to create positive benefits for the environment and communities in developing countries such as ours. As we have grown, so has our commitment to prove that an eco-resort can be truly green and successful. We also recognized an opportunity and responsibility to develop a strong, unified voice in steering government policy in directions that benefit the land and people of Belize. By contributing to the economy as a major employer, Chaa Creek can act as a model for Belize's rapidly expanding tourism industry.

Why is sustainable tourism important to Chaa Creek

Surrounded by a pristine rainforest environment, we are continually struck by both the beauty and fragility of our natural world. Sustainable tourism allows us to operate in a manner that benefits the environment and people of Belize while spreading the message that "green is good" to thousands of visitors each year.

Our mission statement is as true today as it was when we first opened: "Founded by a love of nature and guided by the principles of responsible travel, Chaa Creek continues to instill a sense of wonder and environmental responsibility in our guests through experiences that bring Belize's unique ecology, history, and culture alive in an atmosphere of affordable luxury."

What sustainable tourism accomplishment are you most proud of in your work?

Our work with the young people of Belize fills us with unadulterated optimism for the future. Chaa Creek's natural history outreach programs, both onsite and in communities, are creating a corps of newly-hatched eco ambassadors armed with cultural pride, enhanced self-awareness, and a passion for stewardship of the Earth's finite treasures. This reflects our strong bond with local communities and ongoing efforts to provide a higher standard of living, career opportunities, and job training to all Belizeans while promoting greater cultural awareness and interaction with visitors from across the world.

Chambok Community Based Eco-Tourism and Mlup Baitong, Cambodia

"We now understand the value of nature, how to manage it sustainably, protect it against illegal activities, and use it to lift our struggling community out of poverty through responsible tourism."

- Mr. Touch Morn, Chambok Community Leader

What does it mean for you to be selected as a World Legacy Awards Finalist?

The Chambok Community Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) committee, community members, and Mlup Baitong NGO staff are very proud to be selected as a finalist for this prestigious award. It motivates all of us to continue our participation in sustainable natural resource management and sustainable tourism development in Cambodia, and to serve as a role model for local communities and conservation networks around the world. Being part of the World Legacy Awards enables us to inspire other communities to protect their environment and improve their livelihoods as we have. We also hope this recognition will attract more visitors to our forests, waterfalls, and villages, allowing us to further promote, improve, and protect our site.

Why is sustainable tourism important to Chambok Community Based Eco-Tourism and Mlup Baitong?

Through sustainable tourism we can protect our nature, conserve our cultural heritage, and continue our traditional way of life. In the past, many members of our poor, remote, forest-dependent communities fell back on illegal logging and wildlife hunting to sustain their livelihoods. Since we initiated our community based eco-tourism site, they are able to generate income while conserving the environment. We are happy and proud to share our beautiful surroundings and way of life with people from all over the world. Through interactions with visitors we have learned a wide range of new skills, broadened our perspectives, and gained insights from other cultures and countries.

As a result, we have not only improved our personal incomes, but also the infrastructure of our villages including installation of a water supply system and fortification of our roads. Animals we thought were locally extinct due to hunting such as hornbills, green peafowls, and several species of deer and monkeys have come back to our area.

What sustainable tourism accomplishment are you most proud of in your work?

We are most proud of our own development in terms of environmental awareness and management capacity. After several years of support from donors and partners, we are now able to independently manage our site. We are very pleased to have achieved this level of professionalism and will use our skills to continue expanding our eco-tourism area. We are passing the knowledge we have gained on to our children, visitors, communities, NGO partners, government institutions, private companies, academic, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Andaman Discoveries, Thailand

"Offering sustainable tours and service trips has made us a bridge between local communities and guests who want to directly give back to the places they visit, immerse into cultures, and help protect threatened environments."

- The Andaman Discoveries Team

What does it mean for you to be selected as a World Legacy Awards Finalist?

This honor allows us to showcase our efforts to become a self-sustaining tour operator after being founded from the North Andaman Tsunami Relief Aid Organization. It also gives us an incredible opportunity to connect and network with like-minded tour operators who want to see tourism in Thailand grow, but in a sustainable, ethical, and respectful manner. The Awards application process itself helped us create a set of standards that all community based tourism and sustainable tour operators should not only follow, but re-evaluate each year to ensure high quality.

Why is sustainable tourism important to Andaman Discoveries?

For us, sustainable tourism is about minimizing the negative impact of travel by helping guests understand the authentic story behind places they visit, form personal connections with the people they meet, and directly give back to communities. As a tourism operator we have a duty to appreciate and respect local priorities, sense of place, and use this information to develop appropriate programs. Often this means working with opposing viewpoints because communities do not always speak with one voice. The mutual respect we have earned with local partners is a testament to our balanced relationships, inclusive viewpoint, and successful long-term projects. By having sustainable tourism practices in place within community based programs, we have seen villagers' incomes increase by 35 percent - enabling families to stay together, work in the same community and inspire younger generations to become stewards of their culture and environment.

What sustainable tourism accomplishment are you most proud of in your work?

The popularity of Thailand's Surin Islands National Park tourist destination has adversely affected the indigenous Moken sea nomad community. In response, we trained an all-Moken guide group and co-created a sustainable private tour highlighting their culture and traditional lifestyle. This allows the Moken to remain within their community and further strengthens cultural heritage. Guides on the team make a living wage salary, new jobs are being created, and each year more villagers want to participate. The program's built-in community fund donation ensures that the entire community benefits. In all these ways, we are proving that sustainable tourism can be a powerful force for good - empowering communities, attracting respectful guests, and preserving traditional lifestyles.

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