National Geographic World Legacy Awards - Judging

Jessica Hall Upchurch

Community Liaison, Virtuoso Ltd

With a deep love for the outdoors and children, Jessica spearheads the $15.5 billion Virtuoso global travel network efforts on ensuring the organization uses its influence to advance sustainable tourism practices around the world. She is a passionate advocate for living in harmony with the Earth and protecting cultural and natural heritage for future generations. She also serves as the President of Blue Butterfly Foundation, a non-profit group that brings yoga as a healing activity to trauma and treatment centers.

WLA: Virtuoso is a family owned company and there are few people, beyond yourself and your husband, Matthew, the Chairman of Virtuoso, who have such a central view on the global travel and tourism industry. Why is sustainable tourism important to Virtuoso?

Jessica: Sustainability is the only way of life. All the places we love to go, the cultures, the people, the environment, the water; sustainability is the means of protecting all of these things. As people get out and travel more, it undoubtedly broadens their perspective on the world and their place in it. They begin to understand the importance of protecting cultures while also conserving the environment. At Virtuoso, we say travel enriches lives through human connection. That human connection comes from local people in amazing places all over the world, who live their lives, raise their families, and grow their communities while preserving their traditions. As advocates for travel and tourism, we try to foster greater understanding amongst travelers to be global citizens who care about the people they meet and the places they visit.

WLA: Has being a judge for the World Legacy Awards changed your views about travel in any way?

Jessica: My involvement has absolutely changed me and my views on travel. Because I've been fortunate enough to be a judge for a couple years, I've seen the quality increase among already great finalists. When I see what the global travel industry is doing - destinations, hotels, tour operators and also a growing number of airlines – it's clear the message is out there, that sustainability is essential to our future. The creativity is increasing in thoughtful and meaningful ways, and it's exciting to see such innovative grassroots developments taking place among award applicants. Local people are doing things to change policy, capture new ideas, and serve as conservation leaders in their own communities to help protect natural resources and historical sites. These efforts have accelerated at such a fast rate, setting the bar ever higher for best practices. It's also incredible to see how the World Legacy Awards shine a spotlight on communities and provide a platform to validate what they're working towards, allowing them to garner more support from governments, partners and fellow citizens. The drive behind it is altruistic - people are genuinely committed to making a positive impact on the world - and that is what we strive to recognize.

WLA: What advice do you have for young people today who dream of traveling the world and visiting other countries?

Jessica: To young people, I say go about travel with an open heart and open mind. And let the places you visit open up to you. Stop to look around, absorb each place you see on this planet with everything you've got. The more we travel from a position of acceptance of one another, and the reality that the planet is one big home to all of us, the more personal responsibility you will feel towards making it a better place. Travel may make you stop and think differently the next time you see trash and pollution, or a lack of kindness in the world. You become a better person because of the places you go and the people you meet; they become a part of you. Take that and do something powerful with it - be it in ways large or small - to pass along to others in some meaningful way. The bottom line is that we're all in this together.

WLA: What has been the most rewarding aspect for you of being a World Legacy Awards Judge?

Jessica: On a personal level, being in the company of my fellow judges has been incredibly refreshing and life-changing. The ability to collaborate with these amazing individuals, people I know to be true global leaders in sustainability, has been inspiring and has broadened my own awareness. Their commitment and drive to create a standard for achieving sustainable tourism and all that it encompasses, and at such a high level, is phenomenal. Through our efforts, I am constantly reminded of what others are doing to protect this wonderful planet. It makes me want to visit all the winners and finalists - my bucket list continues to grow with each award entry we review. People are taking the concept of sustainability and using the best of what they have to make their world - and ours - better. It's incredibly rewarding to have a front-row seat and know that I have contributed in some small way.

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