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Geotourism Challenge Finalists Announced

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RiverIndia creates cultural rafting expeditions along the Siang River.

National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations and Ashoka’s Changemakers are currently hosting their second annual Geotourism Challenge, and they’ve just announced the ten finalists in the contest. This year’s challenge, “The Power of Place,” seeks to identify groups and individuals who are contributing to the geotourism effort, which is defined as: tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place–its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. These finalists have been selected from over 600 entries, and now you can help vote on the winners. Check out their profiles below and vote for your favorites at the Geotourism Challenge site.

RiverIndia’s Bamboo Eco-Lodge River Trips on the Siang River  (India)
RiverIndia was started to encourage culturally-immersive whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fishing expeditions that emphasize the ecological protection of the Siang River. RiverIndia’s bamboo eco-lodge in Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, has been the base for their operations since 2005. With an emphasis on ecological conservation and providing jobs in a region of high unemployment, the lodge also serves as RiverIndia’s SARSI school — a free, river-skills training for interested locals that teaches skills from guiding and rowing, to leave-no-trace ethics and food handling.

PEPY: Educational Volunteer Tourism (Cambodia)
PEPY Tours combines adventure travel with hands-on volunteer projects operated by its partner non-profit organization, The PEPY Ride, and other locally based non-governmental organizations. Adventure volunteer tours range from riding in environmental education bike treks to building rainwater collection units and collaborating in cultural exchange activities in rural schools. Participants have the opportunity to visit the programs of partner nonprofit organizations during their tour and contribute to PEPY’s overall goal: improving education in rural Cambodia.

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Wikiloc – Community Maps (Girona, Spain)
Wikiloc is a Web 2.0 platform that allows local communities to show off geographic information of their territory to an international audience interested in geotourism in an easy way. No barriers nor filters.

Everyone can participate freely and it’s the community who decides which content is the best. The success for the site may be measured by the fact that volunteer collaborators have translated the site to 14 languages, the site itself presents a growing curve both in Internet traffic (+2,000,000 pageviews per month) and content (+65,000 trails, and more than 100,000 photos and videos taken along the routes by a growing community of 60,000 users worldwide). Wikiloc makes it easy for visitors to find a point of interest or service that appears on the map and get more information on booking, extra activities, etc. and have a direct and authentic conversation, without intermediaries.

Trout Point Lodge (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Over the past 10 years, Trout Point has innovated by revitalizing backwoods & nature tourism, culinary tourism, and Acadian French cultural tourism in Nova Scotia. The Lodge counts as the only accommodation/destination giving travelers immediate access to the Tobeatic via hiking trails, canoe, kayak, and guided excursions with staff naturalists. Trout Point has offered the Nova Scotia Seafood Cooking School since 2000, teaching participants about local, sustainable seafood and cooking techniques, including Cajun and Acadian styles. Trout Point is a true nature retreat, with no cell phone reception, no TVs in the rooms, and an emphasis on eco-friendly practices like river swimming, wood-fired hot tub, no air-conditioning, energy-saver lighting, bulk amenities, recycling, on-site gardens, composting, and the like. The Lodge serves as a springboard for guests to learn about the Acadian forest ecosystem and always has naturalists on staff to provide meaningful interpretive experiences that emphasize place.

Context Travel’s Sustainable Travel Initiative (United States)
Context Travel is a network of 170+ scholars and specialists who lead “walking seminars”

of major world cities. We have branches in Paris, London, New York, Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, and Istanbul. The walking seminars (limited to six people) are designed to include discussion of the impacts of tourism on monuments and the character of the city. Guides are trained to advise customers on the most sustainable way to visit the city after the tour, including patronizing small, locally-owned businesses and using public transport. Part of the proceeds from walks and additional donations are routed through the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel to cultural preservation projects in these cities, which materially benefit them. The project are often focused on sustaining the character of the city and its local residents rather than museums or monuments. The Foundation also runs a travel scholarship for disadvantaged youths, broadening the reach of travel (and its ameliorative, educational effects) to a population that has little access to it. 

Evergreen Brick Works  (Toronto, Canada)
Evergreen Brick Works highlights the value the ravines possess as a natural element defining the city and differentiating Toronto from other cities around the world. The site will be a nature exploratory centre educating and inspiring visitors about the value of nature in cities, and its feasibility, while protecting and raising awareness of the ravines fragile ecosystems. It is the first venture to embody and demonstrate the unique connection between nature and Toronto, with the explicit understanding that the Brick Works Park would remain a public park, managed by the City. The number of visitors increased by 300 per cent from 10,000 in 2006 to 40,000 visitors in 2007. This natural setting placed deep within the urban environment inspires visitors to leave and take what they’ve learned to create healthier environments in their homes and cities through the integration of nature.

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Ger to Ger Foundation & Agency (Mongolia)
Travel Mongolia’s great outdoors with nomads who guide you along their trails with horses, camels, oxcarts, or even trek from one nomadic family to the next. Overnight and home-stay with Mongolian nomadic families in the mountains, along lush river valleys or deep in Gobi Desert all year round. By doing so you are directly benefiting rural nomadic groups and their local communities in their efforts to produce non-commercialized outdoor cultural adventures that allows them to generate greatly needed alternative incomes.

Virgin Islands Youth Heritage Exchange Farm Excursions (Virgin Islands)
Natural Mentors (NM) facilitates cultural exchange and nature awareness through a youth excursion certification program and volunteer-vacation experiences for traveling groups from abroad. It connects local elder culture-bearers with youth leaders, youth with other youth, and local participants with traveling groups. NM first focuses on relevant needs of the host population’s cultural survival through hands-on workshops that center on traditional nature-based lifestyle skills, organic food production, and cultural mentoring. Second, it is structured to provide an interactive element for visitors where they can take part in this cultural mentoring process. We are a USDA-certified organic farm (the first and currently only in the Virgin Islands).  We use our site for education and host over 4,500 educational visitors locally a year.

Route of Freedom: “The Memory of the African Diaspora in Brazil” (Brazil)
The Route of Freedom is a touristic circuit developed in the region of Vale do Paraiba, North Coast and Mantiqueira Mountains, which maps the paths of black Africans and their descendants in the formation of these regions’ cultures. Created initially to enable the students to “perform live history” and get to know the history of traditional black communities. The initiative enables the traditional black communities to reach citizenship through tourism, which also generates income and jobs, through commercialization and management of the cultural/touristic space, aggregating value to artisanal products and local gastronomy.

NatureAir, 100% Carbon Neutral Airline (Costa Rica)
NatureAir’s vision is to conserve resources, protect the environment and keep the air we breathe cleaner and healthier. For every ounce of carbon emissions produced in the air and on the ground, NatureAir purchases carbon credits from Costa Rica’s Government Forestry Financing Program (FONAFIFO). Flying a NatureAir plane gives travelers the satisfaction that they are helping to save trees and and the local habitat in the rich biodiversity zones of southern Costa Rica. Thanks to its customers, NatureAir is able to guarantee the protection of more than more than 500 acres of tropical forest. NatureAir has grown from flying more than 40,800 passengers in 2002, to more than 140,000 passengers in 2008.

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