National Geographic World Legacy Awards - Judging

All applications are vetted to ensure that they meet the awards rules and guidelines. The judging process includes: 1) An international team of experts in travel, tourism, and related fields assesses all applications to select three finalists for each award category; 2) An expert field evaluation takes place to inspect all finalist projects and practices; 3) One winner is selected in each award category.

Costas Christ

Chairman, World Legacy Awards and Editor At Large,
National Geographic Traveler

Costas is one of the world's top sustainable tourism experts, whose work has taken him to more than 130 countries across 6 continents. He has been honored together with Dr. Sylvia Earle, Ted Turner, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as one of 50 Global Visionaries working to save the planet. NBC News said: "For the past 30 years, Costas has been at the leading edge of the green travel movement, since way before it was ever called 'green' or even a movement." Currently an Editor At Large for National Geographic, Costas' stories have won three NATJA Awards for best environmental travel writing. Costas also serves as Director of Sustainable Tourism for the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World program, and he has appeared as a travel expert on the Travel Channel, Good Morning America, CNN International, National Geographic Channel, National Geographic Weekend, and National Public Radio.

2017 Judges

Bangu Masisi

President, South African Tourism, North America

With a strong commitment to tourism as a positive force for improving local peoples' livelihoods, Bangu is the President of South African Tourism, North America where she oversees the organization's efforts to market South Africa as a premiere destination for business and leisure travelers. Prior to moving to New York, Bangu served as the head of the SA Tourism offices in both Amsterdam and Sydney. Her background is in media, having directed high-profile national and international projects, including Nelson Mandela's first business industry meeting as President in 1994. She also led the launch of Ebony Magazine South Africa and served as the PR director for the 2003 SA ICC Cricket World Cup.

Carol Gleeson

Manager, Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, Ireland

Carol has worked in Heritage Tourism for 25 years. She has been an archaeologist, museum curator, Heritage Trust manager, heritage trail developer, exhibition design co-ordinator and, most recently, the manager of an innovative sustainable tourism project in her home county of Clare, on the west coast of Ireland. This project established the Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, which won the Destination Leadership category in the National Geographic World Legacy Awards in 2016. Carol's particular expertise is in creating and managing platforms for diverse interest groups and organisations to work together towards strategic goals in heritage and sustainable tourism destinations.

Chhimmy Pem

Director, Tourism Council of Bhutan

Prior to being appointed as the Director, where she also oversees Bhutan's sustainable tourism planning initiatives, Chhimmy worked as the Head of Marketing and Promotion for the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Chhimmy also serves as the Chairperson of the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts and serves as an Executive Member of the Tarayana Foundation, a local NGO that works with disadvantaged and poor rural communities in Bhutan. She also volunteers with Kilu Bhutan Music School as a Board Member. Chhimmy is also a member of the Film Review Board for Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Authority. Chhimmy completed her Bachelors (Hons) from the University of Delhi in India and her Master's degree from Sussex University in England.

Eric Ricaurte

Founder, Greenview, Singapore

Eric is the founder of Greenview, an international sustainability consultancy advising several global companies. With 20 years of hands-on experience, Eric is a frequent speaker, convener, and researcher on the topic of sustainability. Eric earned a B.S. from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and a M.S. in Tourism & Travel Management from New York University. Eric is a member of the UFI Committee on Sustainable Development and the International Standards Working Group of the GSTC. He has held a research fellowship at the Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research and been an adjunct instructor at the NYU University Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.

Hitesh Mehta

President, HM Design, USA

Hitesh is an ecoArchitect and ecoLandscape Architect, and a pioneer in ecotourism physical planning and ecolodge design. With over 29 years' experience, he has worked and consulted in more than 62 countries on six continents. He is the author of three books, including the award winning "Authentic Ecolodges" by Harper Collins. He is a Board member of GEN (Global Ecotourism Network) and until 2014, was the longest serving board member of TIES (The International Ecotourism Society). He was recognized by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one of five Sustainable Tourism Pioneers. Hitesh currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, where he is the founder and President of HM Design.

Jessica H Upchurch

Community Liaison, Virtuoso Ltd.

In her role as Community Liaison with Virtuoso, Ltd., Jessica spearheads Virtuoso initiatives that encourage staff, agency members, supplier partners and clients to sustain global cultures, youth and the environment. Her focus is to ensure that the $15.5 billion Virtuoso global travel network uses its influence with travelers and the media to further the positive value of travel & tourism by showcasing the global initiatives furthering these causes. She has a deep love for the outdoors and children. She is a Board Member and Immediate Past President of The CARES Foundation, a non-profit which improves lives affected by Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), a family of genetic disorders of the adrenal gland, and President of Blue Butterfly Foundation, a non-profit that brings yoga to trauma and treatment centers. Jessica and Matthew Upchurch live with their two sons in Fort Worth, Texas.

Judy Kepher-Gona

Director, Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, Kenya

Judy has over 15 years of experience in tourism and community development, working at the helm of Ecotourism Kenya, and with Kenya's sustainable tourism organization, Basecamp Group. She developed and initiated one of Africa's most successful sustainable tourism certification programs, the ESOK eco-rating scheme, and is also the founder of Kenya's Eco-Warrior Award. For the past six years, Judy has worked to develop sustainable community-managed conservation areas and conservancies and to empower community landowners to benefit from conservation. She is a board member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the Global Ecotourism Network and Fair Trade Tourism (SA). In 2013, she co-founded Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA).

Justin Paul

Senior Editor, Virtuoso Life, USA

Justin writes about adventure travel and oversees environmental and sustainability coverage as part of his duties at Virtuoso Life. A lifelong outdoorsman, he grew up hiking and canoeing in the Appalachians and has kayaked, cycled, and snowboarded throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. Since joining Virtuoso Life magazine 12 years ago, he has received numerous North American Travel Journalists Association awards for assignments that have led him from the high Arctic's Bylot Island to the Peruvian Amazon to Zambezi River canoe-camps and beyond.

Karma Tshering

Sustainable Tourism Development Specialist, Bhutan

Karma is a pioneer in advocating sustainable tourism development in the parks and protected areas of Bhutan. He started his career in the Department of Forests and Parks as the National Coordinator for the Tiger Conservation Project of Bhutan. Recognizing the critical link of people vis-a-vis conservation, he is a firm believer in incentive based conservation. With a Master's Degree in resource management from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and a Doctorate on sustainable tourism from the University of Sydney, Australia, Karma is passionate about promoting sustainable tourism as a positive force for sustainable development. He presently serves as the CEO and founder of his sustainable tourism development company, Eco-Call.

Keith Sproule

Executive Director, Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, USA

With more than 25 years of experience dedicated to utilizing tourism as an economic tool for the sustainable development of local and regional economies, Keith has served as an advisor to governments on three continents and provided consulting services to hotel and tourism companies globally. His passion is the economics of cultural heritage and nature-based tourism, most often in association with rural communities. Keith is currently the Executive Director of Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), with a mission to 'help nature thrive and cultures to flourish.' Prior to AKP, Keith was the Tourism Business Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund in Namibia, where he supported initiatives to develop both private sector and community tourism capacity in remote rural communities. He is also the owner of the Bentwood Inn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a small luxury ecolodge.

Laura Turner Seydel

Chairperson, Captain Planet Foundation

Laura Turner Seydel is an international environmental advocate and eco-living expert dedicated to creating a healthy and sustainable future for our children. Laura is chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, which funds environmental stewardship projects worldwide. She co-founded Mothers and Others for Clean Air and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. She serves on the Board for The Turner Foundation, Environmental Working Group, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Waterkeeper Alliance, Carter Center Board of Councilors, Rotary Club of Downtown Atlanta and Advisory Board for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Laura lives with her husband and her three children in the first LEED certified Gold residence in the southeastern US.

Mahen Sanghrajka

Chairman & CEO, Big Five Tours and Expeditions, USA

Mahen was born and grew up in Kenya, with a fascination for the wildlife and cultures of the African continent, including participating in early research projects such as the British Chipperfield Foundation project to study elephant and rhino populations in East Africa. He went on to establish Big Five Tours & Expeditions, a multiple award-winning sustainable tourism company bringing visitors to experience the land and cultures that he knows and loves. From humble roots, Mahen now oversees a company that encompasses more than 45 destinations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Orient, Latin America, and the South Pacific. He is chairman of the nonprofit Spirit of Big Five Foundation, established in 2007 to support conservation, poverty alleviation, education, and health care in travel destinations around the world.

Martin Kredietf

General Manager, Turtle Inn, Placencia, Belize

Martin was raised in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles with a passion for travel and tourism. He studied at De Kogge Hotel Management and Culinary School in Amsterdam and returned to Curacao to begin his career in the hospitality industry, managing several restaurants, including the largest beach club in Curacao. He became the Hotel Manager for The Raleigh Hotel in Miami, and was co-owner of Bar 721. Martin currently serves as the General Manager for Francis Ford Coppola's Turtle Inn Resort in Belize, Central America, where he also oversees all sustainable tourism initiatives, including establishing an innovative partnership with the Southern Environmental Alliance (SEA) for marine conservation.

Masaru Takayama

President, Spirit of Japan Travel and Chair, Asian Ecotourism Network, Japan

Masaru is the president of Spirit of Japan Travel, specializing in small group responsible rural travel. His latest project is a 1941 historic landmark building 'Shunyoso,' located on Awaji Island, Japan, where he is working to create and demonstrate a sustainable model to showcase both tangible and intangible cultural properties, with the collaboration of the local island communities. Masaru is also the Executive Director of Japan Ecolodge Association, founded in 2006, and a multi-stakeholder advisory committee member for The United Nation's Environmental Programme's 10FYP Sustainable Tourism Programme. He is the Founding Chair of the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN) with members from 17 Asian countries, who are working to promote sustainable tourism development and implementation in Asia.

Michael Lutzeyer

Owner, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa

A quintessential advocate for sustainable tourism, Michael is the founder of South Africa's Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, located on a UNESCO-recognized hillside where a continent ends, two oceans collide, and the smallest of the world's six floral kingdoms flourishes. After a successful business career, Michael bought the degraded Grootbos farm in the Cape Region and began to rehabilitate the land, in the process also establishing the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, partnering with 26 other landowners to conserve more than 37,066 acres of high biodiversity habitat. Today, Grootbos is renowned for its two luxury ecoresorts, along with the Grootbos Foundation, which supports and implements successful community development projects.

Nina O. Boys

Sustainable Hospitality Specialist, USA

A seasoned world traveler and cross-cultural hospitality specialist, Nina has managed top international hotels - most recently the award-winning Cuixmala Private Nature Reserve and the Hacienda de San Antonio in Mexico. Additionally, she works with innovative travel companies to connect conservation, local community engagement and environmentally-friendly operations to support and enhance destination stewardship. She is currently based in Southeast Asia, and when not working she focuses on her other passion — exploring local street food stalls and writing about her culinary adventures.

Pegi Vail

Anthropologist & Filmmaker, Center For Media, Culture And History, NYU, USA

Dr. Pegi Vail is a cultural anthropologist and documentary filmmaker at NYU's Center for Media, Culture and History. She has taught visual anthropology, documentary production, and tourism at NYU and Columbia University. Gringo Trails, her award-winning film exploring the long-term cultural and environmental effects of global travel and sustainable tourism practices, was released theatrically, on TV internationally, and has been shown at festivals and screenings in over 25 countries. As a curator, Pegi collaborates with the Museum of Natural History, MoMA, Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian and The Moth, where she is a founding board member. Most recently, she was the cultural consultant and APP co-writer for Felix & Paul Studios' Nomads, a virtual reality (VR) series available on Oculus & Samsung.

Rika Jean-Francois

Director, ITB Corporate Social Responsibility, Germany

With a Master's Degree in Social Anthropology and expertise on ethnic identities, sustainable development, and diversity issues, Rika has been passionately engaged in tourism since her early days as a guide in Greece. In her current position since 2004, she is responsible for ITB Berlin's Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainable tourism efforts. With an emphasis on diversity and human rights, she proactively helped develop the LGBT travel segment at ITB and serves on the Board of Directors of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and the IGLTA Foundation. She is also a member of the PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Sustainability Committee and Board Member of The Code International, working to protect children from sex tourism.

Sally Christ

Vice President, Beyond Green Travel LLC, USA

Sally oversees all project operations for Beyond Green Travel LLC, a consulting firm providing expert services in sustainable tourism planning, development, branding and marketing for destinations, businesses, governments, and non-profit organizations. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she has worked extensively around the world, including more than two decades in the travel and tourism industry where, among other things, she was lead author of the National Tour Guide Training Manual for Belize, conducted an evaluation of Mountain Gorilla Tourism in Uganda for USAID, and served as Africa Director for Overseas Adventure Travel. A multi-linguist, she speaks Swahili, Spanish, French, and Japanese.

Samson Parashina

President, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Kenya

Samson Parashina is President of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT), a grass roots community trust developing sustainable models for preserving the wilderness, wildlife and culture of the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem and the Chyulu Hills. The trust manages Kenya's Kuku Group Ranch, land communally owned by the indigenous Maasai, and its programs include wildlife protection, land conservancy zones, carbon feasibility studies, fresh water initiatives and school scholarships, among others. Samson received the prestigious Champions of the Earth Award from the United Nations Environmental Program in 2012 for his outstanding leadership of the Maasai Community in the protection of the African ecosystem. Samson also holds a Silver Level Guiding Certificate as a Kenyan safari guide.

Sandra Howard

Vice Minister of Tourism, Colombia

Born in Providence Island, Colombia, Sandra began her career as a passionate journalist and social communicator, specializing in cultural engagement and management. She worked extensively in both radio and television in Colombia and the US before being appointed as Colombia's Vice Minister of Tourism. She has spoken extensively on the importance of sustainable tourism at international forums such as the Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau, the UNWTO /UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture in Cambodia, and at the conference on Tourism & Peace in Medellin, Colombia. She served as the Secretary General of Sustainable Tourism for the Small Islands Forum, and represented Colombia at the Americas Commission of UNWTO in 2014 and 2015.

Sara Harari

Researcher, Center for Business and the Environment, Yale University, USA

An energy engineer by training, Sara's studies included time in Denmark where she focused on developing the next generation of sustainable cities. She is currently a Yale University Researcher in Environmental Management and Business. Her previous engineering work includes managing multiple projects focused on re-defining resiliency and reliability in flexible, sustainable infrastructure projects around the world. Sara has presented to professional societies across the country on her innovative dynamic utility master planning practices. Her current projects include efforts to expand solar energy technology to low-income communities and reduce water consumption in the textile industry.

Tony Charters

Principal, Tony Charters and Associates, Australia

As Principal of Tony Charters and Associates, Tony advises leading tourism industry operators and governments on planning, destination development, sustainable management, and investment. With over 20 years of experience in tourism, Tony worked as a senior executive in World Heritage and protected area management, before entering the tourism industry. He was a founding director of Ecotourism Australia and served continuously on the Board for 25 years. Tony serves as Vice-Chair of the Global Ecotourism Network and is on the Board of the Asian Ecotourism Network. In 2014, Tony was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) by the Governor-General for his services to the ecotourism industry, nature-based recreation, and environmental education.

Tristan Mace

Entrepreneur, USA

With a passion for sustainable tourism, and honored as one of 35 Under 35 dynamic leaders, Travel+Leisure Magazine called Tristan a "disruptor shaping the next generation." Tristan is an entrepreneur and advisor, having founded tech companies Want Me Get Me (acquired by Surface) and Skylark, a luxury travel startup created with a $1 billion travel corporation. He has worked with JP Morgan Chase and United Way, and currently advises several companies and venture capital firms. He has judged the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, served on a United Nations host committee and been featured by FastCompany and Bloomberg. He is a proud alumnus and guest professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

Undraa Buyannemekh

Managing Director of Nomadic Expeditions, Mongolia

Undraa was selected by Forbes as one of the 40 Under 40 most influential people in business in Mongolia. As the Managing Director of Nomadic Expeditions, Mongolia's pioneer eco-adventure company and owner of the Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert, Undraa is a passionate advocate for sustainable tourism in her homeland. Under her direction, the company supports various cultural preservation and environmental conservation projects, ranging from support for the Arts Council of Mongolia to raising funds for the World Wildlife Fund's snow leopard conservation project. She designs bespoke journeys to further education and preservation of her native Mongolia.

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