National Geographic World Legacy Awards - Winners & Finalists

2016 Winners & Finalists

WinnerEarth Changers

Recognizing cutting-edge leadership in environmentally friendly business practices and green technology, from renewable energy and water conservation to zero-waste systems and carbon-emission reduction.

Mission Hills

Mission Hills is helping lead the way to a brighter environmental future in China through innovative green operations, demonstrating that sustainable tourism practices can also be adopted by large resorts. Mission Hills' approach also includes educating Chinese travelers and the Chinese tourism industry on best environmental practices. "We want to be the positive change in China that we believe is needed for a greener future," says Ken Chu, the young Chairman of Mission Hills. Their three resorts record and track energy use, water conservation, and carbon emissions. They are part of the Carbon Audit Green Partner Program, developed by the Hong Kong Government, to continually monitor and evaluate sustainable operations to make improvements. Eco-learning centers and nature trails promote awareness about biodiversity conservation, while a high-tech field station at Mission Hills's flagship resort on the island of Hainan allows scientists to monitor for air quality and climate change impacts. Wind and solar energy power hybrid streetlights and more than 30,000 native trees were planted to help restore a formerly deforested ecosystem. Mission hills was also among the first mainland China hospitality companies to ban shark fin from their menus. Incorporating solar-powered golf carts, hand-weeding and solar "pest control", among other environmentally-friendly practices on their golf courses, earned Mission Hills Haikou the Golf Environment Organization (GEO)'s flagship certification.

WinnerSense of Place

Recognizing excellence in enhancing sense of place and authenticity, including support for the protection of historical monuments, archaeological sites, cultural events, indigenous heritage and artistic traditions.

TIME Unlimited Tours
New Zealand

TIME Unlimited Tours is an Auckland-based ecotourism operator with a specific focus: to bring traditional Maori culture to the forefront of their guest experiences. The name itself, TIME, is an abbreviation for "To Integrate Maori Experiences." Incorporating the Maori concepts of Manaakitanga, "the process of showing respect" with Kaitiakitanga, meaning "the guardians of our place and our people," TIME offers its guests Kiwitanga, "a culture of warm and relaxed hospitality." By providing both a traditional and contemporary view of the Maori, they seek to expand the understanding of Maori culture both past and present, based upon Turangawaewae, or Sense of Place in the Maori ancestral language. "It is very important for us to represent the inter-generational vision that our ancestors had to be the Kaitiaki (Guardians) of this special place we call Aotearoa, also known as New Zealand," says Ceillhe Tewhare Teneti Hema Sperath, Director of TIME Unlimited Tours, and a descendant of two Maori Chiefs who signed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi - New Zealand's founding document. Their unique approach immerses travelers in the local way of life, showing visitors that Maori culture is alive, modern, and relevant, and that most importantly, the Maori people themselves welcome visitors to experience their culture firsthand from the people who know it best.

WinnerConserving the Natural World

Recognizing outstanding support for the preservation of nature, restoring natural habitat and protecting rare and endangered species, whether on land or in the oceans.

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, I.A.P

Since 1987, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda - a grassroots non-profit organization - has worked steadfastly to build a "conservation economy" in rural Central Mexico. Their work was instrumental in the establishment of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, a "biodiversity hotspot" and home to UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites. Working with the local population and the national government, they developed regulations that protect the natural habitat and fragile ecosystems of the 946,000-acre biosphere reserve. "A lot of what we do focuses on improving the daily lives of women to become the voice of conservation in their communities. This has created a network of 83 small ecotourism businesses, many led by village women who previously struggled in poverty," says Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. With a specific focus on the protection of Sierra Gorda's unique landscapes and diverse fauna and flora, Grupo Ecológico also works to educate rural villagers on the importance of environmental sustainability, training over 18,000 people to date. To ensure their on-going efforts are making a difference, Sierra Gorda closely monitors and evaluates the economic benefits of conservation and the local community benefits of their projects, using a "Social Return on Investment Analysis" that carefully tracks their ongoing progress, as part of their sustainable tourism conservation strategy.

WinnerEngaging Communities

Recognizing direct and tangible economic and social benefits that improve local livelihoods, including training and capacity building, fair wages and benefits, community development, health care and education.

The Bushcamp Company

Photo by Jeffrey Davis

The Bushcamp Company, founded in 1999, operates Mfuwe Lodge and six safari camps in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. The company has worked to bring the benefits of sustainable tourism to the local population of the Luangwa Valley, recognizing that protecting the natural environment means fully involving the local community in management and decision making. "Tourism has a huge role to play in protecting nature in Zambia, and we do that by working closely with local villagers to provide jobs, build schools, and improve rural livelihoods," says Andy Hogg, Managing Director. Bushcamp supports improving the livelihoods of local communities through ecotourism development to achieve lasting wildlife conservation. They helped to launch the Luangwa Conservation and Community Fund, which pumps over US$300,000 annually into community development initiatives, including funding for the expansion of the Mfuwe Secondary School, education scholarships for more than 350 students up to the university level, distributing 3000 anti-malaria bed nets each year among local villages, offering on-the job-training as the area's largest employer, and providing a daily meal to 1500 school children in need. To ensure that safe drinking water is available to communities and schools, Bushcamp also launched a safe water project, setting up deep boreholes for access to clean water.

WinnerDestination Leadership

Recognizing destination leadership, including cities, provinces, states, countries and regions that are demonstrating environmental best practices, protection of cultural and natural heritage, benefits to local communities and educating travelers on the principles of sustainability.

Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark

What began as a community project in 2007, Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark today represents a vibrant and successful destination-wide partnership between the private sector, local villagers and municipal authorities working together to safeguard one of Ireland's most beautiful natural landscapes - a place dotted with historic hamlets, emerald sheep farms and centuries-old walking trails. The GeoparkLIFE sustainable destination strategy demonstrates the power of well-planned and managed tourism to improve local livelihoods and provide a high-quality, educational visitor experience. Working in partnership with the Burren Ecotourism Network, they established training and mentoring programs for community businesses with specific benchmarks including green operations and support for the protection of natural and cultural heritage. "By developing a destination-wide partnership we are bringing together villagers and municipal authorities to improve livelihoods, strengthen communities and create a sustainable future for our rural way of life," says Carol Gleeson, Manager for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, who grew up on a nearby farm. A key to their success is ensuring that the Cliffs of Moher, renowned for stunning rock formations, is not just a photo stop on coach tours from Dublin. The result is more travelers staying longer and supporting local businesses including the Burren Food Trail, a collection of culinary artisans, and Adventure Burren, an association of expert guides and eco-outfitters.

FinalistsEarth Changers

Recognizing cutting-edge leadership in environmentally friendly business practices and green technology, from renewable energy and water conservation to zero-waste systems and carbon emissions reduction.

Applicants in this category will showcase specific environmentally friendly practices and innovative green technologies they are using that benefit the environment, including how they are measured and monitored, to address issues such as climate change, renewable energy, water conservation, zero waste, among other environmental solutions.

Inspira Santa Marta Hotel

Located in Lisbon, the Inspira Santa Marta Hotel motto of "doing the right thing" serves as a guideline to minimize any negative impacts on the environment, and serve as a leader and role model to the tourism industry in Portugal. In addition to careful tracking of energy and water use as part of their efforts, the hotel utilizes solar panels, ozone friendly refrigerant chillers for cooling, and bottles its own filtered drinking water in refillable glass bottles to avoid plastic waste. Farm to table sourcing in the restaurant to reflect Portugal's traditional and diverse cuisine, as well as engagement in community efforts such as cleaning up the nearby botanical park, are further initiatives led by the hotel's employee "Green Squad," which guides the implementation of new ideas and cutting edge green practices.

Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Reserve

Located on the shores of Lake Atitlan, the Laguna Eco-Resort is engaged in multiple initiatives focused on green operations and environmental responsibility, including utilizing 180 solar panels, LED lighting and careful tracking and monitoring of energy, water, waste, and the use of carbon calculators to inform purchasing decisions. The resort grows most of its own organic produce and serves exclusively vegetarian and vegan meals, using data to demonstrate that an overall vegetarian diet reduces consumption of water and reduces the reliance on fertilizer and pesticides. It is a unique angle that is complimented by interactive cooking demonstrations for guests to teach them how to make vegetarian cuisine at home. Participating in national culinary exhibitions and contests takes their message on local food and the impact of food choices even further.

FinalistsSense of Place

Recognizing excellence in enhancing cultural authenticity, including implementing vernacular architecture and design, support for the protection of historic monuments, archeological sites, indigenous heritage, and artistic traditions.

Applicants in this category will showcase how they are involved in the protection and promotion of cultural heritage, providing examples of their projects and initiatives, along with results. These may encompass implementing vernacular architecture and design, protection of historic sites, support for local cultural and artistic traditions, helping to safeguard indigenous peoples' heritage, and efforts to share and expand on the importance of protecting cultural heritage, including educating local stakeholders and travelers.

CGH Earth

Tracing its routes to a single small hotel catering to port visitors in southern India, CGH Earth has since expanded into a growing hospitality and wellness brand based upon supporting cultural heritage and community partnerships to enable guests to experience authentic local culture. With sixteen properties in four different regions across Southern India, all CGH Earth hotels embrace and celebrate the cultural vernacular of the Indian villages where they operate, encouraging the revitalization of traditional building skills and using recycled and reclaimed materials. They have introduced organic farming methods in local communities and establishment of a system for sustainable food sourcing to stop degradation of natural wetland habitats through practices such as the cutting of mangrove forests for shrimp farming to support biodiversity conservation in India.

Tierra Patagonia

Tierra Patagonia Lodge was built to blend in with the surrounding landscape of Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Guest experiences center on exploring nature, as well as local culture, including outings with the local "baqueanos" who still herd sheep and horses nearby. Views of the Torres del Paine massif are the focal point of the lodge and the forces of Patagonian nature are an ever-present aspect of the lodge's sense of place. Construction utilized local materials, including sustainably harvested lenga wood, and also took care to ensure the least amount of disruption possible to the surrounding environment. Prior to construction, wind patterns and animal trails were taken into account in the design and siting of the lodge, and today wildlife roams and native vegetation flourishes just outside the lodge doors.

FinalistsConserving The Natural World

Recognizing outstanding support for the preservation of nature, restoring natural habitat, protecting rare and endangered species, whether on land or in the oceans.

Arkaba by Wild
Bush Luxury

Located in the Australian outback, Wild Bush Luxury has helped to transform a 60,000-acre former sheep ranch into a thriving wildlife conservancy, offering guests the opportunity to stay in the 5-bedroom restored 1850s homestead. Located on the outskirts of Flinders Ranges National Park, Wild Bush has systematically restored formerly degraded ranch habitat, reintroducing the native flora and fauna of the region. Carefully monitoring and evaluating their biodiversity conservation efforts to ensure that their strategies are hitting clear goals for reestablishing endemic species and supporting the restoration of the natural ecosystem, their efforts include eradicating invasive plant species without the use of herbicides or other chemicals, and removing feral animals that compete with indigenous wildlife for habitat and food. Using data collection and scientific tracking, they are sharing their knowledge of the area's biodiversity with their guests, conservation groups and community members as part of an educational program to demonstrate ecotourism as a vehicle for conservation and rural economic growth.

Elephant Hills Co. Ltd

Working with the government in one of the most remote and spectacular areas of Southern Thailand, where they operate two tented camps bordering Khao Sok National Park, Elephant Hills is focused on the protection of one of the world's most endangered species - the wild Asian Elephant. By engaging in sustainable tourism best practices, including environmentally-friendly operations and supporting education programs in local communities on the importance of elephant conservation while caring for a small herd of rescued elephants, they are helping local villagers also understand that wild elephants are not something to be feared and that they have a conservation value which can help improve local livelihoods through conservation-based tourism. Guests also observe and learn about the rescued elephants, who are cared for by traditional mahouts to provide local employment. No trekking or riding of elephants is permitted at Elephant Hills to support a more ethical alternative to the fast growing and questionable tourism practice of captive elephant-riding.

FinalistsEngaging Communities

Recognizing direct and tangible economic and social benefits that improve local livelihoods, including training and capacity building, fair wages and benefits, community development, health care, and education.

Applicants in this category will showcase how they are involved in providing social and economic benefits to local people and host communities. This may include capacity building and training for career advancement in the tourism economy, support for community development projects, and providing opportunities for local communities to become tourism partners and stakeholders, including developing their own businesses.

Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy
United States

Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) grew out of the Abercrombie and Kent's early Kenya beginnings as the charity arm of the world renowned travel company, initially focused on fundraising for conservation in the Masai Mara. Today, AKP works alongside parent company A&K to support a host of community and conservation projects across their global travel portfolio. AKP's projects focus on four main goals in interacting with local communities: education, conservation, health, and enterprise (providing economic opportunities to local people), with the vast majority of A&K's 52 offices worldwide sponsoring projects in local communities that their guests can also visit. Funding for projects comes from a combination of guest donations, and financial and administrative support from the A&K offices around the world, led by AKP's coordination, monitoring and evaluation of each project.

Grootbos Green Futures Foundation
South Africa

The Grootbos Green Futures Foundation was founded in 2003 as the non-profit arm of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, located in Cape Province. The Foundation's work is focused on community based training and capacity building to support poverty alleviation, provide upward job mobility and advance nature conservation in the high biodiversity region known as the Cape Floral Kingdom where Grootbos is located. To date, 143 local residents graduated from the Green Futures Horticulture and Life Skills College founded by Grootbos and all were successfully placed into jobs. Other community benefit initiatives include the Football Foundation which provides HIV/AIDS Awareness training in local schools to educate children about reducing transmission risk and the Siyakhula Growing the Future Organic Farm project providing valuable training in sustainable farming knowledge.

FinalistsDestination Leadership

Recognizing destination stewardship, including cities, provinces, states, countries and regions that are demonstrating environmental best practices, protection for cultural and natural heritage, benefits to local people, and educating travelers on the principles of sustainable tourism.

Applicants in this category may apply on behalf of a destination, and will showcase how they are engaged in a multi-stakeholder process that involves different organizations, businesses, governmental entities, and communities working together to promote and develop sustainable tourism practices at the destination level, delivering meaningful results, and educating travelers about their efforts.

Destination Røros

With its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980, Destination Røros works to protect and preserve the historic mining town of Røros, while creating a thriving, authentic, living community today. With over one million tourists annually, Destination Røros collaborates with more than 200 local businesses to encourage cooperation and careful planning for tourism development, ensuring that sustainable tourism principles remain at the core of the strategy for growth, particularly promoting local businesses, such as small food producers and locally based tour operators focused on the community's history and culture. With the founding of partner company VisitRørosAS in 2012, they have worked to expand the concept of destination stewardship across all of Norway, serving as a model for other communities to follow.

Travel Oregon
United States

On behalf of the State of Oregon, Travel Oregon works to promote economic development opportunities through such programs as the Rural Tourism Studio (RTS), including more than 1,000 participants across eight regions in Oregon, representing a destination wide effort that combines marketing, capacity building and training in sustainable tourism best practices. Areas that are accepted in the program are ensured a multiyear commitment from Travel Oregon to support sustainable rural economic growth based upon care for local people and the environment. Local communities receiving assistance are empowered to take the lead on projects and bring their own ideas for implementing tourism development. This ensures a bottom-up approach for tourism planning with local people at the heart of the process.

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World Legacy Awards Finalist Interviews

This year's 15 World Legacy Awards Finalists - 3 each in 5 different award categories - span six continents and range from a global tour company working to alleviate poverty in Africa and Asia to a tiny Norwegian town that has revitalized rural economic growth by celebrating and protecting their cultural heritage. In the process, all are demonstrating how a great holiday can also make the world a better place. We asked each of the Finalists for their views on sustainable tourism. Here is what they had to say.

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