The 2016 National Geographic World Legacy Awards were one of the undisputed highlights of ITB Berlin, world’s largest travel fair and tourism convention, which took place last week in the German capital.

Chaired by Costas Christ, the awards “honor the companies, organizations, and destinations that are driving the positive transformation of the tourism industry, showcasing leaders and visionaries in sustainable tourism best practices, and sharing their stories with millions of today’s travelers.”

We had the pleasure to get to know some of the award winners during ITB Berlin, a convention more than ever committed to promoting socially and environmentally responsible travel business and experiences. Here is a brief summary of sustainable tourism highlights:

National Geographic ITB World Legacy Awards Website

World Legacy Awards 2016: winners and finalists

Receiving recognition for your sustainability initiatives can be highly rewarding and motivating. And, as one of the winners told us, the National Geographic World Legacy Awards are as good as it gets. As Melbourne-based Echidna Walkabout Tour operator Janine Duffy told us in her interview last year, such awards ‘put you on the map’ locally and at your destination.

Mission Hills China are the 2016 Earth Changers award winners, lauded for “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”.

In the category Sense of Place, TIME Unlimited Tours New Zealand were recognized for “excellence in enhancing sense of place and authenticity, bringing traditional Maori culture to the forefront of their guest experiences.”

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, I.A.P in Mexico was awarded for its commitment to conserving the natural world. This 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.

Engaging communities is a key component of responsible tourism and The Bushcamp Company in Zambia, Africa, “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.” A well-deserved winner for this World Legacy Award category.

Finally, National Geographic together with ITB Berlin awarded the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark in Ireland for their destination leadership. “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.”

More about the 2016 World Legacy Awards winners and finalists

Global Ecotourism Network launched

Just as sustainability discourse in travel and tourism is moving from the marketing and PR realm to that of strategy and management, the growing niche market of ecotourism is becoming more sophisticated and regionally oriented.

Asian Ecotourism NetworkA first sign for this was last year’s launch of the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN), aimed at facilitating networking among Asian sustainable tourism professionals in a setting that fits the region’s cultural backgrounds and specific needs.

Recently founded Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) – introduced at ITB Berlin by chairperson Glenn Jampol – serves emerging regional associations such as AEN as umbrella organisation, and as such continues the work of pioneering associations, such as The International Ecotourism Society.

Newly formed GEN represents the desire among world’s leading ecotourism professionals for a professional association and network that is financially independent, transparent and trustworthy.

More about the Asian Ecotourism Network and the Global Ecotourism Network.

Green Destinations TOP 100

Green DestinationsIf there’s one thing we learned during last year’s interviews with sustainable tourism professionals, then that the focus is moving from individual businesses and projects to destination-wide initiatives and strategies. Implementing responsible tourism practices on a destination level can be very complex and challenging, for which we applaud the efforts put into the Green Destinations initiative led by Albert Salman and initiated by Valere Tjolle.

Together with Herbert Haemele, Albert and Valere presented the Green Destinations project at ITB Berlin, with a new TOP 100 list of destination expected in September this year.

More about Green Destinations TOP 100.

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World Legacy Awards 2016 and Other Sustainable Tourism Highlights at ITB Berlin