Responsible Tourism website www.responsibletravel.com connects tour operators and hoteliers to tourists who both support responsible tourism. The website has announced the shortlist for the 2012 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2012. Celebrating the shining stars of responsible tourism, whether they be niche or mainstream, multinational or micro, resort or B&B, the Awards follow the simple principle that all kinds of tourism can and should be organised in a way that preserves, respects and benefits destinations and local people.
Carefully selected by a panel of industry experts from over 1 600 public nominations, each organisation, destination or writer on the shortlist has an inspiring story to tell. Below are just a few examples, the full Awards Shortlist can be found on the website. (www.responsibletravel.com)
Reality Tours and Travel, Mumbai, India
There has been a good deal of criticism in the last year or two about slum tourism and rightly so, particularly where it is little more than voyeuristic exploitation. Reality Tours demonstrates it is possible for tourists to visit a slum in India in a more responsible way. Reality Tours of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai are just that – reality.
Their purpose is to raise social awareness and break down the negative image many people have towards slums. Guided by residents, the tourists have the opportunity to buy honey and candles and visit enterprises and community centres.
Established in 2005, Reality Tours had 10 000 guests last year. They donate 80% of post-tax profits to their sister NGO Reality Gives, which provides educational programmes for residents of Dharavi and supports a number of micro-enterprise and community initiatives including sports, beekeeping and youth empowerment programmes.
Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
Located in the Koh Rong archipelago, Song Saa has actively engaged in the implementation and monitoring of Cambodia's first marine conservation area. Song Saa has also created artificial reefs to encourage the rehabilitation and growth of coral reefs around the island.
The developers have addressed the challenges of solid and liquid waste, established a hornbill nesting box and created additional livelihoods for local communities. The Sala Song Saa, the Song Saa School, provides education on the environment and agriculture for local people living in the Prek Svay Basin and youth training on organic soil husbandry.
Song Saa has also supported local families in developing small-scale irrigation systems, providing seeds and educational workshops on organic vegetable growing. This tourism business is working to improve the lives of the neighbouring agricultural community.
St Kilda, Scotland, UK
This remote uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland, owned by The National Trust for Scotland, has become a Responsible Tourism hotspot. In the last 50 years 200 000 hours have been spent on the conservation of the island's architectural heritage and environment.
Running seal and whale watching tours, the island has made a direct contribution to tourism in the western isles by trebling visitor numbers since 2005. For those unable to visit, the provision of virtual tours means the island can be accessible to all.