Fifteen groundbreaking projects from around the world are the finalists in the “Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places/Changing Lives” competition, a collaboration of National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations and Ashoka’s Changemakers. The online contest was created to discover and support entrepreneurs with innovative approaches to geotourism, 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.
From the 323 entries submitted from 84 countries, these 15 finalists were selected:
1. Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon: Establishing Gabon as the gateway to Africa’s rainforests by highlighting its pristine nature and ancient cultures
2. Blue Ventures Conservation, Madagascar: Using paying volunteer program as a strategy to protect threatened marine resources
3. Banyon Tree Hotel, Maldives: Creating a marine lab to protect, conserve, research and educate about the coral reef environment
4. CC Africa, South Africa: Pioneering land and wildlife conservation, and giving local rural communities a meaningful share of the benefits
5. Chumbe Island Coral Park, Ltd., Tanzania: Creating a financially, ecologically and socially sustainable model to save the country’s coral reefs
6. Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries, Greece: Offering seminars for organic farmers, chefs, historians, mountaineers and other locals to share their knowledge about Crete’s culture and nature with visitors
7. Eco-Health Farms, Latvia: Integrating ancestral traditions, nature protection and health prevention
8. Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa, Thailand: Setting up an eco-trail that shows locals and guests the resort’s environmental practices
9. Exotica Cottages, Dominica: Integrating local expertise in gardening and conservation into the island’s ecotourism efforts
11. Rios Tropicales Lodge, Costa Rica: Protecting the rainforest through the collaboration of local communities, tourists and conservation organizations
12. Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, India: Changing local mindsets towards snow leopards
13. 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, Nepal: Training and empowering women to be guides in adventure tourism efforts
14. Tourism Board of Bhutan, Bhutan: Making geotourism development a national policy
15. Yachana Foundation, Ecuador: Offering lodging, meals, adventure and education through experiences with local Amazonian nature and culture
The four judges who reviewed submissions and selected the finalists were Keith Bellows, vice president of the National Geographic Society and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine; Susan Berresford, past president of the Ford Foundation; Leonard Cordiner, CEO of WHL Travel; and Nachiket Mor, president of the ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth.
“I was stunned at the quality of the applications,” said Bellows. “They showcased great innovation that can be exported to other countries, terrific successes against long odds and a far-reaching global distribution of projects. Not only did the entries make fascinating reading, but I was inspired by the vision, imagination, passion and entrepreneurship of the people who are making a difference in the lives of locals and travelers.”
The global online community can vote for the three winners, through Wednesday, June 11, at www.changemakers.net. The winners will be announced on Tuesday, June 17, and each will receive a cash prize of US $5,000.
“The Geotourism Challenge received entries from the most countries for any collaborative competition we’ve held so far,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Changemakers. “This shows that the Changemakers global online community is influential in surfacing innovators who are helping destinations benefit from tourism while protecting the assets that make their places special.”
National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations is dedicated to protecting the world’s distinctive places through wisely managed geotourism and enlightened destination stewardship.