EMBARGOED: For release 12:01 a.m. (ET, U.S.) Tuesday, June 17, 2008
WASHINGTON—In the heart of Ecuador’s Amazon region, Amazonian youth can now pursue an academic degree in ecotourism. In Nepal, women are being trained as trekking professionals — in a culture that offers women limited job opportunities. In Costa Rica, native Cabecar Indians are learning how to manage a lodge in one of the country’s celebrated rainforests.
These three innovative programs today have been announced the winners of “The Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places/Changing Lives,” a global competition sponsored by National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations and Ashoka’s Changemakers. Geotourism is defined as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place — its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and the well-being of its residents.” Launched in January 2008, the competition generated more than 320 entries from 83 countries, the largest number of countries to date for any Ashoka’s Changemakers collaborative competition. Each of the three winners, chosen through online voting, will receive a $5,000 award.
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking (Nepal) uses the positive aspects of tourism to create equity for local women and bring revenue to the poorest areas of Nepal. Women train to become adventure professionals and acquire the skills to earn money, interact with the world and discover their own strengths — critical in a culture where women have been consistently marginalized.
Rainforest Restoration and Sustainable Community Development (Costa Rica)
Ríos Tropicales Lodge protects the Costa Rican rainforest by empowering and engaging local communities of native Cabecar Indians, hiring them to manage its eco-lodge and sustainable farming projects. Ríos Tropicales helps their best guides turn into “ecopreneurs” and start their own businesses.
Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School, Yachana Foundation (Ecuador) is providing practical, hands-on education for Ecuadorian youth in the Amazon. As the country’s only school offering a degree in ecotourism and sustainable development, it is deeply involved in cultural programs, the newest being the Amazon Culinary Tour, where guests and students harvest and prepare Amazonian foods together.
“These three winners, as well as the other 12 finalists, are blazing pathways for the mainstream tourism industry to follow,” said Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations. “The future of tourism depends on protecting the quality of the world’s destinations by fully engaging the people who live in them.”
The winners and the other 12 finalists will be invited to join the National Geographic and Ashoka’s Changemakers Change Summit at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., in fall 2008.
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 ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth.
“The Geotourism Challenge has produced an amazing set of organizations protecting people and places around the world through the power of travel,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Changemakers. “Receiving more than 320 entries from 83 countries is indicative of the importance of the tourism industry in shaping the course of society and the environment.”
The Center for Sustainable Destinations will work with Ashoka’s Changemakers to launch Geotourism Challenge II early in 2009.
The other 12 finalists in the Geotourism Challenge were:
- Blue Ventures Conservation, Madagascar: Using paying volunteer program as a strategy to protect threatened marine resources
- Banyan Tree Hotel, Maldives: Creating a marine lab to protect, conserve, research, and educate about the coral reef environment
- CC Africa, South Africa: Pioneering land and wildlife conservation, and giving local rural communities a meaningful share of the benefits
- Chumbe Island Coral Park, Ltd., Tanzania: Creating a financially, ecologically and socially sustainable model to save the country’s coral reefs
- 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
- Eco-Health Farms, Latvia: Integrating ancestral traditions, nature protection and health prevention
- Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa, Thailand: Setting up an eco-trail that shows locals and guests the resort’s environmental practices
- Exotica Cottages, Dominica: Integrating local expertise in gardening and conservation into the island’s ecotourism efforts
- Great Baikal Trail, Russia: Establishing Russia’s first system of hiking trails to promote environmentally sustainable development
- Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon: Creating a new global ecotourism destination in the rainforests of Gabon
- Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, India: Changing local mindsets towards snow leopards
- Tourism Board of Bhutan, Bhutan: Making geotourism development a national policy
National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations is dedicated to protecting the world’s distinctive places through wisely managed geotourism and enlightened destination stewardship. Visit www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable.
Ashoka’s Changemakers is building an “open source” online community that competes to surface the best social solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. To date, Changemakers has attracted more than 3,500 solutions from more than 145 countries. Visit www.changemakers.net.