In the 1980s, ecotourism—driven by a deep conservation and environmental ethic—focused on remote jungle lodges, nature treks, and the like. It was well-meaning and maybe appropriate to the time, but dwelled on the fringes of a largely uninterested mainstream travel industry.
At Traveler we observed this and felt a broader approach, around sustainable tourism, would prove a more powerful force to improve travelers’ interactions with the planet and push the entire industry to take notice. Our own sustainable-travel initiatives promoted cultural and natural preservation as well as the thoughtful involvement of travelers and local communities in caring for destinations.
In 2002, the magazine conceived and launched the World Legacy Awards to recognize work in the field, in partnership with Conservation International. We were ahead of our time; there wasn’t much support for, nor understanding of, the importance of sustainable travel practices.
Last year, the globe surpassed one billion international travelers, and the number is climbing. We believe more than ever that the right kind of tourism will help manage any potential negative impact of this rising travel tide.
“What if we rededicate ourselves to better educate travelers to explore and protect the planet?” Traveler Editor at Large Costas Christ asked us. “To identify visionaries who are developing enlightened approaches to travel that will motivate the industry to change at a faster pace?”
So we’ve relaunched an improved, updated World Legacy Awards, in partnership with ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin), the world’s largest gathering of travel professionals. The winners, in five categories, will be announced in Berlin in March 2015 and in the pages of our April 2015 issue, so I invite you to stay tuned to meet the vanguard of the sustainable travel movement.
Keith Bellows is National Geographic Traveler‘s editor in chief. Follow him on Twitter @KeithBellowsNG.