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World RT Awards

Leaders in Responsible Tourism

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Awards which are presented each year at World Travel Market London on World Responsible Tourism Day is that every year since 2011 we have published the judges’ reasons for the awards they make. Responsible Travel launched the Responsible Tourism Awards in 2004. At the time British Airways was making extensive redundancies and cutting costs across its business; the company did not feel that they could continue to fund and run the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. Justin Francis stepped in to launch the Responsible Tourism Awards with First Choice (2004-6) as the sponsor and Harold Goodwin as chair of the judges. They were subsequently sponsored by Virgin Holidays (2007-12) and then in 2013 they were rebranded as the World Responsible Tourism Awards, the headline sponsor’s recognition no longer extending to their name being included in the Awards’ title.

The Responsible Tourism Awards focus on the contributions made by tourism businesses and organisations and by destinations – we want to recognise those who are developing sollutions making a difference. The change-makers, those leading the way to make tourism more sustainable by taking responsibility for driving down the negative impacts of tourism and increasing the positive impacts. Sustainable Tourism remains an aspiration, a worthy goal but it is important to differentiate a lofty ideal from efforts to achieve it. Responsible Tourism and Sustainable Tourism are not the same things. Responsible Tourism is about what people and organisation to address issues and to move towards the goal of sustainability. Communicating the issues being addressed, what is being done and the outcomes and impacts is at the heart of Responsible Tourism. The Awards are important in identifying and promoting good practice and enabling commercial and consumer purchasers to distinguish those who are taking responsibility and are effective in reducing their negative and increasing their positive impacts from those who are merely greenwashing. With the increasing awareness of the concept of Responsible Tourism comes a significant, and potentially damaging, increase in greenwashing.

Over the thirteen years that Responsible Travel ran the Awards we saw the bar rise higher each year. More was expected each year. “Open to anyone in the world, winners have inspired many others who are working tirelessly to create a more responsible form of tourism. And while we like to think our holidays put smiles on all our travellers’ faces, nothing beats the smile when award winners’ names are announced. And rightly so.” The Awards were presented at World Travel Market London to
“celebrate the very best innovations and practice in responsible tourism globally. We found and awarded new ideas, which we've since seen copied globally, and they acted as a benchmark for new stages of development in the responsible tourism movement. We saw awareness of the sector grow quickly throughout this period.”

Irish, African and Indian Responsible Tourism Awards were established using the same judging criteria and processes. Responsible Travel “watched the number of awards schemes grow and flourish” and felt that their “hopes and plans” had “been fulfilled.” All the stories of the inspiring Responsible Tourism Award winners are archived on their site. Responsible Travel decided not to run Awards in 2017 or for the foreseeable future. Responsible Travel is “pleased that WTM have chosen to continue with a global Awards”.

There is no established system for Responsible Tourism reporting, different approaches are being developed and new ones will emerge. This diversity is an inevitable and desirable consequence of the fundamental principle of Responsible Tourism: that issues, their salience and importance, vary from place to place. First determine what matters locally, what issues you can address and then, alone or with others, tackle them. We want to encourage more tourism businesses and destinations to publish details of their outcomes and impacts.

Our Judging Criteria
We are looking for examples which will inspire and challenge others to take more responsibility for managing tourism to make it more sustainable, to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive. The WTM Awards continue to use the same criteria that were developed for the World Responsible Tourism Awards from 2004 to 2016 and are well tested. We expect leaders in Responsible Tourism to have established practices with the following characteristics: 

1. Evidence-based: The panel are looking for evidence of real change, businesses which can convincingly demonstrate positive impacts, or reduced negative impacts, quantified wherever possible.

2. Replicability: The Awards aim to inspire change, we seek to identify examples of best practice which can be replicated across the sector and around the world.

3. Innovation: The judges are looking for innovative practices that make a real difference, the Awards highlight new good practices, which the judges believe, can, and should, become common practice.

4. Influence: We look for businesses and organisations that are not only doing good work themselves, but are using their influence to ensure their peers and suppliers to do the same.

5. Sustainability and longevity: The judges seek to Award those businesses that understand that taking responsibly for tourism is a long journey, that it encompasses the economic, social and environmental impacts of their activities and who have a clear vision for the long
term success of the work, with future targets and plans in place.

6. Overall commitment to Responsible Tourism: Alongside the category-specific focus, there needs to be a clear overall commitment to positively impacting local communities, economies, cultures and environments.

In the first years of the Awards the judges looked for innovation-  for ways of taking responsibility across the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability. As the Awards evolved and practice in the sector improved we took more account of the sustainability and longevity of the applicant's practices and then of evidence provided on those impacts.

There is often a tension between novelty and evidence of impact, between the new idea and the evidence that it works. Often several years are necessary to demonstrate what can be achieved by taking responsibility and making a particular change. However, real change comes from the consistent application of an approach that has real positive impacts, impacts which move the business or destination closer to sustainability. Application over the full range of the business’s activities and over a few years is required to make significant change. Increasingly the judges will look for the routinization of innovations across a business or destination and at the impacts achieved.

This routinization is by its very nature more difficult to make exciting and innovative and to communicate its importance to consumers, governments and business partners. The challenge of communicating the importance and impacts of routinely addressing energy use, water consumption or employment and local sourcing over several years and successfully drawing attention to it is both significant and important. It is the routine of taking responsibility which achieves results at a scale which makes a difference. We need to achieve change at scale across the sustainability agenda.

We still look for innovation, we need more solutions. The judges focus not just on which companies, organisations and destinations are running the most inspiring projects, but also on those who can show the measurable impact of their work.

© 2020 The Responsible Tourism Partnership 
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