Second Annual Geotourism Change Summit Review

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Award-winning travel entrepreneurs share practices to preserve authenticity of place and local character

Loreto Bay
Geotourism at Loreto Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo by Simmons Buntin.

WASHINGTON (Feb. 4, 2010)—The Second Annual Geotourism Change Summit at  National Geographic headquarters showcased travel leaders from around the globe presenting success stories from both major cities to countrysides, all with the mutual purpose of preserving the character of the world’s special places and furthering sustainable travel.

The  200 attendees on Feb. 2 heard inspiring presentations by the winners of the 2009 Geotourism Challenge, sponsored by National Geographic and Ashoka’s Changemakers, as well as speakers discussing advances in geotourism and other new trends in sustainable travel.

Geotourism is 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.

“The forces of globalization are making places look just like the next one.  The Summit   honored those who have not bowed to mass tourism — in fact, they are offering the most authentic experiences possible,”  said Jonathan Tourtellot, director of National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations.

Award-winners ranged from river.India.com, the world’s first outfitter on the challenging Siang River, that has trained locals to be river guides, to Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, which took an abandoned brick factory and has turned it into a vital part of the city, with farmer’s markets, summer camps and an ice skating rink.

Tourtellot noted that despite terrorist threats, a shaky world economy and the increasing inconvenience of air travel, people are still traveling, and the number will likely top 1 billion international trips within very few years.

Other news from the Geotourism Summit:

  • Economist James Gilmore, coauthor of the books Authenticity: What Customers Really Want and The Experience Economy, provided the keynote address.  He said that the world is moving out of the “service economy” into what he calls an “experience economy” – a desire by consumers for authenticity and memorability. His message to travel entrepreneurs at the Summit: consumers now desire a combination of the “four E’s”:  entertainment, education, esthetic and escapism.
  • National Geographic unveiled its Geotourism Impact Map Concept, to be integrated into the Center for Sustainable Destinations website, and a testament to the proliferation of geotourism around the world. It will become a huge aggregate for geotourism practices and existing maps, available to both businesses and travelers.  It will also identify regions where geotourism activities are unknown and need help.
  • Details of the 2010 Geotourism Challenge were announced. The theme will be  “Places on the Edge: Saving Coastal Destinations.” Tourtellot noted the world’s coast lines, more than any other geographical feature, are under pressure from tourism.
  • Vanessa Healey, vice president, global brand marketing, InterContinental Hotel Group, was a member of the panel devoted to destination stewardship strategies. She shared how the hotel group has fully embraced geotourism, including training their 60,000 employees in how to help visitors “go local.” Information cards on local activities and history are often left at night on guests’ pillows.  Other comments from panelists:  “We must move from Joe Tourist to Joe Citizen;  “follow the locals’ lead”;  “travel is a life value.”
  • Geotourism Challenge-winner Alex Khajan, CEO of Nature Air in Costa Rica, conveyed the passion of Summit attendees to preserve the world’s special places.  “We are rebels by nature and want to be catalysts for change,” he said to the group when accepting his award.

The Geotourism Challenge is a global competition of tourism-related projects that promote natural and cultural heritage while improving the well-being of the local people. The 10 finalists honored at the Summit are the best of 610 entries from 81 countries,

“The Geotourism Change Summit offers an opportunity to showcase the true nature of tourism. These 10 innovators demonstrate not only that tourism needs a major rethinking, but also that these pioneers have already done it and are now leading initiatives to help alleviate poverty, conserve natural and cultural assets, and provide enriching experiences for visitors. If we want to know what the future of travel looks like, this is it,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Ashoka’s Changemakers.

The three Geotourism Challenge winners — Nature Air (Costa Rica), PEPY (Cambodia), and Wikiloc Community Maps (Spain) — were selected by online voting. Each received a $5,000 award at the Summit.  The winners:

  • Nature Air, the 100 percent carbon-neutral airline in Costa Rica, offsets 100 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions to encourage reforestation of tropical forests in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.
  • PEPY (“Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself”) is Cambodia’s Educational Volunteer Tourism Program, providing adventure bike tours and on-site volunteer projects, like building rainwater collection units.
  • Wikiloc Community Maps in Girona, Spain, created by a software engineer with a passion for travel, is built on maps, photos and video submitted to offer honest impressions about destinations.

The seven Geotourism Challenge runners-up:

For more details about the innovative work of all 10 finalists, go to www.changemakers.net/geotourismchallenge.

The Multilateral Investment Fund (FOMIN) joined forces with the National Geographic Society and Ashoka through the Changemakers Geotourism Challenge 2009 “Power of Place” competition. The goal was to capture regional creativity and demand as well as provide co-financing opportunities for small geotourism initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean that benefit local communities by improving the competitiveness, social use and sustainability of the tourism sector. The FOMIN received 319 proposals from 24 countries, selecting seven projects for co-financing.

About Ashoka’s Changemakers

Changemakers is an initiative of Ashoka, an organization with over three decades of finding, funding and expanding the work of social entrepreneurs across the globe. It is a global online community of action that connects people to share ideas, inspire and mentor each other, and find and support the best ideas in social innovation. The Changemakers online community builds on this history and expands the Ashoka vision by creating an “Everyone a Changemaker” world through networking, relationship-building and the sourcing of funding opportunities. Through its collaborative competitions and open-source process, Changemakers has created one of the world’s most robust laboratories for launching, refining and scaling ideas for solving the world’s most pressing social problems.

About National Geographic

The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,200 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit nationalgeographic.com. To learn more about the mission and work of the Center for Sustainable Destinations, visit www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable/.

About the Multilateral Investment Fund

The Multilateral Investment Fund (FOMIN) is an autonomous fund composed of 38 member countries that is administered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the main source of multilateral financing for development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Since 1993, the FOMIN has been providing grants, loans and equity investments for innovative projects that promote economic growth and poverty reduction through private sector development, focusing primarily on micro, small and medium enterprises. It is the largest private sector-focused development donor in the region, with an extensive network of over 650 local executing agency partners. Created in 2004, the FOMIN’s sustainable tourism cluster is a group of 27 projects in 19 countries aiming to increase the competitiveness of locally owned micro, small and medium enterprises by mainstreaming sustainability in the tourism sector.

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