Sustainability

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Costas Christ, scouting new ecotourism locations in the Arctic.

Virtuoso's Commitment

Travel helps protect natural and cultural heritage for future generations.

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As one of the largest travel organizations in the world, Virtuoso is guided by a philosophy of excellence in service, care for people, and care for the planet. We believe that travel is a powerful catalyst to educate and protect natural and cultural heritage for future generations. 

The United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism, which inspired Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch and his family to rethink their vacation strategy. “We decided to focus our family vacations around destinations, hotels, and tour companies known for enlightened environmental practices and cultural preservation,” says Matthew.

Their first trip was to the Brando Resort in French Polynesia. 
 
Costas Christ, an award-winning travel writer and pioneer of sustainable travel practices, serves as Virtuoso’s director of sustainability. We asked him about the history of sustainability and what is being done to ensure future generations can travel to the places we love.
 
1.  Why is sustainability an important topic?
 
One of the most significant transformations underway in travel today is the idea that we can have the trip of a lifetime while also caring for the local people and places that we visit.  Sustainability is not a trend, in that sense, but rather an evolution of travel – and Virtuoso is committed to being on the cutting edge of innovation in the global travel community. Travelers have more places to go and more ways to get there than ever before, and with that comes an even greater responsibility to safeguard the world's cultural and natural treasures for future generations. There were more than one billion international travelers last year – we believe that provides a billion opportunities to make the world a better place, and the way to get there is by embracing sustainable tourism best practices.
 
That is also why we launched the Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards in 2011 to shine a spotlight on how the preferred tour companies, hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and other specialty partners in our network are changing travel in innovative and inspiring ways. In addition, a growing volume of recent research studies, including by the World Travel and Tourism Council, indicates that travelers prefer companies that are committed to social good and green practices. Virtuoso travel advisors can attest to this, as many report a rising interest in travel with meaning.
 
Whether it is watching a family of wild elephants gathered at a water hole on the plains of Africa or listening to the melodious chanting of monks in a mountain top monastery in Bhutan, when we travel the right way, the sustainable way, we are investing in a better and brighter future for the planet and our children. For Virtuoso clients, the idea that travel can deliver such a personally rewarding and enjoyable experience, while also giving back at the same time - well, that is the travel magic they are seeking.
 
2.  What are the three pillars of sustainable tourism? 
  • Environmentally-friendly operations: The fundamentals of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” that go with being a travel company that embraces green practices.
  • Support for the protection of natural and cultural heritage: For example, support for wildlife conservation organizations or collaborating with scientific research projects aimed at protecting nature.  Likewise, safeguarding cultural heritage, whether that means helping to protect archaeological treasures, supporting traditional handicrafts, or promoting authenticity and local character that celebrate cultural diversity.
  • Social and economic benefits to local communities - For example, hiring local staff as a priority, providing fair wages and benefits, and supporting locally-owned businesses as much as possible.
 
 3. How does travel as a whole help push sustainability forward?
 
Twenty-six years ago, a dozen passionate travelers and conservationists gathered in a historic farm house outside of Washington DC. Our aim was to connect conservation and travel in a new and dynamic way. That meeting gave rise to the ecotourism movement of the 1990s – defined as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Ecotourism’s nature-based roots led to the birth of sustainable tourism in 2002 – taking the same caring principles and applying them across all forms of tourism, from urban hotels to cruise lines and more. Combined, this has helped educate millions of international travelers about how we can live more sustainably on a finite planet. It is a growing and evolving movement to make the world a better place – and Virtuoso is proud to be a part of it.

Recent Articles
Ted Turner Expeditions: Turner opens three personal ranches (and models of sustainable tourism) to guests.
 
Virtuoso’s Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards
Past winners and nominees
 
2016
Winner: &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Nominees:
Blancaneaux Lodge, Belize
Cavallo Point – The Lodge at Golden Gate, Sausalito, California
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa, Trancoso, Brazil
 
2015
Winner: The Brando, French Polynesia
Nominees:
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
Post Ranch Inn, California, USA
The Peninsula Tokyo, Japan
Uxua Casa Hotel and Spa, Brazil
 
2014
Winner: Cuixmala, Mexico
Nominees:
Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland, Canada
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, New Mexico
Singita Grumeti Reserves, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
 
2013
Winner: The Savoy, London
Nominees:
&Beyond Phinda Reserve, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa
Fregate Island, Seychelles
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
Soneva Fushi, Malé Republic of Maldives

2012
Winner: Lefay Resorts and SPA Lago di Garda, Italy
Nominees:
Inn by the Sea, Maine
Round Hill Hotel & Villas, Jamaica
Singita Game Reserves, Africa
The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai, India
 
2011
Winner: Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico
Nominees:
Fregate Island, Seychelles
El Silencio Lodge & Spa, Costa Rica
Intercontinental Fiji
 
2010
Winner: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
Nominees:
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, Australia (Now Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley)
Le Quartier Français, Franschhoek, South Africa
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Arizona