Through the creation of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, along with the growing popularity of the World Legacy Awards in partnership with ITB Berlin, National Geographic seems to be changing in its outlook. We asked Costas Christ, Director of Sustainable Tourism, National Geographic Travel to tell us more about the group’s aims in growing these activities…
National Geographic has always been dedicated to inspiring people to care about the planet. It is at the core of our mission. We do this through our many scientific, educational and travel programs. The creation of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World Collection is an outgrowth of that mission – to identify the world’s most unique, spectacular and sustainable travel destinations for travellers to learn more about the cultural and natural wonders of our planet, and to help protect them for future generations. Similarly, the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, which were first launched in 2002, are about recognising those travel companies and countries that are committed to making the world a better place through sustainable tourism principles and practices.
Please tell us more about how the Unique Lodges of the World came about and how this additional resource to the Tourism industry is different from existing selection in that field of luxury?
To begin with, we would not describe the Unique Lodges of the World Collection as a luxury hotel group though it does include some of the most extraordinary properties in the world, which provide a very high level of service and experiences. It is a carefully vetted collection of hotels and lodges that embrace authenticity, offer great guest services, and champion sustainability, ranging from comfortable jungle ecolodges to high end private island resorts. Each property reflects the attributes of National Geographic – extraordinary travel experiences in some of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural environments, a commitment to conservation, support for protecting cultural heritage, and reflecting a sense of place. Each property undergoes a rigorous selection process, based upon detailed criteria that also includes an on site inspection of every lodge in the collection.
What new properties have been added over the past year and what is special about them?
Our collection is now up to 55 lodges. There are too many new properties over the past 12 months to list them all here, but here is a sampling to give you an idea of some of these special places –
Bushmans Kloof – This small family-owned nature reserve and wellness retreat located a three hour drive from Cape Town in South Africa, protects 7500 hectares of high biodiversity wilderness, including more than 100 ancient rock art paintings, within the Cape Floral Kingdom, a UNESCO World World Heritage Site. Expert local guides join guests on daily activities to learn about this amazing place, including their organic gardens, which provide their top restaurant with fresh healthy ingredients.
Churchill Wild Nanuk – This small wilderness lodge in the remote Canadian Arctic Tundra, offers travellers a unique and exciting experience to see wild polar bears in their native habitat. Guests also learn about the migratory patterns of Arctic bird life, the history of ancient Inuit indigenous communities, and the impacts of climate change on our planet.
Belcampo – Protecting 4,856 hectares of rainforest in southern Belize, this 17-room ecolodge provides guests with an opportunity to learn about the tropical jungle and also the traditional people that live in the area, including the Maya and Garifuna cultures. Belcampo is also a working organic farm, producing small-scale artisan cacao. Guests can make their own chocolate, go on guided kayaking or hiking excursions, and also visit ancient Mayan ruins.
Our future plans for National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World are to continue to promote sustainable tourism by supporting the incredible lodges that are part of the collection
Why is the promotion of responsible tourism so important today?
In 1950, there were 25 million international tourist arrivals. Last year, there were more than 1 billion international travellers, and that number is expected to nearly double within the next 15 years, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. In short, there are more travellers, more places to go, and more ways to get there than ever before. With that comes an even greater responsibility to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures. Tourism can be a threat or an opportunity to people and the planet. It becomes a positive opportunity to support and improve local peoples livelihoods and protect biodiversity, by embracing and supporting sustainable tourism practices.
What are your future plans in this field?
At National Geographic, we believe in the power of travel to make the world a better place based upon the three pillars of sustainable tourism:
- Environmentally-Friendly Practices
- Support for Protecting Cultural and Natural Heritage
- Direct Social and Economic Benefits to Local People
All combined together in an incredible and meaningful travel experience. Our future plans for National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World are to continue to promote sustainable tourism by supporting the incredible lodges that are part of the collection, and to bring on new destinations that share our sustainable tourism values and contribute to collection’s geographic and experiential diversity.