Inclusive hotel tops World Responsible Tourism Awards

Employees at Lemon Tree Hotels

Employees at Lemon Tree Hotels

Lemon Tree Hotels is among the recipients of the World Responsible Tourism Awards for its inclusive employment initiatives targeting people with disabilities.

The hotel group in India is joint-overall winner with Tren Ecuador of the 2016 World Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by Belize and announced in a special ceremony held during World Responsible Tourism Day at WTM London.

Chosen from 13 finalists in five categories, the judges were unable to split the two overall-winners, commending both on the extent of the impacts they have had and their powerful potential to inspire real change within the tourism industry.

The third largest hotel chain in India, and the fastest-growing, Lemon Tree Hotels caught the judges’ attention in the ‘Best Accommodation for Responsible Employment’ category with their core programme to give opportunity-deprived Indians (those with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities, and those from socially-excluded groups) a route into employment. Tren Ecuador, which also took the Gold in the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction & Inclusion’ category, impressed for reversing the traditional approach of heritage and luxury train travel (a model where the guests remain cocooned on the train, isolated from the places they pass through) and instead creating shared value with local enterprises, creating 5000 livelihoods for local people in communities along the tracks.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel Professor Harold Goodwin, Chair of Judges said, “Lemon Tree Hotels are recognised for tackling, effectively, a major social problem in so many societies. A large corporate business backed by international investors successfully getting disabled and other opportunity-deprived people into the workforce in tourism and making this a core part of their operations is a powerful statement.

“The judges hold Tren Ecuador up as an outstanding, holistic example of how all tours should be designed, and feel that if all tourism was planned in this way it would be very effective at making better places in which to live, as well as better places to visit.”

Justin Francis, founder of the Awards and CEO of Responsible Travel said, “When I founded these awards in 2004 it was the aim to highlight what is possible to achieve through responsible tourism and hold the winners up as examples to be replicated by the wider tourism industry.

Lemon Tree Hotels & Tren Ecuador show clearly how big corporations can adopt responsible tourism as a core part of their business, be commercially successful and deliver significant benefits for local communities. These businesses move a more responsible style of tourism into the mainstream. They are the future of tourism”.

Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism for the Awards headline sponsor, the Belize Tourism Board said, “The Belize Tourism Board has always valued and embraced the principles and pillars of responsible travel so it’s a real privilege to support and congratulate all the winners of this year’s awards. We hope that not only will the finalists inspire businesses in Belize to follow their example, but that they will help drive positive change in tourism globally”.

Commenting on the calibre of the winners, Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director for World Travel Market London and Awards judge said, “The standard of entries into this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM London has been of a phenomenally high standard. As we celebrate ten years of World Responsible Tourism Day at WTM London, the joint winners perfectly demonstrate the type of projects WRTD is looking to highlight and encourage. Both winners put the local communities at the heart of what they are looking to deliver.”

The winners of all the 2016 Responsible Tourism Awards are as follows:

Best Accommodation for Responsible Employment – sponsored by Belize

Gold: Lemon Tree Hotels, India.

Judges reasons: “The third largest hotel chain in India, Lemon Tree Hotels are recognised for creating a socially inclusive work environment, employing people with disabilities and those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The company ethos is that people with disabilities must be provided the same opportunities as others to realize their full potential. Currently 25% of its staff ‘opportunity deprived Indians’ and they hope to increase this to 49% in the next 5 years. The judges are delighted to see a large major successful corporate with progressive employment practices at the heart of the business.”

Silver: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, South Africa.

Best Contribution to Wildlife Conservation – sponsored by the Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council

Gold: Sam Veasna Center, Cambodia.

Judges reasons: “The judges recognise the Sam Veasna Center for its highly replicable approach, whereby rural communities are trained in ecotourism, and contributions to community development funds are tied to tourist sightings of endangered species, creating an incentive to protect habitats and not to hunt. Overall Sam Veasna Center’s wildlife tours to eight community ecotourism sites have generated over two hundred thousand dollars in income for rural communities, over one hundred thousand dollars to wildlife conservation activities, including nest protection for endangered large birds, and over sixty thousand dollars in conservation contributions to community development funds.”

Silver: Misool Eco Resort, Indonesia.

Silver: Burj Al Arab Aquarium, Dubai.

Silver: East African Safari & Touring Co., Tanzania.

Best Innovation by a Tour Operator – sponsored by Belize

Gold: Elevate Destinations.

Judges reasons: “The judges were impressed by Elevate Destinations “Buy a Trip, Give a Trip” innovation, which using proceeds from clients payments, Elevate gives groups of children in the developing world a daytrip to access and experience the natural and cultural heritage of their homes. They have organised 13 trips in 12 destinations for 500 disadvantaged young people and the judges recognise that this is a simple, scalable idea, and one which democratises the travel experience. They hope that many more tour operators will follow their lead.”

Silver: Viaggi Solidali.

Best for Poverty Reduction & Inclusion – sponsored by the Tobago House of Assembly

Gold: Tren Ecuador, Ecuador.

Judges reasons: “The judges were impressed by the way in which Tren Ecuador has reversed the traditional approach of heritage and luxury train travel, a model where the guests remain cocooned on the train, isolated for the places they pass through. They instead have created shared value with 23 station-cafes, 14 artisanal squares, 13 local museums, 2 lodges, 9 folklore and historical recreation groups and several community-based tourism operations – all included as part of a tourist’s journey. The result is a family of associated enterprises which creates 5000 livelihoods for people in local communities along the tracks.”

Silver: Sapa O’Chau, Vietnam.

Silver: !Xaus Lodge, South Africa.

Best Responsible Tourism Campaign – sponsored by Exodus Travels

Gold: Friends International – Childsafe Movement.

Judges reasons: “The judges were impressed by how the Childsafe Movement has addressed a broad range of issues including child sexual abuse, trafficking, child labour, begging and unnecessary institutionalization among others and more recently orphanage tourism and voluntourism. Praised for its holistic approach and its growth since its Silver at these awards in 2013, the movement now works in 18 countries and over 9,000 children have received support directly from Childsafe. The judges hope this award will encourage still more individuals, destinations and businesses to engage with the ChildSafe Movement – it is needed everywhere.”

Silver: World Cetacean Alliance, UK.

Full details of the 2016 Gold & Silver Winners can be found on the Awards website at

The full judges’ reasons can be found at:

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