By Jeff Chu, Heidi Mitchell and Gisela Williams
Apr 6, 2022
THE TRAVEL + LEISURE Global Vision Awards aim to identify and recognize companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences from the farthest reaches of Asia to the global capitals of Europe. Not only are our honorees demonstrating leadership and creative problem-solving — they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. We hope they inspire industry colleagues and fellow travelers to do their part.
Below are 7 of this year’s Global Vision Awards winners, all having an impact on our lives and travels in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taj Wellington Mews, Chennai
With spectacular touches like a 14-meter-tall chandelier and sun-soaked swimming pool, the 112-room Taj Wellington Mews in the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR)-IT corridor of Chennai has all the flair you’d expect from a luxury hotel. But as South Asia’s first all-women-managed luxury hotel, it also represents an innovative model for economic growth. Women head up every department, and the benefits include extended maternity leave, on-site babysitting facilities, and reimbursement for family expansion, including IVF treatments. The idea is that these kinds of smart, inclusive practices will encourage more women to grow their careers, ultimately creating opportunities that expand downward generationally and outward nationally. The property’s parent company, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), which was founded in 1868 by Jamsetji Tata and is still part of global behemoth Tata Enterprises, continues to lead the charge toward gender equality, providing programs in underserved communities to teach women the skills they need to enter the hospitality industry. — H.M.
When restaurateurs Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, both veterans of San Francisco’s famed Mission Chinese and the Perennial, started the nonprofit Zero Foodprint in 2015, its goal was to help restaurants analyze and reduce their carbon emissions. But they quickly learned that the vast majority of the emissions did not happen in the kitchen. “It started to feel almost pointless to analyze restaurants,” Myint says. “About 70 percent of the carbon footprint was from fertilizer, plowing, all those things — an empirical reason to shift to how ingredients are produced. But if California is on fire and has a mega-drought, that’s not solved by a few people shopping at the farmers’ market.”
So Zero Foodprint pivoted. Its core activity is now what Myint calls “a table-to-farm effort” toward structural change in agriculture. Myint and Leibowiz recruit restaurants to add an (optional) one percent surcharge to customers’ bills, and those funds are pooled and funneled to subsidize regenerative practices. Farmers and ranchers bid for grants; after their proposed improvements are rated for climate benefit, local conservation experts are hired to help implement the projects. “Our goal is really to create a scalable funding mechanism to change acres,” Myint explains. “We’re changing how food is grown to restore the climate. It’s a win-win for any community: water conservation, carbon sequestration, better food.”
Zero Foodprint, which won Humanitarian of the Year in the 2020 James Beard Awards, remains relatively small: Fewer than 100 establishments around the world are currently signed up. But Myint is encouraged that nearly no customer opts out of the fee — “most people don’t even notice” — and participants include not just high-end restaurants like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, but also five Subway locations in Boulder, Colorado.
Hong Kong is Zero Foodprint’s first market in Asia, and the Global Vision Awards winner has already signed up favorites including Aaharn, Ando, BEDU, Limewood, Mono, Mott 32, Sip Song, Uma Nota, Estro, Potato Head, and Sustainabl. Up next: Zero Foodprint’s annual Earth Week Campaign, which will see even more restaurants around the world donating a portion of the week’s profits to regenerative agriculture projects. Their model shows that change is possible, if we invest together. — J.C.
Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström Shivdasani put the Maldives on the traveler’s map in 1995 when they opened the Indian Ocean archipelago’s first luxury resort, Soneva Fushi, in the Baa Atoll. Now the couple, who currently operate four properties under the Soneva Resorts banner, are tackling the far greater task of saving the country from rising sea levels. In response to dire warnings from climatologists, they have established SCIE:NCE, short for Sustainability and Conservation for Island Ecosystems through Nurturing Collaborative Endeavors. Led by Dutch biologist Dr. Bart Knols, the group is at the forefront of coral propagation, using 3-D printers at its Soneva Fushi lab to restore and regrow damaged reefs. The center’s scientists are also enacting solutions to other pressing environmental issues, such as eradicating invasive mosquitoes, banning single-use plastics, and recycling wastewater. All breakthroughs and resulting programs are shared with the Maldives’ other resorts and islands in an effort to create widespread change at a time when, Knols says, there is no alternative. “The impacts of climate change hit us in the face faster and more dramatically than we could have envisioned,” he says. “I don’t need to provide more reasons for doing what we do. We have no choice.” — H.M.
In 2018, while on vacation in Hawaii, Jeremy Bank was playing on the beach with his daughter when he noticed her collecting tiny blue fragments in the sand — what he thought were pieces of shells. “On closer inspection, they were bits of plastic,” he says, and they were everywhere. “It wasn’t like that 20 years ago. If it’s changed so much in one generation, what is it going to be like for my children’s children?” This is the guiding question of YY Nation, Bank’s fledgling New Zealand–based footwear brand that, from the start, has etched environmental consciousness into every process and every product. The uppers of YY Nation’s shoes are crafted from merino wool and a faux leather made from pineapple husk, typically a waste product that gets burned after harvest; outsoles are made from algae, sugarcane, and recycled rubber. To minimize waste created during manufacturing, offcuts from the soles are transformed into flooring material. And at the end of a shoe’s life, YY Nation invites customers to return them to be repurposed or recycled. — J.C.
Mongolia River Outfitters + Fish Mongolia
Once upon a time, a fish called the taimen swam rivers from Europe’s Danube basin eastward to Asia’s Pacific coast. The largest member of the salmon family, taimen can grow to two meters long and more than 100 kilograms, fattened by a diet of trout, grayling, and even beavers and gophers. (Taimen are apex predators.) But their range and numbers have shrunk drastically as their home waters have been polluted and dammed. All of the world’s five taimen species are listed as vulnerable or endangered, some critically, by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Two of the world’s only taimen sanctuaries can be found in Mongolia. One is on the Onon River, a tributary of the Amur; the other is on the Delger, whose waters eventually join the Yenisey. The sanctuaries are managed by Mongolia River Outfitters and Fish Mongolia, both subsidiaries of the tour operator Nomadic Journeys that focus on fly-fishing expeditions. Only catch-and-release fishing is permitted in the sanctuaries — and only with permits, which are limited by the government to 100 per river per year. Dozens of jobs have been created, helping local communities see the value of healthy taimen populations; former poachers were hired as guides. Some 600 miles of river have been protected, helping both to stabilize taimen populations and to grow hope for their future.— J.C.
One of the world’s largest casino-hotel groups is betting big on the future. The company’s first push for the environment came when construction began on a 160-acre solar farm at Wynn Las Vegas. Since its completion in 2018, it has helped reduce the Strip hotel’s carbon footprint by 20 percent. But what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas: Wynn Resorts expanded its sustainability efforts to all of its properties, from the Encore Boston Harbor, which gets energy from a rooftop solar array and four-megawatt batteries, to the Wynn Macau, where restaurant kitchens have cut 70 percent of food waste since 2019. The brand has set the goals of reaching net-zero carbon emissions across its portfolio by 2050 and switching 50 percent of its energy use to renewables by 2030. “We are constantly identifying ways to contribute to a stronger, healthier planet, without compromising our high-quality guest experiences,” says CEO Craig Billings. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” — H.M.
Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission
Five years ago, the government of the south Indian state of Kerala unveiled a groundbreaking new agency. Its charge: to use tourism as a platform to eradicate poverty, empower women, and safeguard the environment. Its philosophy? “Making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” Since then, the Responsible Tourism Mission has carefully mapped the state, identifying communities with rich but overlooked cultural expertise. A new database connects artists and performers with players in the tourism industry. Farmers are trained to host visitors on their land. And new itineraries highlight (and produce new income streams for) artisans. These include visits to ceramicists in the hamlet of Nellarachal and metalworkers in Kunhimangalam — a town long known for its handcrafted bells and Hindu idols. RT Mission also has environmental initiatives — cleaning waterways, for example, or implementing more efficient waste-management practices — in nearly two dozen communities, from the Arabian Sea village of Mararikulam in the west to Thekkady, on Kerala’s eastern border, which abuts a sanctuary for elephants and Bengal tigers.— J.C.
To read the complete list of this year’s Global Vision Awards winners, visit travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/responsible-travel/global-vision-awards
In order to ensure that a broad spectrum of people, places, and projects were represented, we assembled a panel of experts across the travel, hospitality, retail, and non-profit sectors. This panel changes every year, but is always made up of thought leaders who have made concerted efforts to support more eco-friendly and socially responsible initiatives in their personal and professional lives. Each panelist submitted a list of nominations, along with a short explanation for each pick. T+L’s editors and special correspondents did the same.
Panelists were prohibited from nominating themselves or their own projects. Some panelists may be affiliated with honorees on this year’s list; those honorees were chosen without regard to the makeup of the panel. All nominations were vetted and evaluated by the Travel + Leisure editorial team.
The Awards Panel
Neha Arora is the founder and managing director of tour operator Planet Abled, which organizes accessible itineraries in South and Southeast Asia.
Bill Bensley is the founder and creative director of Bensley, a Bangkok- and Bali-based design studio.
Nina Faulhaber and Meg He are the founders and co-CEOs of sustainable clothing brand Aday.
Keith Henry is president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
Amanda Ho is the co-founder of Regenerative Travel, a consortium of sustainable and socially responsible hotels.
Jeninne Lee-St. John is the editor in chief of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.
Gregory Miller is the executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel.
Lindsey Ofcacek is the co-founder and managing director of the LEE Initiative, a nonprofit focused on equity in the U.S. restaurant industry.
Shalmali Rao Paterson is a senior travel consultant at adventure-focused tour operator Wild Frontiers.
Mads Refslund is a chef and the culinary director at Shou Sugi Ban House in Water Mill, New York.
Indré Rockefeller is the co-founder of Paravel, a Climate Neutral Certified luggage brand.
Paul Tumpowsky is the founder and CEO of luxury travel company Skylark.
Luis Vargas is the founder and CEO of small-group cultural tour operator Modern Adventure.
With T+L’s editors and special correspondents.