Earlier this year, Blue & Green Tomorrow published an in-depth guide to sustainable tourism, and two of the companies we featured have just received prestigious accolades at the Guardian and Observer Travel Awards 2012. Jonny Bealby, founder and managing director of Wild Frontiers, provides reaction to his company’s excellent achievement.
As I fell asleep last night, in a hotel bed in Ghent – long past midnight and a little the worse for wear – I ruminated on the proudest moments of my life. So if you’ll forgive me a moment’s gloating, chronologically, this was the top five.
Leading the under-13s cricket team through an unbeaten season (including whipping the staff) in 1976 for which I received a shiny new cricket ball.
Appearing on TV in 1987 on the first of only two occasions with my band, Tin Gods.
In July 1995, holding in my hand for the first time the hardback edition of my first book, Running with the Moon.
Receiving a hearty round of applause from a packed Royal Geographical Society having just delivered the Christmas lecture in 1998.
And last night – picking up the Best Ethical Travel Company gong from the 26th Guardian and Observer Travel Awards 2012.
In Britain, we are often rather self-effacing about winning such awards and I know that with such a commendation comes as many questions as answers. Indeed, when I texted the Wild Frontiers staff to inform them I’d just picked up the prize (from a delicious-looking Mariella Frostrop by the way), one manager texted back asking if we truly deserved it. He wasn’t alone; I’d asked myself the same question.
But when I got to thinking about it, I decided that we were probably as deserving as any. Not for the obvious reasons of having created our own charitable foundation through which we support development projects in the countries to which we travel. But more because I feel the trips we facilitate are responsible and ethical at their very core.
And I don’t mean that in any ‘holier than thou’ sense either. It’s simply that the best experiences for our clients come from delivering tours that work this way.
Our Hindu Kush Explorer tour in northern Pakistan was the first trip I set up and the one we have used as a template ever since; using local hotels, guesthouses and homestays, employing local jeep drivers, cooks and guides – and paying them well so they are happy in their work – and only allowing a maximum group size of either 10 or 12, simply leads to a better experience for our clients, which in turn makes us a more successful company.
The same is as true in Rajasthan and Kashmir in India as it is in Argentina, Afghanistan, Cambodia or Ethiopia. Indeed, most ethical policy I believe does generally deliver a win-win outcome.
I know there is a lot more we can do to improve our adventures; both for our clients and for the people whose lands we are lucky enough to tread. And we shall use this award as a stepping-stone, an encouragement, to do more and make them even better. But I don’t mind admitting that it felt pretty good to have our small contribution to the world of responsible travel acknowledged and lauded by such an august and informed panel of judges.
A very nice 10th anniversary present, for 10 years of hard work… and play!
Jonny Bealby is founder and managing director of award-winning responsible adventure travel company, Wild Frontiers. He appears in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Tourism, which was published in May 2012.