Tourdust scholarship winners

Back in spring we decided to get involved with the Geotourism 09 prize.  The process of collecting entries from all over the world, sorting them and picking three winners has finally come to a conclusion.  We can announce that RiverIndia, CapeRace and Ger to Ger are our winners.

To me, Geotourism is travelling to experience (and support) local culture, local places and local people (you can read more about this in my previous blog on Geotourism).   Our three winners are all putting on simply amazing adventure travel and cultural travel experiences, that they are all managing to do so whilst putting huge amounts back into the local communities is a miracle!

  1. Ger to Ger provide deep cultural immersion in Mongolia offering homestays, guided trekking, and horseback expeditions along nomadic trails.  Ger to Ger trains nomadic herders and teams them up with local guides to give travellers a thoroughly authentic taste of Mongolia.  We were delighted to pick Ger to Ger because our inspiration to start Tourdust came during a stay with a nomadic family in Mongolia.  There were a fair few disneyfied nomadic camps around, but we got lucky. With Ger to Ger you know you are staying with a real nomadic herder family - I can honestly say that there is nothing else like it on earth, the nomadic way of life is so different from the West, it is simply enlightening.  I was particularly tickled whan I read that they mongolize the visitors rather than westernising the nomads.
  2. Cape Race is a unique eco-cultural experience in Newfoundland, Canada.  You stay in three spectacular historic coastal homes and explore unique and out-of-the-way nature sites, pubs and music venues under your own steam.  The key is a tailor-made professional guide book written specifically for your trip and full of local contacts. Cape Race is trying to facilitate the ultimate aim of any independent traveller, to explore and get to know a place as only a local could.  We love that they try to give you real local contacts at each pub or place they recommend.  Importantly they also strive to ensure local encounters are spontaneous and authentic and never staged.
  3. River India offers culturally-immersive white-water rafting, kayaking, and fishing expeditions on the undiscovered but epic Siang River.  Whilst the region is undiscovered and the river truly epic, what really marks River India out is their approach to protecting the river environment and supporting the local economy.  River India supports and operates a river skills school which trains and supports locals to set up their own companies on the river.  So many adventure holidays are all about the adventure and forget about the local people and place.  River India serves up the ultimate river adventure whilst putting you up in traditional local bamboo huts and dishing up local food. That they can manage this and put so much back into the local community is awe inspiring.

Geotourism 09 Challenge BannerWe spend a large portion of our time trying to find really authentic operators who have a genuine local expertise and run thing the way we like them run (small groups, expert guides, owners involved in operations, fantastic experiences).  We were looking for a way to publicise this search with a contest to find the the most innovative exciting small travel companies from around the world and the Geotourism contest is a superb vehicle for it thanks to the efforts of the Ashoka Changemakers organisation.  Ashoka Changemakers organise the Geotourism 09 contest and it is heavily supported by the National Geographic magazine.

We thought long and hard about the prize and have come up with something we hope will make a real and sustainable difference to the winners.  There is a financial element to the prize which includes budget towards online marketing and participation at an International travel show.  The other element is a mentor relationship with experienced travel industry professionals:

Christina Heyniger: Founder of Off The Radar and Xola Consulting Services, which works with owner-operators and innovative organizations blending adventure tourism and volunteer service. Christina is an Associate with the Adventure Travel Trade Association and serves on the board of directors for Sustainable Travel International, and Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself - an adventure travel/ volunteer tourism organization. She also serves as an advisor to the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Development.

Alex Bainbridge: Authoritative & insightful blogger on the travel ecommerce industry.  Alex is the founder and MD of Tour CMS, a web-based reservation system designed for small and medium-sized tour operators.  Alex has significant expertise in harnessing ecommerce and social media for small travel businesses.

Chris Noble: General Manager of World Nomads and co-founder of Footprintsnetwork. Footprintsnetwork is an alliance of online e-commerce companies making a difference with a solution that supports sustainable poverty alleviation community programs.

Photo of Ger courtesy of Flickr user the wandering angel.


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