And the 2020 winners are...

And the 2020 winners are...

If you want to champion sustainable tourism when you visit Thailand, get in touch with these award-winning ventures and organisations

Turtles hatch and scuttle down white sand beaches. Elephants stomp through thick jungle while clear seas hide a rainbow of coral. This is Thailand, and its incredible landscapes and wildlife deserve to be protected.

This year has seen most of the world shut off to tourism, but Thailand has discovered a silver lining to this problem. Without the usual crowds of visitors, the country’s extraordinary natural habitats have been given time to heal. It is now arguably more important than ever to ensure Thailand’s wildlife and natural spaces are protected when visitors return. Enter the Responsible Thailand Awards, which recognises the outstanding contributions that companies have made to grow Thailand as a sustainable tourist destination. Drum roll please, for the 2020 winners…

Marine & Nature

Winner: Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort (for its Marine Discovery Centre)
Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort enjoys a secluded, pristine tropical island location overlooking Loh Ba Gao Bay on Koh Phi Don. The resort offers a host of entertaining and educational activities, including eco-discoveries at the onsite Marine Discovery Centre. Run by a resident marine biologist, this ground-breaking facility is dedicated to the conservation of Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi National Park, the vast tropical reserve that surrounds the resort.

Judges' comments: 
"The judges were delighted to see that Phi Phi Resort is doing more than just pay lip-service to conservation and the green agenda. The Marine Discovery Centre is a really practical project which will be of benefit not just to the hotel, but to the neighbouring community as well. It also offers guests an outstanding range of activities for their eco-conscious guests.”

 

Community Based Tourism

Winner: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary
This elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai has been working to bring elephants home to the forest for over four years but has been closed to visitors this year due to the pandemic. Despite this, the sanctuary has continued to work and provide for the elephants in its care, the other elephants that have been forced to return to  the area due to camp closures, and to its local community too.

Judges' comments: 
“Beyond elephant welfare, this organisation demonstrates a laudable commitment to the livelihoods of the local community. This includes involvement in homestays, the provision of English lessons and – crucially in 2020 – support during the economic ravages of Covid-19. A really impressive approach; we salute them.”

Runner up: The Tuk Tuk Club
“This is a tour operator with a difference, offering innovative programmes that encourage a back to nature approach as they take clients off the beaten track. What better way to engage with Thailand and its people, than staying with local communities while touring in a tuk-tuk.”

 

Animal Welfare

Winner: Samui Elephant Sanctuary  
Samui Elephant Sanctuary is the first ethical elephant sanctuary on Koh Samui. The goal of the organisation is to rescue and rehabilitate elephants that have endured a life of abuse from extensive work in the tourism or logging industry – a dramatic contrast to the dignified, peaceful lives they now enjoy in Samui Elephant Sanctuary's care.

Judges’ comments: 
"This sanctuary is pleasingly pro-active, with a schools programme, presentations to tour operators, and most innovatively the setting up of an elephant medical clinic. We were impressed to see the reach of high ethical standards, expanded through the opening a second sanctuary. We were also encouraged by the manner in which the principles of elephant welfare are communicated to the visiting public.”

Runner up: BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary
"Refreshing to see that BEES is all about quality and variety rather than quantity, with only three elephants, but with a variety of other animals. What comes through in their submission is their passion for their project."

Eco Lodge / Hotel

Winner: Koh Jum Beach Villas 
Koh Jum Beach Villas, formally Gold Certified with Travelife, sets the highest sustainable luxury benchmark for island resort living in Thailand. 

Judges' comments:
"There is so much to admire about this property. From the low-energy lighting to the availability of bikes and from their work with Trash Hero to the planting of sea grass and mangroves, it is easy to see that this is an eco-property in so many varied ways. We were impressed by the zero interest loans for locals to start businesses, and to the attention to detail in tackling a broad and extensive range of environmental issues. They get guests involved in their initiatives too. Truly impressive.”

Runner Up: Banyan Tree
"No wonder this property has won an Earthcheck Gold Award. From the innovative provision of smart phones in the rooms to the weekly lessons from the CSR Manager, this is an eco-lodge in the true sense of the word."

Hotel

Winner: Khaolak Merlin
Khaolak Merlin Resort is a unique eco resort in Khaolak, Thailand. Boasting a beachfront location and 16 acres of tropical garden which is home to hundreds of plant species and various wildlife, the resort is known for retaining the natural coastal rainforest during the construction of the hotel.

Judges’ comments:
"From their work with the Love Wildlife Foundation and their development of a water project, this is clearly a hotel with an eco-agenda which lifts it above other properties. And their slow loris project tops their list of achievements. A combination of uncompromising green standards in the resort, with support for the local environment and wildlife, has made this a winning entry.”

Runner Up: Pimalai Resort & Spa
"This is a hotel with a difference. With beach-cleaning programmes, and a project to work with some 15 schools, this is clearly a hotel that reached out beyond the property itself. And their five-year targets show they do not intend to rest on their laurels. Plaudits are particularly deserved for Pimalai’s long-term view.”

Green steps

Winner: Nutty's Adventure
Nutty’s Adventures is a tour operator dedicated to sustainable tourism and certified by Travelife. The company focusses mainly on community-based tourism operated in a way that brings benefit to all stake holders. So that the benefits of tourism can be enjoyed by as many people as possible, it now operates tours that are accessible to travellers with disabilities. 

Judges' comments: 
"It is refreshing to see a tour operator with a determination to work with the local community. But far more importantly, their innovative programmes for clients with disabilities and visual impairment makes them stand out amongst the tour operators of Thailand. A worthy winner."

Runner Up: Mangosteen
"The emphasis this property places upon the provision of eco-conscious wellness facilities makes them stand out amongst other properties."

How the winners are picked

In July 2020 we asked Wanderlust readers and the UK travel trade to nominate the Thailand-based organisations and resorts that they felt were most deserving of recognition for their green initiatives and tireless efforts to promote sustainable tourism. The criteria for judging included the sustainability of each of the projects and organisations, their demonstrable successes, and the legacy of benefits for both Thailand and international visitors. It was difficult to choose the final winners , but the decision was finally made by a judging panel that consisted of: Derek Moore (AITO); Clare Jenkinson (ABTA); Martin Symington (travel journalist); and Lyn Hughes (editor-in-chief of Wanderlust).