Virtuoso Travel Week: What’s in store for sustainability?

Ecology tourism concept. 3D illustration on wooden background.
Edited by Travel Weekly

    Virtuoso hosted its “Under One Sky” lunch during the 35th annual Virtuoso Travel Week, taking place this week in Las Vegas. Under One Sky brought together the network’s top advisors and preferred partners who share a passion and commitment to creating a more sustainable future for travel and tourism.

    This year, Virtuoso initiated a study that would allow a systematic approach to cataloguing the sustainability efforts of its partners and, eventually, its member agencies. More than 215 Virtuoso preferred partners from over 60 countries participated in this initial in-depth look into best practices, completing some 50 questions.

    What came out of it is a look at what these sustainability leaders are doing to lift up the travel space. As a living, breathing report, the Virtuoso Impact Report, Sustainable Travel – 2023, factors in the current findings, but allows ongoing partner participation that will update in real-time, effectively creating a database of sustainable practices that can be used to identify trends and insights from the luxury perspective.

    At the lunch, Virtuoso VP of sustainability, Javier Arredondo, presented report findings before the event’s nearly 300 attendees, including the following key insights.

    • The 215-plus Virtuoso partners that participated collectively represent over 3,000 sustainability initiatives that support Virtuoso’s three pillars of sustainability: Protecting the planet (50%), celebrating & honouring cultures (30%) and supporting local economies (20%), with plans to expand programs by 20 per cent.
    • These Virtuoso partners collectively offset 200,000 metric tons of carbon in the last year, and 55 partners plan to be Net Zero by 2050. Additional partners have plans to be Net Zero in the next 20 years or sooner.
    • Forty-two per cent of these partners have their own foundation or partner with outside foundations to support causes including biodiversity, climate change, disaster relief, education, women’s rights and more.
    • Participating partners have created over a quarter of a million jobs in their local communities throughout more than 60 countries.
    • Equitable inclusion leads the list of efforts among these Virtuoso partners, with 81 per cent having programs to support gender equality and empower women, while 64 per cent have efforts to support their guests’ education on respectful interaction with local culture, 55 per cent have efforts to support and promote indigenous culture and communities, and 42 per cent are implementing or aiding in cultural restoration projects.
    • These Virtuoso partners also collectively comprise over 28,000 square miles (72,000 square kilometers) in active land conservation efforts, equalling a total area larger than Ireland.

    Virtuoso honoured top leaders in the space, while also sharing findings from its new “Virtuoso Impact Report, Sustainable Travel – 2023,” an ongoing study that tracks sustainable contributions amongst Virtuoso’s partnership and the results of their efforts.

    Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch and Jessica Hall Upchurch, Virtuoso’s Vice Chair & Sustainability Strategist, awarded two of the network’s member agencies with Sustainability Ambassador and Sustainability Practice Awards, while three additional award categories based on Virtuoso’s three pillars of sustainability – Protecting the Planet, Celebrating & Honoring Cultures and Supporting Local Economies – were voted on live during Under One Sky and presented to the winning partners.

    “When we began this journey of supporting our partners, educating our advisors and informing their clients on what traveling sustainably means, our goal was simple: To make sustainability a greater factor in consumer choice when planning travel, so that those who do good are successful,” said Hall Upchurch. “Today, we have come so much further than that and as we recognize our members and partners for what they’re doing to make the world of travel even better for today and in the future, we are inspired by how much good can happen when we all come together in support of a shared value and goal.”

    Check out a list of the winners below:

    Protecting the Planet:

    Recognising a Virtuoso Partner that has taken a lead in protecting and preserving the globe and/or promoting sustainable practices in their local community or around the world.

    Winner: Singita

    The rewilding project in Singita Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, restores habitat for the critically endangered mountain gorillas, exemplifying sustainable conservation through land rehabilitation, environmentally sensitive construction and localized socio-economic impact, resulting in increased wildlife populations and biodiversity while creating 700 jobs and contributing $1.15 million to the local community.

    Supporting Local Economies:

    Applauding a Virtuoso Partner who has made a positive financial impact on a local or global community. Their generosity has improved conditions, circumstances, and livelihoods whether for a day, a month, or long term. 

    Winner: Micato Safaris 

    Micato-AmericaShare uplifts underprivileged communities in Kenya through the power of education. Teaming up with Huru International, they break down barriers to champion young girls’ futures with reusable hygiene product and health education. Together, they empower children to continue learning and pursue their dreams.

    Celebrating Culture:

    Honoring a Virtuoso Partner that is a driving force in transforming and impacting others in their community, the travel industry, and/or the world around them through the expansion of knowledge, beliefs, arts, customs, or capabilities.

    Winner: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

    The Mālama Hawai‘i initiative unifies residents and travelers by introducing the value of mālama – to take care – and emphasizes connecting with Hawaiian culture, giving back and preserving the destination through partnerships with dozens of community organizations, aiming to protect and perpetuate the natural beauty of Hawai‘i for future generations with volunteer experiences and responsible travel choices.

    Sustainability Ambassador Award:

    Acknowledging a Member Agency that advocates for sustainability and vocally supports sustainable tourism in their words, actions and marketing.

    Winner: Primetour Viagens & Experiências

    Sustainability Practice Award:

    Honouring a Member Agency that intentionally integrates sustainability into their business practices and goals.

    Winner: Avenue Two Travel

    Featured Image: Ecology tourism concept. 3D illustration on wooden background. (iStock/Petmal)

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