© Navigate Expeditions

Five Tour Operator Scholarship Winners Announced for 2024

10 July 2024

For the past 13 years, the Tour Operator Scholarship Program has provided invaluable business opportunities to tour operators worldwide. These opportunities include complimentary tickets to attend the annual Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) or a regional AdventureELEVATE event of their choice, access to self-paced AdventureEDU courses, and Business memberships to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). Such resources have a lasting influence that help each winner to enhance their capabilities and reach. Dozens of tour operators have benefited from this program, but this year marks a historic milestone. The ATTA, in partnership with the Jordan Tourism Board and the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, has expanded its support like never before.

Traditionally awarding the scholarship to three deserving tour operators, this year, for the first time, five operators have been honored. These winners were selected from more than 100 deserving applicants for their exceptional dedication to sustainable tourism and their unwavering commitment to making positive economic, social, and environmental impacts in their communities. Their innovative approaches and passion for responsible travel are setting new benchmarks in their respective regions.

Meet the 2024 Tour Operator Scholarship Winners

The scholarship winners were selected based on their responses to essay questions addressing key aspects of their operations. They demonstrated how their companies positively impact local economies, innovate to conserve their surrounding natural environment and cultural heritage, or take actions to combat climate change. Additionally, they highlighted specific endemic challenges in their regions and how they collaborate with local communities to address these issues.

Each of this year's scholarship recipients has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to leveraging tourism for the betterment of their communities and the environment. Their stories reflect a deep dedication to sustainability, cultural preservation, and economic empowerment, serving as inspiring examples for the entire travel industry.

Jessica Taunton - Navigate Expeditions, Australia

Navigate Expeditions, led by Jessica Taunton, is an example of sustainable tourism on Australia's far South Coast. By collaborating with the Twofold Aboriginal Corporation, the company not only provides employment but also integrates cultural education into their kayaking tours.

"Our collaboration with the Twofold Aboriginal Corporation exemplifies our approach,” Taunton said. “We provide substantial employment and training opportunities for their cultural leaders, integrating their profound knowledge and traditions into our Aboriginal Cultural Kayaking Tours."

This initiative fosters economic opportunities and cultural respect while ensuring that the local communities share the benefits of tourism. Taunton plans to use the scholarship to attend an ATTA event in 2025 and enroll in an AdventureEDU course that would help the company enhance strategies for economic, environmental, and social sustainability. One of their goals is to develop eco-conscious tour packages that mitigate seasonal tourism fluctuations.

Pia Abboud - Discovery Beyond Borders, Lebanon

© Discovery Beyond Borders

Discovery Beyond Borders, founded by Pia Abboud, is dedicated to regenerating local economies in Lebanon through tourism. By hiring local guides and promoting off-the-beaten-track destinations, Abboud ensures that the economic benefits of tourism are spread across various regions.

“Our approach to tourism is rooted in sustainability, authenticity, and community empowerment,” Abboud said. “By embracing these values, we are nurturing a cycle of positive change, enriching the experience of our guests contributing positively to the livelihoods of the people and places we encounter along the way.”

The scholarship will enable her to enhance digital marketing skills through AdventureEDU courses, attend the 2024 ATWS, and promote Lebanon's adventure travel potential on a global stage.

Anders Brinn Andersen - The Wild Tales, Guyana

© The Wild Tales

The Wild Tales, under Anders Brinn Andersen, focuses on preserving Guyana's cultural heritage through survival and bushcraft courses led by Indigenous tribes. They have brought together nine Indigenous tribes native to Guyana who share their ancient knowledge with travelers but also pass on knowledge to younger generations to ensure the survival of their heritage.

"By bringing the different tribes together to work, we often find that they collectively enhance and support their traditional culture and knowledge," Andersen said.

This innovative approach not only conserves traditional skills but also generates income for the tribes and helps protect their land. Andersen aims to use the scholarship to expand their network, learn sustainable tourism practices from other tour operators, and promote Guyana as a true off-the-beaten track adventure travel destination.

Isabel Ontaneda - Maquipucuna Reserve & Ecolodge, Ecuador

© Maquipucuna Reserve & Ecolodge

Isabel Ontaneda continues her parents' legacy at Maquipucuna Reserve & Ecolodge, focusing on rainforest conservation and sustainable development. With more than 14,000 acres of protected cloud forest, the reserve is a testament to long-term environmental commitment.

“Our work regenerates local communities, providing sustainable livelihoods and fostering a deep sense of pride in their natural heritage,” said Ontaneda. “As pioneers of ecotourism in mainland Ecuador, we are committed to making Maquipucuna a world-renowned destination, ensuring that our regenerative tourism model continues to thrive and inspire future generations.”

The scholarship will help Ontaneda remain active in the ATTA, learn from global peers at the 2024 Summit in Panama, and promote their sustainable ecotourism model which focuses on preserving the land, educating travelers and creating a livelihood for the local communities.

Heather O’Halloran - Destination Rwanda, Rwanda

© Destination Rwanda

Destination Rwanda, led by Heather O’Halloran, plays a crucial role in the country's ongoing transformation. By creating private sector jobs and donating a portion of profits to local communities, the company contributes to Rwanda's development.

“Destination Rwanda builds relationships and partners with the communities we work within to learn about them and the impact tourists have in those communities,” O’Halloran said. “All visitors to Rwanda who hike to the gorillas or visit any of the national parks are automatically contributing to conservation through the price of their hiking and visitation permits.”

Part of their business model includes educating travelers about the fragility of the local ecosystems and encouraging them to visit small villages that benefit financially from tourism. O’Halloran plans to use the scholarship to attend the 2024 Summit, share insights on conservation and community interaction, and highlight Rwanda's cultural and environmental richness.

These scholarship winners exemplify how tourism can be a force for good by driving economic growth, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting environmental sustainability. Their innovative approaches and dedication to local communities set a high standard for the global tourism industry.