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Angels Camp, California – Rivers Fiji, an O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists) affiliate organization, has been highly commended in the “Preservation of Cultural Heritage” category at this year’s Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards. Rivers Fiji, a whitewater rafting and multi-sport outfitter committed to sustainable tourism practices in the Fiji Islands, was selected as one of the top 35 companies out of more than 2000 nominations worldwide.
The Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards are the most prestigious and competitive of their kind in the world. They are a collaboration of the online travel directory responsibletravel.com, UK media partners Telegraph Travel and Geographical Magazine and World Travel Market (WTM). WTM hosted the awards ceremony earlier this month. The central tenet of the awards is that all types of tourism can and should be operated in a way that respects and benefits destinations and local people.
Rivers Fiji is the result of one of many O.A.R.S. Family of Companies’ sustainable tourism endeavours. George and Pam Wendt founded O.A.R.S. in 1969 with a goal to help people of all ages and abilities enjoy “the best outdoor experience of their lives.” This Northern California-based whitewater rafting and adventure travel outfitter is recognized as a leading environmental steward within the industry. O.A.R.S. was the first, and only, North American rafting outfitter to be 100% carbon neutral through the support of carbon offset projects that are inspected, verified and certified by independent third parties including Green-e, the Gold Standard, CDM, and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. Because of O.A.R.S.’ eco-savvy reputation, they have been asked repeatedly to host education trips for congressional staffers, politicians and eco-celebrities. It is the 1998 founding of Rivers Fiji, however, that the company is most proud. By supporting community development and environmental conservation, Rivers Fiji programs are not only “eco-friendly,” they define eco-tourism. With the help of 9 mataqali (landowning groups), 2 villages, a logging company, and the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), O.A.R.S. and Rivers Fiji successfully established the Upper Navua Conservation Area in 2000. This unique public-private partnership protects the pristine Upper Navua River Canyon from future logging or gravel extraction in a 10.5-mile conservation corridor. In return, Rivers Fiji compensates the NLTB and landowners through lease payments, user fees and employment opportunities. Rivers Fiji believes that empowering local communities in this manner makes its programs successful. “We have created full-time employment for the local people,” said George Wendt, President of the O.A.R.S. Family of Companies. “In fact, with the exception of our managing director, all of our employees are from the communities where we operate. Thus they have a real stake in the long-term sustainability of the places we visit and in Rivers Fiji as a sustainable tourism operation. Infractions by logging companies and plans for road development through the conservation area have been thwarted due to mataqali alerting Rivers Fiji management and local authorities.”
Steve Markle, O.A.R.S. Marketing and Partnerships Director, stated from the awards ceremony in London, “Historically Fiji’s tourism development has been focused on the coastal communities – with Fiji’s interior populations receiving little benefit. Rivers Fiji, however, provides economic alternatives for people whose previous development options were limited to logging and resource extraction. We believe Rivers Fiji has helped broadened Fiji’s overall perspective regarding the economic value of conservation as it relates to its people and ecosystems.”
Dr. Harold Goodwin, Director, International Centre for Responsible Tourism and Chair of Judges said, “Working our way through this year’s long lists, we were impressed by the willingness of so many organizations to take responsibility and to do what they can to help make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. Despite the economic difficulties being faced by the travel and tourism industry, responsible tourism continues to move ahead, and I’m continually impressed as more is achieved by more people. As judges we are all very aware of the great work that is being done by so many and our decisions are often very difficult and sometimes long debated.”