2012 UNWTO Awards

Since 2003, the UNWTO Awards for Excellence and Innovation celebrate the tourism sector´s attainments, recognizing exceptional leaders for their excellence and innovative achievement in the categories of the creation and dissemination of knowledge and lifetime achievement, as well as public policy and governance, research and technologies, enterprises and non-governmental organizations.

The 2012 UNWTO Awards Ceremony took place in Istanbul, Turkey (15 November). The awardees showcase some of the best examples of tourism leaders from around the world that through their expectional initiatives have placed themselves at the forefront of the sector.


The awardees of the 2012 edition are:

  • UNWTO Ulysses Prize for Excellence in the Creation and Dissemination of Knowledge

   Mr. Erik Cohen, the George S. Wise Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a founding member of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism, Mr. Cohen has served as Sociology Editor of Annals of Tourism Research since 1976. “Throughout his illustrious and varied academic career, Mr. Cohen’s tourism expertise has always shone through,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “His tourism research in countries ranging from Thailand to the Pacific Islands, as well as his studies on collective settlements, urban studies, folk art, folk religion and tourism, has made an invaluable contribution to our sector and deserves the highest praise.”  His current research areas include post-modern trends in travel, tourism and disasters, festivals and heritage tourism.


  • UNWTO Award for Lifetime Achievement 

   Mr. Shao Qiwei, Chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, “Mr. Qiwei has played a pivotal role in the development of Chinese domestic and international tourism since taking up his position as Chairman of CNTA and President of the China Tourism Association (CTA),” said Mr. Rifai. “Under his leadership, China has become one of the world’s tourism leaders, contributing also to the growing political recognition of the sector,” he added. The panel of judges highlighted Mr. Qiwei’s involvement in identifying tourism as a ‘strategic pillar’ of China’s economy by the Chinese Government; a decision pinpointed by UNWTO as one of the factors behind the country’s extraordinary tourism success of recent years.

    Mr. Gabriel Escarrer Juliá, Chairman and Founder of Melià Hotels International, Congratulating Mr. Escarrer, Mr. Rifai said:  “This award recognizes Mr. Escarrer's leadership and vision in promoting a responsible tourism sector. Gabriel Escarrer established Meliá Hotels International in 1956 at the age of 21, a hotel chain which is today one of the largest in the world, sharing the benefits of tourism with his employees and society.” In addition to his business expertise, the panel of judges praised Mr. Escarrer for his pioneering work in corporate social responsibility at a time when this was far from most businessperson’s minds, particularly his early commitment to employee working conditions.     


  • UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance

Malaysia Homestay Experience Program, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia: Since its launch in 1995, hundreds of thousands of domestic and international tourists have stayed with Malaysian families on their trips, finding this homestay program a unique way to experience the local culture. The initiative is not only benefiting tourists, but has also become a vital source of income for local communities, especially in rural areas. 

Runners-up: Holiday Participation Center, Tourism Flanders, Belgium, and the Pannonian Salt Lakes of Tuzla, Municipality of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.


  • UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Enterprises

Conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of Quintana Roo, Experiencias Xcaret, Mexico: The Experiencias Xcaret group owns land throughout the Mayan Riviera in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, all of which has been turned into eco-archaeological parks benefiting visitors, employees and local communities alike. The Group’s longstanding commitment to sustainability is often cited as a leading example of how tourism can protect land from other less sustainable uses.

Runners-up: Wine World and Wine & Spa Resorts, Loisium Hotel, Austria; Chanita ta di Fiesta, University of Aruba, Aruba; and Calviá Beach Resorts, Meliá Hotels International, Spain.


  • UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Non-Governmental Organizations

Landscape of the Year, Nature Friends International, Austria: Every two years since 1989, Nature Friends International has awarded a cross-border and ecologically valuable region in Europe as ‘Landscape of the Year’. Today, the award has grown to become an important incentive for regions across Europe to protect their landscape and biodiversity through sustainable projects such as tourism.

Experience Tour Project, Instituto Marca Brasil, Brazil: The towns of Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo in the foothills of Rio de Janeiro are the latest to benefit from the Experience Tour Project which helps tourism professionals to adapt their business so that tourists move from “mere spectators to protagonists of their experiences”. 

Runners-up: Sustainable Hospitality Programme, Asociación de Hoteles de Turismo de la República Argentina, Argentina and Long Run Destinations, Zeitz Foundation, Kenya. 


  • UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Research and Technology

TurAcces/IBV, Instituto de Biomecánica de Valencia, Spain: This free online tool allows tourism managers to assess the accessibility of their facilities, a major factor of sustainable tourism as defined by UNWTO. The tool further provides reports with proposals to improve accessibility, prioritized by importance and urgency based on current laws and standards.

Runners-up: Amadeus Agent Track, Amadeus IT, Spain, and the Strawberry Energy Concept, National Tourism Organization of Serbia, Serbia.