With the lofty ambition of becoming the first country in the world to operate fossil-free by 2020, Aruba has been named one of five winners in National Geographic's inaugural World Legacy Awards this week, a competition aimed at spotlighting the trailblazers driving positive change in the travel industry.
Launched for the first time this year, the World Legacy Awards received 150 entries from hotels, ecolodges and organisations from 56 countries vying for one of five titles: Earth Changer, Destination Leadership, Sense of Place, Conserving the Natural World, Engaging Communities.
In the category of Destination Leadership, which recognises destinations that demonstrate environmental best practices, the Caribbean island of Aruba edged out finalists Delaware North Yosemite in the US and Val d'Aran in Spain.
To meet their aggressive targets, the government has invested heavily in renewable energy, building the largest solar car park in the region, for instance, installing 14,000 solar panels, and a waste-to-energy plant that turns trash into renewable power, points out NatGeo.
The plan also calls for the construction of the world's first trolley system using hydrogen fuel cell technology powered by the sun and wind.
"Tourism is based on selling cultural and natural heritage experiences, whether that is a trip to see Angkor Wat or a wildlife safari in Africa," said editor-at-large Costas Christ in a statement.
"With more than a billion international tourists last year, and the number growing, we must make sure that tourism is an opportunity and not a threat to the people and places travelers wants to visit. The World Legacy Awards are about helping to lead the way forward."
Here are the other winners:
Earth Changers: Leaders in cutting-edge green technology
Orange County Resorts in India works with local communities to develop sustainable practices including elimination of plastics, recycling, water conservation and the use of renewable energies.
Sense of Place: Protection of historical monuments, archaeological sites, cultural events, traditions, and heritage Cavallo Point Lodge in the San Francisco area was recognized for transforming military barracks into a LEED Gold-certified tourism lodge built with salvaged building materials.
Conserving the Natural World: Leaders in the preservation of nature, the restoration of the natural habitat and the protection of rare and endangered species. Since its creation, Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve in the Andean Patagonia rainforest has saved 247,000 acres of wilderness from the timber industry and is working on reintroducing endangered species to the region.
Engaging communities: Projects that lead to tangible economic and social benefits that improve local livelihoods. Tropic Journeys in Nature, Ecuador is an ecotourism company that works with the indigenous Huaorani people in the Amazon. Guests are accompanied by native peoples on guided tours through the Andes mountains, cloud forests, and Galapagos Islands.