Breathtaking views, historic monuments and delicious meals can all leave an impression that lingers long after our travels. But the one thing that can truly make a trip memorable is the people we meet along the way. That’s why Lonely Planet is celebrating the top 10 tourism projects that are building communities around the world. 

For Best in Travel 2021, Lonely Planet is looking ahead to the future of travel, recognizing not only places, but also people and communities who are transforming the travel industry. We’ve selected 10 inspirational tourism projects in three categories: sustainability, diversity and community. The top 10 community projects are designed to promote and regenerate local communities, from restoration efforts in Australia following its devastating bushfires, to the community accommodation that has made travel to Kazakhstan so compelling. 

Community Storyteller: Hesham Moadamani

The awards also recognize the people who are sharing their stories to make travel more immersive. Hesham Moadamani – a tour guide with Refugee Voices in Berlin – won the award for Best Storyteller. A Syrian refugee who shares his experience of fleeing civil war and arriving in Berlin on walking tours, Hesham is using his newfound platform to draw parallels between the Syrian conflict and the history of migration in Germany. 

“Since our tour acts as an alternative platform to be the voice of the unheard voices – a platform where people can have the chance to know about the untold stories such as the detainees in Al Assad's notorious prisons and the stories of the talents being buried in refugee camps at the edge of Europe – winning this award means a little success toward making these stories a little more heard.” Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, there is no need to be physically in Berlin for a tour and travelers can contact Refugee Voices Tours for live virtual tours.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 Community Winners:

Community Tour: Invisible Cities Tours

Best Tour - Invisible Cities

This UK-based tour company allows travelers to experience cities like never before. Invisible Cities train people who have experienced homelessness to become walking tour guides in their community – giving travelers a chance to see a city from the unique perspective of someone for whom its streets were once their home. Founder and CEO Zakia Moulaoui Guery says of the program: “Our training focuses on transferral skills (public speaking, customer service, etc) so they can use their experience with us as a stepping stone towards other opportunities. 

We raise awareness of homelessness through our tours by showcasing that everybody has a voice and a story to tell no matter where they come from or what they’ve gone through. Homelessness can and does happen to anyone.”

Best Restoration – Australia

Australia is an endlessly popular travel destination, but this year the country faced bushfires that devastated its communities and ecosystems. But now, its rainforests, sapphire coasts and endemic wildlife are slowly rising from the ashes thanks to a number of community restoration efforts.

Best Tourism Project – Burren EcoTourism Network

On Ireland’s rugged western coast, around 70 local enterprises have come together to become a global leader for sustainable tourism on the remarkable landscape of the Burren.

Community Accommodation: Kazakhstan

Best Accommodation – Kazakhstan 

This awe-inspiring destination takes travelers off the beaten path and straight into local communities. With the help of the Kazakhstan Tourism Association, rural villagers are trained in hospitality to provide homestays that give travelers a local experience, while acquiring fresh economic opportunities for the local community.

Best Immersion – Faroe Islands 

When travelers head to these remote islands in the North Atlantic, they are likely to be welcomed right into the community. Whether you’re signing up to volunteer to clear trails, or just looking for directions to the next beautiful vista, the Faroe Islands are known for making you feel at home.

Best Revitalization – Medellin, Colombia

Once one of the world’s most dangerous cities, community-driven revitalization has made Medellin one of South America’s most up-and-coming destinations.

Best Trekking – Tesfa Tours, Ethiopia

These local-led tours are perspective-altering treks through the astounding and inspiring landscapes of Ethiopia, Travelers are hosted in village homes along the way, with proceeds directly supporting the community.

Best Storyteller – Hesham Moadamani

Berlin-based tour guide for Refugee Voices Tours uses his personal experience of fleeing the Syrian civil war, drawing parallels between the current Syrian conflict and the history of migration in Germany. “I remember how someone walked up to me right after the end of the tour,” says Hesham, and she says, ‘I always took my rights for granted and never knew that my voice could have that influence on shaping the future of my country.’”

Community Local Shop: Footprint Cafés

Best Small Business – Footprint Café, Siem Reap Cambodia

This small business has a “3Ps” model (people, planet, profit), with a ground-floor cafe serving some of the tastiest Khmer food in town. But that’s only part of the story – it’s also home to a cool co-working space with 50% of it offered free or heavily discounted to Cambodian start-ups looking to scale up.

Expat Storyteller: Georgette Jupe

Best Expat Storyteller – Georgette Jupe, Girl in Florence

Through the lens of local artists and artisans, her blog offers travelers a deeper connection to Italy’s most culturally significant city.

In addition to these community projects, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 also celebrated 20 change-makers in sustainability and diversity, and you can see the full list of winners here.  Want to have your say in the best that travel has to offer? Vote in our reader’s choice awards.

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