Lonely Planet's Best in Travel awards usually celebrate countries, regions, cities and best-value destinations for the year ahead. This year, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the travel industry, and the awards have been radically reimagined to reflect how the world and attitudes to travel have changed, celebrating commitment to community, diversity and sustainability across the world.

The conversation surrounding diversity took a decisive shift this year, and we have chosen to celebrate 10 inspirational people, organizations and destinations driving more inclusive approaches to tourism. Best in Travel 2021 shines a light on the people and places that illuminate the mosaic of stories and perspectives found around the world.

LGBTIQ+ Storyteller: Couple of Men

This includes Couple of Men founders, Karl Krause and Daan Colijn, who aim to inspire and motivate gay travelers as well as those struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation. "Winning the Lonely Planet LGBTIQ+ Storyteller award means that we are on the right track, showcasing how to explore the world open-mindedly, respectful and with a happy heart,” they say. "Although we won’t be traveling soon, this award shows that working hard and exploring the world in our own way means so much more in terms of visibility, respect and love.”

“Travel in 2021 and beyond will be a much more considerate exercise than it has been ever before,” says Lonely Planet CEO, Luis Cabrera. “With travelers cautiously re-engaging with the world and focusing on ensuring their impact is safe and positive for host communities, we have decided to highlight destinations and individuals that truly enable visitors to make genuine contributions through regenerative travel.”

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 Diversity Winners:

Under-Explored History: Gullah Islands

Best Under-Explored History - Gullah Islands, US

The isolation on the Sea Islands of the southeastern US coast allowed the Gullah and Geechee people to foster the most comprehensive African cultural heritage in the country. They forged a new language and made African crafts like woven baskets. Folklore and ring shout songs were integral to their cultural canon too, but it’s in the kitchens of the Sea Islands, in dishes like crab rice and shrimp purloo, where the West African influence is most obvious.

Best Cultural Diversity - San Diego, California

Southern California beach city, diverse artist haven and cultural hot spot – San Diego is as rich in adventure as it is variety, shaped by its Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican and American communities. As a modern-day border town, diversity is a constant, and the city’s minority communities make up over 59% of the total population.

Best Welcoming Destination - Amman, Jordan

With its origins stemming from Levantine and Bedouin traditions, the famed Jordanian hospitality is what gives the capital city Amman its soul, with the sharing of food and drink at its heart. “I love the way Amman combines history, art, culture and diversity in a beautiful, simple way,” says Zaid Souki, artivist and founder, the Orenda Tribe. “In Weibdeh, people from different nationalities, religions and ages all mingle together.”

Emerging Voice: Gabby Beckford

Best Emerging Voice - Gabby Beckford

Following the success of her blog Packs Light, Gabby Beckford has formed the Young Traveler’s Network and co-founded the Black Travel Alliance to empower Generation Z to see the world and increase Black representation in the travel industry. “I'm one of the youngest Black voices in travel,” she says, “and it was important to me to be a part of the Alliance, and be a voice for Gen Z – because we're the future.

Best Accessible Destination - Costa Rica

From exploring the plush rainforests and white-sand beaches to enjoying a variety of adaptive adventures like surfing and zip-lining, strict accessibility laws make Costa Rica a wheelchair user’s paradise. It has a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and enforces a degree of accessibility in hotels and public places to make it a fantastic accessible-friendly destination.

Multi-Generational Destination: El Hierro, Canary Islands

Best Multi-Generational Destination - El Hierro, Canary Islands

This far-flung, go-slow jewel of Spain is an environmentally-minded escape that enamors travelers of all ages. Thoughtful, responsible tourism is key in El Hierro, the second-smallest and much overlooked Canary Island, but its attractions cater to the whole family.

Best Indigenous food – Hiakai restaurant, Wellington, New Zealand

In New Zealand’s capital Wellington the lauded Māori-Samoan chef Monique Fiso is on a mission to make native ingredients and Indigenous cooking techniques something Kiwis can be proud of. She brings native ingredients and Indigenous cooking techniques to the fine dining stage, and diners can enjoy a degustation menu that doesn’t just explore the possibilities of native ingredients, but also how they relate to Māori myths and legends.

Inclusive Storyteller: Jeff Jenkins

Best Inclusive Storyteller - Jeff Jenkins

In a world of slender Instagram stars and shrinking airplane seats, Jeff Jenkins uses Chubby Diaries to provide practical information for plus-sized travelers, while also boosting their representation. “It's like people never thought about being plus-sized when traveling,” says Jeff. “Now we have awareness and we are making change. We’ve given plus-sized travelers a sense of community for themselves.”

Inclusive Tours: Wheel the World

Best Inclusive Tours - Wheel the World

Travel company Wheel the World is empowering people with disabilities to enjoy travel experiences in over 30 destinations, in 15 countries. From scaling Machu Picchu to skydiving in Santiago, it is redefining the travel and recreation sector for people with disabilities. In doing so, it enables those with additional physical needs to achieve travel dreams that they may not have believed possible.

Best LGBTIQ+ Storytellers - Couple of Men

Couple of Men founders Karl Krause and Daan Colijn established their blog to provide inspiration to other gay and LGBTIQ+ travelers on safe, fun places to go to enjoy a great vacation, without being treated differently or having to face judgment for being themselves.

In addition to these diversity projects, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 also celebrated 20 change-makers in sustainability and community, 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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This practical and inspiring guide motivates travelers to take a responsible approach to the impact of traveling.

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