This year you might have noticed that Lonely Planet is doing things differently with Best in Travel 2021 awards. Instead of celebrating destinations, trends and experiences we think will be big next year, we're celebrating the people and projects who make any destination special. The ones who are transforming travel for the better and pushing for positive change in three categories: sustainability, diversity and community.

Even before the pandemic turned tourism upside down, sustainability was becoming a major focus in the industry. Travelers were reconciling their desire to see the world with their environmental values. Destinations sought ways to protect once-unspoiled places from becoming overcrowded. There were greater opportunities for tours, accommodations and experiences to gain meaningful green credentials. And as flying came under increased scrutiny, we saw an increase in eco-friendly ways to travel.

To celebrate some of the great achievements being made, we selected 10 inspirational tourism projects that are shining a light on pioneering sustainable practices, after seeking nominations from Lonely Planet's vast community of travel experts. Winners include blogger Soraya Abdel-Hadi, who combines her love of travel with her desire to protect the earth; sharing eco-conscious travel tips, stories and inspiration through her Soraya. earth blog and Instagram. Sorya won our Best Storyteller award on the back of her no-fly year and her renewed commitment to helping people explore the natural world closer to home.

Sustainable Storyteller: Soraya Abdel-Hadi

"I'm blown away by the award," says Soraya. "But I'm more excited to see a household name like Lonely Planet put sustainability front and center. We love travel because we love the nuances and differences in our world, and making better choices will help us protect what we love – for us and for future generations."

Rwanda's efforts to bring the wild mountain gorilla back from its extinction earned the country the Best Conservation Program award. Gothenburg, a city with an eye towards a carbon-neutral future, was awarded Best City Stay. While Canada's Rocky Mountaineer is our Best Train Journey thanks to its recycling and carbon-free goals, and its thoughtful partnerships.

"We appreciate and are excited about the recognition of Best Sustainable Train Journey from Lonely Planet," said Steve Sammut, president and CEO of Rocky Mountaineer. "The Rocky Mountaineer team is passionate about improving our sustainability and supporting local communities in the areas where we travel."

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 Sustainability Winners:

Sustainable Islands: Palau

Best Islands - Palau

Palau spent the last decade installing protective measures that will ensure its rich biodiversity, endemic wildlife and unique cultural heritage all survive for future generations. Most of its maritime territory (that's 80%) is a marine preserve. Palau was the first country to ban reef-toxic sunscreen and uses funds from its Unesco World Heritage status to better manage the island’s wildlife.

Best Accommodation - Grootberg Lodge, Namibia

This luxurious low impact lodge is helping to preserve lion and black rhino populations through community empowerment. Its the first community-owned tourist resort in Damaraland, Namibia. Built from natural materials and powered by the sun, it used minimal energy. Approximately 60 local people from the local ≠Khoadi //Hoas community are directly employed by the lodge, while another ten are employed by the conservancy.

Best Cycling - Virginia Mountain Bike Trail

Mountain biker Chris Scott partnered with friends to create this epic 480-mile cycle trail that runs across the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Trail. This little-known trail is one of the least crowded and most sustainable in the region, and an epic, low-impact bike-packing adventure.

Sustainable Food Destination: Greece

Best Food Destination – Greece

Greece has been promoting locally-sourced ingredients for centuries thanks to its age-old habit of growing vegetables, harvesting olives for oil and utilizing every type of produce imaginable. Over the last decade, it has increased organic food production by 51%. And today, organic markets and island seafood make it an unintentional leader of the world’s most sustainable food.

Best City Stay - Gothenburg

Gothenburg is top of the Global Destinations Sustainability Index and it's top of our city list too. Sweden's second city has introduced a range of progressive measures to help it reach its carbon-neutral goals by 2030. Approximately 95% of all the hotels are environmentally friendly; locally sourced food can be found almost everywhere, 97% of its public transport runs on renewable energy and the concept of #flygskam, or "flight shaming," has been wholly embraced here.

Sustainable Train Journey: Rocky Mountaineer

Best Train Journey - Rocky Mountaineer

The luxury train and slow travel option has taken steps to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 tonnes per year, increased onboard recycling, and is partnering with two charities. One works to reduce hunger in communities where Rocky Mountaineer works around the world, and the second is a charity that protects wildlife along the spectacular routes where its trains journey.

Best Emerging Destination - Antigua & Barbuda

Sustainability is a priority on the twin islands. Single-use plastics and styrofoam are banned here, and the islands have established a ‘Green Corridor’ of environmentally friendly hotels, resorts and businesses that stretches along the southwest coast of Antigua to the village of John Hughes.

Sustainable Wildlife Program: Rwanda

Best Wildlife Programme - Rwanda

Rwanda is using tourism as a driving force for conservational change. Its participation in the International Gorilla Conservation Programme has brought the wild mountain Gorilla population back from the brink of extinction. Through the tourism revenue-sharing scheme, proceeds from gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park go towards wildlife protection.

Best Walks - Le Vie di Dante, Italy (Roads of Dante)

This epic 245-mile network of trails is the ultimate slow journey with a literary twist. Inspired by Dante's journey, this trail can only be accessed by foot or bike and is broken up into 20 stages from Ravenna to Florence and back. Guests can rest their heads in local lodges and embrace the wilderness of the Apennines along the way.

Best Storyteller - Soraya Abdel-Hadi

This year's travel restrictions encouraged blogger Soraya to promote 'travel' closer to home. Through her blog and Instagram, Soraya is encouraging followers to make more mindful decisions about travel and explore the natural world. This year she has been busy promoting local walks and micro-adventures, and helping people connect with nearby walking trails, wherever they may be.

In addition to these sustainability projects, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2021 also celebrated 20 change-makers in diversity 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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